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And I know that many IT professionals are clashing over this very subject with their corporate executives who love the iPhone

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.


Andy Seybold

COMMENTS: This is an archived post. Commenting is no longer available.

Charles McKnight - 01/29/2008 23:07:14

Hi Andy,

Actually, I've trained myself to one-hand my iPhone and can use all of the apps quite proficiently. It took a couple of weeks (I was use to double-thumbing like a lot of people), but it is possible. One of the things that I like about the iPhone is that unlike the stylus-based touch screens, Apple seems to have figured out that most of us have "fat fingers" and the onscreen keyboard, while taking some time to adjust to using, factors in that fact.

Is the iPhone a great business phone? As you mention, it doesn't necessarily allow one to display all of Microsoft's office suite artifacts (although it does some of them as you stated). However, if one converts those documents into a PDF file, it seems to work fine. Additional hassle? Sure, but the iPhone is a 1.x device. I expect Apple to address those issues in future iterations just as it did with the iPod's limited initial functionality.

The wipe-over-the-air for security and docked synchronization are a great examples of why business people may want to wait until those features are available before committing their enterprise to the iPhone. However, I suspect Apple (and/or third parties) are working to address those points as well.

Realistically, the iPhone was hurried out and caused OS X Leopard to be delayed. That being said, with the release of the SDK just around the corner I am looking forward to the sanctioned third party applications to appear to address many of the perceived shortcomings of the device.

Overall, I've been quite satisfied with the device and its user experience although other people have had markedly different experiences. I do not think that the iPhone will replace all other devices because at the end of the day, the device is a quantifiably personal experience and not everyone will favor the iPhone (and that's ok). I do think the device has shaken up the conventional wisdom surrounding how devices might work and certainly opens the door for a platform supporting what you've characterized in the past as "smart" content.

Best regards,

Charles McKnight

Scott Goldman - 01/30/2008 18:20:32


As usual, insightful and thought-provoking comments. And, as usual, I'll probably have a different perspective here. Be that as it may, that's what blogs and debates are all about, right?

First, to clarify a couple of things:

1. I love my iPhone.
2. The iPhone has some serious drawbacks and limitations (especially as a cell phone).
3. "Business" and "Consumer" products are frequently either overlapping or defined by the people that use them. Plenty of people use Macs, for example, even though they're typically viewed more as consumer products and lots of consumers use Blackberrys just to keep up with their friends and email.

Given those caveats I'd like to note here that not every business user defines their needs for a business device primarily by its email capabilities. While I'm the first to admit that email is critical (lord knows I send/receive enough of it) there are limits to what I need in a handheld device when sending/receiving email. Other functions on the iPhone have been exceedingly helpful for me while on the road for business and in my daily life.

- Google Maps - In my opinion the "killer app" on the iPhone. It serves as information central for me when I want to get a phone number, map, web site, address, directions or live traffic report about a place, company, restaurant, airport, etc.
- Weather - I travel to a half-dozen cities with some regularity and have family that live in a few other places. The ability to have weather for all of these places a simple click/swipe away instead of having to access a web site for it is more convenient than most people can imagine until they start using it.
- Text messaging - While it's got some limitations (what? I can't _forward_ a message? Are you _kidding_ me, Apple??) it is much easier to use the text messaging function on the iPhone than a regular phone and, in my experience, easier to access and send from than a Blackberry (and certainly a Treo).
- Safari - A real browser on a phone. Need I say more? I mean, it's still on a 2" screen but the ability to click a link in an email and actually see a web page in its original format is very important to me in many business situations.
- The cell phone function - While it leaves a lot to be desired (no voice dialing? Hello?) it is vastly easier to work - and to work one-handed - than a Blackberry or Treo for the contacts, dialing, voicemail, recent call and other functions. Once you become accustomed to the elegance of the touch screen to initiate a 3-way call, for example, doing it on any other device is positively prehistoric.

Finally, the ability to leave my iPod at home is an important additional factor to me... yes, from a business standpoint. While it may not be as easy to use an iPhone one-handed as it is a Blackberry (although I do, in fact, use mine one-handed without much difficulty) I make a serious effort to reduce the amount of gear that I travel with and leaving the iPod, charger and other accoutrements at home that I had to carry when I was Blackberry-bound lightens the load nicely.

As most of us who travel are painfully, chiropractically, orthopedically and tendonitisly aware, reducing travel gear, even by a little, is a welcome business benefit.

And, as Mr. McKnight points out in his comments above, I, too believe that the SDK release will be a milestone for the iPhone. In addition to resolving some of the limitations that are apparent today there will almost certainly be applications - both free and commercial - that make the iPhone a platform which ultimately serves as the core of an ecosystem similar to that which the Palm was at one time and the iPod is today.

P.S. The iPhone's OS and software is easily modifiable via the sync function and new software easily installed that way, too. That's a big difference from the Blackberry approach and makes things easier for individuals and network alike.

Andrew Seybold - 01/30/2008 20:07:25

Gentelmen--thank your both for your comments. I am sorry about the delayed response but my remotelly hosted exchange server decided to not deliver much mail to me today for some unknown reason which may or may not be fixed.
Our wireless devices are very personal in nature, even when they are provided by a company, and I appreciate your comments, I guess I have been using a Blackberry for too many years--my first one did not have a serial number on it! However, I realy tried to use the iPhone for a while and it just did not suit me--which is why there are, and will continue to be many different types of devices on the market--but Apple customers--no matter if they are MAC of iPOD of iPhone customers seem to be a more fiesty breeed than the rest of us and defend to the end the products and services offered by Apple, and yes I know that they will make a number of changes and yes the iPhone has challenged the industry and we are all better off because of it--my comments were mostly around the issue of security which is of grave concern to IT folks, and the fact that a CEO who is in love with their iPhone could force a decision on an IT department that would not be in the best interests of the company, at least at this point.


Charles McKnight - 01/30/2008 21:08:38

Hi Andy,

While I agree that the "Apple Faithful" can be particularly tenacious when defending Apple products, I would hardly count myself among the "flock". :-)

Having used a number of different devices (and having worked in the past for the OEM with the largest market segment worldwide), I'd like to think my comments were more along the lines of my personal experience with the device. I agreed with your comment about security, especially for businesses who are considering committing to the iPhone and suggested that it might be prudent to wait until those features become available (knowing full well that some businesses won't).

My enthusiasm for the potential of the platform is more from the perspective that your concept of "smart content" applications for the device have failed to materialize on the other platforms (partially due to what I perceive as undue fascination with web browser technologies). While it is certainly possible to create those applications on Symbian, Windows Mobile, etc., nobody seems to want to do it because "it's easier to just build a web widget." Although that has been Apple's approach so far (look at their Dashboard widgets as an example), I'd like to think that they are looking a bit further ahead (and of course, I could well be wrong). Only time will answer that question, and we all have a bit of that. :-)

Scott Goldman - 01/31/2008 09:27:56

Mea culpa, mea culpa. I've been known to border on the irritating when defending Apple products. After being a fan(atic) for 20+ years I just can't help it.

I think your concern about security is well-founded, though. While I, like others, may _want_ an iPhone for personal use it may not always be in the best interests of the company for that reason. And that would be a bad thing - the tail wagging the dog, as it were - and a bad precedent to set.

My enthusiasm for Apple products will remain intact, but my understanding of the drawbacks for various reasons, has improved. Thank you both for that.