Apple’s iPhone has been a massive success in the consumer smartphone sector. But can it mount a serious challenge to phones such as Research in Motion’s Blackberry in the business marketplace? It can, providing Apple is willing to make some changes.
What Apple got right thus far
As it stands now, many of the iPhone’s general purpose features already appeal to businesses. The iPhone’s large, high-resolution display is a huge improvement over the smaller displays seen on some competitors’ phones, such as the Blackberry Bold. The iPhone’s built-in Safari web browser and Mail applications provide the essential connectivity needed by most business users, and the available Microsoft Exchange support adds a feature needed by many larger businesses.
Apple has also done a particularly good job of appealing to medical professionals. When Apple announced the App Store, one of the first applications that it featured was Epocrates, a program that tracks medical news, accesses a massive medication database, and includes “MedMath” calculators for performing a wide variety of medical and pharmaceutical computations. When Apple announced the new iPhone 3GS in June, it followed through with Airstrip OB, an application which allows obstetricians to monitor their patient’s vital signs live on their iPhone, with data sent from an Airstrip equipped labor and delivery unit.
What Apple needs to change
Although the iPhone is off to an impressive start, there are several issues that Apple will need to address for the iPhone to really gain traction in the corporate sector.
1. Native support for common business applications
When it comes to thinking of the iPhone as a business phone, the most obvious problem is the lack of native support for common business programs. At the moment, creating any business document other than an email is beyond the means of an off-the-shelf iPhone. Yes, business applications can be added, but that’s not the issue. For the iPhone to be taken seriously as a business phone, it will have to ship with the basic tools necessary for business users.
At the very least, the iPhone should ship with word processing and spreadsheet applications. Ideally, native business applications would also include presentation, database, and PDF software, and offer support for both Apple iWork and Microsoft Office file formats.
2. Better, more convenient syncing
I only sync my iPhone with my computer every couple of weeks, and even then, I find the process cumbersome. Since business users may need to sync their iPhones on a daily (or even several times daily) basis, the process has to be made more convenient.
There are already many third-party applications which store data on the iPhone wirelessly, via FTP and/or a Web browser. Apple should take advantage of this built-in capability, and make it available for syncing. Also, Apple needs to add more options to the syncing process. For example, if you have a limited amount of time, and don’t want to sync your applications, the iPhone interprets this as a desire to delete applications. Apple needs to refine the syncing process so that users with limited time can sync a single document, and then move on to more urgent work.
Perhaps the most annoying of all iPhone sync issues is the fact that it uses iTunes for the syncing process. It’s hard for me to believe that the iPhone will ever be taken seriously as a business phone, when it uses an MP3 player and music storefront as its syncing program.
3. Exchangeable batteries
Apple has improved the iPhone’s battery life with the release of the iPhone 3G S. However, this was mainly an effort to keep up with the new iPhone’s more demanding CPU. It did not resolve an issue that’s existed since the first iPhone: there’s no way for a user to change the battery, without risking voiding their warrantee. I’m sure that Apple’s decision to make changing the battery a repair issue has brought in some extra cash to Apple’s retail stores. However, in the end, the decision is ill-advised, since it’s likely made some businesses decide not to use the iPhone.
4. Better encryption and security
Many businesses require encryption for mobile devices such as laptops and cell phones. Although encryption was (finally) added as an option in the iPhone 3G S, its implementation has come under a great deal of scrutiny. A recent news article suggests numerous weaknesses in the iPhone’s encryption, including caches that store unencrypted data from keyboard entries and screen shots. At the very least, Apple needs to fix the iPhone’s current security weaknesses. Ideally, the iPhone would make available open source encryption, but that level of openness seems unlikely from Apple.
5. Official support for more development languages
Currently, there’s only one Apple-approved method for programming iPhone apps: Apple’s Objective-C programming language. Some third-party workarounds have surfaced, and the next version of Adobe’s Flash will include support for porting Flash programs to the iPhone. Still, many businesses don’t have Objective-C programmers, and don’t want to put their faith in third-party solutions. Apple would be well advised to open its programming architecture to more languages, and thus more businesses.
6. Ditch the AT&T exclusivity
No list of current iPhone problems can be complete without mentioning Apple’s exclusivity deal with AT&T in the United States. AT&T was slow to implement MMS support, and still hasn’t implemented tethering support (which allows you to use your iPhone as a wireless modem for your laptop). When businesses are getting tethering support from a competitor’s phone, or simply don’t want to switch to AT&T, they’re simply not going to buy the iPhone.
The iPhone’s road ahead
The most recent changes to the iPhone’s hardware included a faster processor, more memory, more storage space, and enhanced graphics processing. These upgrades may well have been centered on making the iPhone a legitimate portable gaming platform. And given the popularity of new gaming apps such as Madden NFL ’10 and Rock Band, I’d definitely label the upgrade a huge success. However, for Apple to succeed in making the iPhone a business phone, a future upgrade will have to focus just as much on enterprise related issues.
About the author:
Anthony Celeste is a technical writer, multimedia developer, and Windows programmer. Anthony wrote about color theory and Web design in “Corel DRAW 10: The Official Guide”, and covered animation and special effects in “Ulead PhotoImpact 7: The Official Guide”.