iPhone for Business?Tuesday, January 29, 2008
While everyone is trumpeting the success of the iPhone, and it has been huge, I have been taking calls from IT professionals who are being pressured by their CEOs to convert the company over to the iPhone for corporate access.
I thought these calls were isolated and that, over time, people would realize that the iPhone is a really great consumer phone with lots of neat features but lacks many of the attributes needed to be considered a secure corporate phone and access device. But now, AT&T has decided that the iPhone is a corporate product. It has begun offering special business pricing and added a few features it believes now qualify the iPhone to be considered along with BlackBerrys, Treos, Q-phones and other devices designed for the corporate world.
Yes, AT&T and Apple have made some changes to the iPhone that make it better for business. For example, they have beefed up the security with built-in support for VPNs, including RSA security, but they have not addressed issues such as being able to wipe the phone clean if it is lost or stolen. This should be of great concern to those who store their address books, calendar and email messages on the phone. To my knowledge, the only way to wipe an iPhone clean is to dock it with a PC or Apple computer.
Apple is also releasing an upgrade to its software next month, adding some features and functions including location (without GPS) using both the wide-area and Wi-Fi networks (not very accurate). You will be able to store Web clips directly on the phone and assign icons to them, there will be up to nine home screens, each of which will hold sixteen icons, and you will be able to easily move the icons around on the screen to customize the look of your device. The only new application that might be considered a business application is the ability to send an SMS message to multiple people at once (something everyone else has supported for a long time), although the responses will show up in their own thread.
A more complete listing of my reasons for believing that the iPhone may be a great consumer product but is not well suited for business users includes some things everyone has reservations about plus a few more. First, the battery is not removable and even though Apple's customer support is some of the best I have experienced, a dead battery means sending the iPhone in to have the battery replaced. Security is the biggest issue I have with the iPhone. There are no tools for IT shops to configure or manage a fleet of iPhones within a company, and in order to update your calendar and your phone book, you have to dock the iPhone to your PC or Apple computer. Any new appointments that come in while you are on the road will have to be conveyed to you via email and you will have to enter them manually.
As I mentioned, you cannot wipe the iPhone clean if it is lost or stolen, though you can certainly call and have it turned off, which will limit access to most of the functions. But it doesn't take much for a hacker to get at the data or for someone else to spend $29 to activate it for one month to see what you have stored on it.
At the moment, other than email and browsing, there are no business-oriented applications available for the iPhone and certainly no clients for existing corporate applications. Tests show that you can open MS Word documents and read them, and open an Excel spreadsheet, but you cannot open a PowerPoint document you receive as an attachment to an email. I am sure that some of this will be fixed, but these are things those of us in the business world have come to expect from our devices. We expect full control over our email, address book and calendar without having to dock our phones and synchronize the data-you might recall that in the early BlackBerry days docking was required, and I mean early as in the late 1990s, but RIM figured out how to synchronize over the air a long time ago, as did Microsoft and Palm.
My next point is up for debate. I judge wireless business devices on another parameter, and I believe I am the only one who does. It is what I call my one hand test. This test assesses the ability to operate every function of the phone or device with one hand as when traveling through an airport with a suitcase and briefcase or walking to your car with a briefcase. You still want and need to be able to receive a call, make a call, check your email, write a short (and I mean short) reply, check your calendar or an address in your address book and perhaps even select someone from your address book and send an email or SMS message to him or her. I can do all of these with the BlackBerry, but I cannot do most of them with a Microsoft Mobile Windows-based phone, nor a Palm because of its touch screen. Nor can I do many of them with an iPhone. Why the debate? Some people don't think this is an important test so they can discount it, but those of you who indentify with it understand exactly what I mean.
I am not trashing the iPhone-I already know of one person who is going to jump up and down and say I am anti-Apple, but I am not. I have owned Apple equipment for many years including one of the first Apple One computer kits. I think the iPhone is a great product for consumers and I hope Apple will add UMTS for higher-speed data and a GPS in the next version. I hope the iPhone will be easier to configure from the Website and I hope it will truly be opened up for developers. I know many people who are using and love the iPhone, but I don't believe it is ready or even capable of replacing BlackBerrys, Palm Treos or even Microsoft Windows Mobile devices when it comes to business functionality, security and requirements.
And I know that many IT professionals are clashing over this very subject with their corporate executives who love the iPhone. It is okay for CEOs or other executives to use an iPhone if they are satisfied with the features and functions. But to insist that all BlackBerrys, Palm Treos and Windows-based phones be replaced with iPhones will be met with resistance not only from IT departments, but from those in the field who use these devices on a daily basis as well.