Is the Apple iPhone going to be a business phone?
I spent a fair amount of time on the phone with Leslie Brooks Suzukamo, Telecom, Technology and Energy Reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press earlier this week. Our topic of discussion? Whether the new Apple iPhone is going to be a good business phone or not. He quoted various industry sources and so-called pundits who predicted that it wouldn't and that it's designed exclusively for consumers. But he -- and they -- are so terribly wrong...
The fundamental error in everyone's analysis is the vision that there's a black and white world, a clear and clean dichotomy between "personal" and "business". That just isn't so. Go into any corporate setting and you'll find salespeople downloading internal corporate podcasts onto their company-purchased Apple iPod players for review on the drive to their next sales call, for example.
The crux of the iPhone isn't for business argument is that out of the door it won't have the ability to synchronize with Microsoft's pervasive Outlook email and scheduling application. Instead, Apple has been clear that it's pushing developers to create web-based solutions that will work with its Safari 3 browser rather than individual applications. Smart. Based on my own experience with my Blackberry Pearl 8100, you really don't want to have individual apps that are buggy, slow, tend to freeze up or fail in odd and inexplicable ways. Building around well-defined Web interfaces is much smarter.
And, a bonus: if Safari has specific capabilities that let these apps be smarter, how darn convenient that it's also now available as a browser for both Mac OS X and Windows XP/Windows Vista. Hmmm... maybe that's why Apple released Safari for Windows in the first place?
The Sync with Outlook argument is misguided anyway because there are already very large organizations that have widely deployed a Web-based version of Microsoft Outlook that includes all its functionality, neatly within the confines of a Web browser. One organization that gave me access to this system? The University of Phoenix Online. If they can get Outlook for a Web browser, don't you think that the million new iPhone users might just be a sufficiently interesting market that Microsoft maybe will open up this feature, perhaps on a monthly subscription basis?
Another argument against the iPhone as a business phone is that it's not a very secure handheld operating system. Yet in many ways there's no better choice than a phone built upon Mac OS X technology. With its roots deep in the Unix world and popular adoption, it's widespread enough to be aggressively tested and probed, yet hasn't yet succumbed to the myriad of gaping security holes that characterize a modern Windows system. Proprietary operating systems, by contrast, are rarely tested as pervasively and end up being less secure than they may initially appear.
One more factor in the iPhone's favor: even business people want to be known by the coolness of their gizmos and gadgets and it's quite remarkable to me how many times I go to a business meeting just to watch everyone toss their cellphone on the table, a sort of 21st century version of "leave your guns at the door, boys" from the mythic old west. The winner? The person with the coolest phone or the nicest case.
Don't believe me? Ever looked at how much money is spent in the United States alone for custom ringtones?
Finally, though, as long as the iPhone delivers decent battery life and a great user experience, I am confident that business people and regular old consumers alike will all be interested in the new device with its combination of iPod, cellphone and digital camera capabilities. Plus its from Apple, and that instantly makes it cool to a large swath of the population, myself included. :-)
What do you think? Are you interested in getting an Apple iPhone as a business tool, to help you with your corporate, consulting, or entrepreneurial job? Are you anticipating any challenges matching its featureset with your own needs and requirements?
Me? I won't be lining up for one, but you bet I'm eager to get my hands on one and will be transferring my business phone number from my Blackberry Pearl (sorry RIM) to my shiny new iPhone. I expect it'll be darn cool...
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