While in Louisville, Kentucky for TechRepublic's 10th birthday, Scott Lowe mentioned to Jason Hiner that Westminster College was moving away from Windows Mobile-based Treos in favor of iPhones. He tweeted this to the world, so I thought I'd follow up with a little bit of background.
Obviously, Windows Mobile has been around a long time, as have Treos, under a couple of different names. Personally, I will admit that I love Treos and have owned quite a number of them, including older Palm OS-based models, plus the Treo 750 and even the Treo Pro, which is a fantastic device.
Shortly after my arrival as the CIO of Westminster College, we started to distribute mobile devices to a number of people, including the executive team, our fundraising department and admissions counselors. It's well understood that keeping these folks in touch with their staff or base is critical in this era of high-touch expectation.
We originally standardized on the Treo 750 as the mobile device of choice. At the time, the iPhone (the original "2G" unit) was, in my opinion, a bit of a joke, particularly as it related to any kind of enterprise communication. Without the ability to truly integrate with Exchange, the device was simply a toy. On the other hand, the Treo 750 provided a seamless Exchange experience and was also a capable phone and text messaging device. For us, text messaging is an important part of our outreach; remember, our customers are in their teens.
By the way, I did try the original iPhone. At the time, I couldn't say enough bad things about the device. I didn't like the keyboard, but the lack of real Exchange integration was what made it a non-starter. So, I continued on with my Treo 750, eventually replacing it with a Treo Pro, a major step forward for Palm.
Then, Apple released version 2 of the iPhone OS in 2008 and the line between toy and tool started to blur a bit. Further, more and more apps were making their way into the App Store and rave reviews were being written about the newly released iPhone 3G hardware.
Also around this time, one of my annoying co-workers (ok, he's actually my extremely talented and competent Deputy CIO) talked me into giving the new iPhone 3G a shot. This time around, the device had Exchange integration and, even though the keyboard was still painful, the other upsides of the device were becoming very apparent. The App Store was continuing to grow by leaps and bounds for one thing. But, what was most intriguing was the overall user experience.
Admittedly, I was probably not that fair in my "iPhone 2G" test as I was biased toward the Treo 750/Pro device, so I tried to be more objective when I tested the iPhone 3G. After enough badgering from my Deputy CIO, I gave in and ordered a 3G on a trial basis. I switched my Treo Pro service over to the iPhone and gave it a 30 day test. This was back in late 2008. I still have that iPhone 3G and, to borrow a line from a famous dead person, I'll give up my iPhone when you take it from my cold, dead hands! I've gotten used to the soft keyboard. I beta tested the 3.0 software from an early stage, so I've been able to enjoy the landscape keyboard for quite some time and it's a definite improvement. But, the switchover story doesn't end there.
The rest of the crew
Remember, we deployed quite a number of Treo 750s to a lot of people on campus, including the president. Well, after I fell in love with my iPhone, I started lobbying the president to give up his Treo in favor of an iPhone as well. From a budgetary perspective, the switch ended up not costing anything and with a 30 day test period, we had nothing to lose. He liked his Treo well enough, but was willing to give the iPhone a try.
Once he got it into his hands, that was the end of the story. He, too, fell in love with the device for a simple reason: Usability. Sure, Windows Mobile isn't that hard to use, but from a user perspective, the iPhone is refined simplicity. Pretty much everything makes sense and important apps, like the stock checker, are front and center and well-designed, making them, maybe not fun, but enjoyable to use. That's where I think the difference comes in. With my Treo, the device was a tool, and not a lot more. The iPhone though, draws you in and makes you want to use it and explore new possibilities. That might sound corny, but it's true for us.
As contracts come up, we're replacing Treos across the board with iPhones. Quite frankly, even if we were to stick with Treos, we'd have to replace those anyway since they're not holding up well to the use and abuse at the hands of the people using them (no kidding, either... Treos have started dropping like flies around campus), so one way or the other, we're buying a new device. Our direction now is to drop all remaining Treos as contracts come up; we'll be an all iPhone organization within a year.
When you really think about it, Apple has, to a point, taken a page from Microsoft's play book when it comes to the iPhone. With an emphasis on allowing others to easily develop, deploy and sell applications, Apple has turned the iPhone into a true platform. Sure, they still have obvious issues to work out, such as how apps are really approved for the App Store, but the iPhone has been a developer's dream.
For everything new we do, we're focused on the iPhone. For example, we recently had a need to be able to accept credit cards from anywhere while people were on the road. Well, there's an app for that. Literally, it took five minutes to get up and running since we already had the necessary merchant account and processor. All we had to do was download and configure an app. Instant credit card terminal.
It's really neat to see people get excited over what the iPhone can do. For me, I want to do everything I can to capture this kind of excitement. It helps people think about what can be done with technology in different ways. I've seen a lot of the people to whom we've deployed the devices using them for all kinds of stuff, including Facebook, Twitter and more. Now, these may not sound like business applications, but for a college intent of finding the best students out there, rest assured that these sites are incredibly important to us. While they're completely accessible using the Treo, the iPhone brings simplicity, usability and efficiency to the forefront.
For us, it's probably obvious that ease of use and integration with Exchange were paramount considerations in our iPhone decision. However, security also plays a role. We do take it seriously and I will be the first to admit that an iPhone is still not as secure as, say, a BlackBerry. The iPhone's ActiveSync feature does include remote wipe capability, though, which will wipe the device back to factory defaults. If you want to see remote wipe in action, watch this video. We're not running a bunch of enterprise applications on the iPhone right now, so this is all we need.
Obviously, every organization has different needs. Many require features found only on BlackBerrys or on Windows Mobile devices. And, the iPhone is still far from perfect, but with the release of the 3.0 software, a lot of the problems are now tied to AT&T, which still doesn't allow tethering capability or the sending of MMS messages.
As for the iPhone itself, it does still have some of its own shortcomings, such as not being able to sync more than one email folder at a time, but Apple has fixed some major issues; for example, you can now invite attendees to a meeting from the iPhone. So, progress from Apple is slow, but there is progress!
While I was at the TechRepublic community event, Jason Hiner and Rick Vanover talked me into using Twitter. Want to follow me and know when new posts are added to IT Leadership and Servers & Storage? Look for me on Twitter http://twitter.com/scottdlowe.