iPhone 3G – Gadget and Business Tool?

I like to think these days I’m not easily drawn to the latest gadget craze so, when hunting down a company mobile phone handset, I was somewhat concerned that the team consistently said the iPhone 3G ticked all the requirements boxes. With our requirements including push email, WiFi and a good web browser, competition was relatively thin but the consumer label of the original iPhone did concern us.

After much discussion we opted for the iPhone 3G and after three months of use by the team what’s out verdict? In a word – excellent. Ok it’s not quite perfect but it is pretty darn good. Now before I get spammed by all those folks who love to complain in forums about its shortcomings let me expand on my view in a few key areas:

Call Quality – no issue here, much better than my previous few phones. I haven’t experienced the ‘call drop’ problem that has been reported so much – personally I suspect it was primarily related to a certain carrier’s network in the US.

Buggy OS – Yes the 2.02 firmware was poor, a step back from 2.01 but even so the phone still worked fine and the issues were contained to specific functions. OS 2.1 however has proved to be excellent – as stable as a normal phone, and much better than your average smart phone.

Battery Life – No smart phone has the multiday battery life we expect from a more traditional phone. The iPhone is no exception, so yes it needs charging daily but with the 2.1 firmware it is very reasonable considering what it is delivering.

Email Integration – We use Microsoft Exchange, although I also have a POP3 account running on the phone too. Both accounts work flawlessly with excellent usability. The only letdown is the lack of task and note integration and the missing ability to invite people to calendar items on the phone. Hopefully a software update will resolve that.

Camera – Not what it should be, but hardly a major issue on a business phone.

App Store – A great killer app for Apple, an environment that is controlled enough to give you confidence in the apps that cover everything from games to serious business tools. 

The point is that if you focus on narrow aspects you will find imperfections but when you take the whole package together you get an impressive device that is very user focused, comes at a good price point and yet still fits comfortably into your pocket (a key requirement for me).

What I haven’t mentioned of course is the fact that the iPhone blurs the edges between a consumer item and a business tool. Personally for me that’s a great bonus – one device that meets my business and personal needs, and I suspect most professionals like that idea too. The people that don’t like that idea are in enterprise IT departments.

And that’s the big issue. The iPhone 3G is a great small/medium business tool but I doubt it will succeed in the enterprise environment. Having spent 13 years working in a very big enterprise IT department I know all the questions and issues that will be raised which, in the view of those departments, make the iPhone 3G completely unsuitable for enterprise use.

Sadly many enterprise IT departments are struggling to keep up with where their users are – they are worrying about the latest encryption standards whilst the sales team are happily copying confidential presentations on USB memory sticks. In one company I know over 60% of the company laptops have iTunes installed. Then there are all the people who are happily syncing their non-company phone via a dock, copying contacts, email and confidential information onto a completely uncontrolled device.

Rather than embracing this, most enterprises continue to fight it – a futile exercise – but because the iPhone looks like a consumer device, is seen as a gadget and straddles the consumer/business boundary it will more than likely be officially kept out of most enterprises. Of course the users will be finding any way possible to get them in though the back door.

As for us we have already moved to the next step and are developing applications for the iPhone which forms part of our interactive event strategy – from basic event guides to location aware solutions, video streaming and real-time information screens.

Now I’m not saying immediately ditch your Blackberry, Nokia or whatever, but I am saying ignore the hype and the naysayers, focus on user requirements and keep an open mind. The iPhone isn’t for everyone but it does set the scene for the next generation.

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