Is the iPhone a corporate menace?

After a year in which the iPhone was the big dog in the consumer smartphone market, Apple is getting ready to make some changes that will put it near the head of the pack among business phones, too. In his latest commentary, Brighthand.com Editor in Chief, Ed Hardy talks about how Apple is transitioning the iPhone for more business potential.

After a year in which the iPhone was the big dog in the consumer smartphone market, Apple is getting ready to make some changes that will put it near the head of the pack among business phones, too.

Although people typically divide smartphones into groups depending on what their target market is, consumers and business users want many of the same things. The iPhone wasn't originally targeted at corporate users but it still offers much of what they are looking for.

However, there are features business users need that the iPhone just doesn't have. Consumers are happy with its support for basic email and SMS messages, while most business users absolutely require a push email system that's secure. The POP3 email system that it offers now is too easily hacked for most companies to use, and this has prevented the iPhone from gaining much traction in the enterprise.

But Apple engineers haven't been asleep for the past year, and the next major update to the iPhone's system software will add support for Exchange ActiveSync, which is a secure push email system guaranteed to warm an IT manager's heart. This is going to open the floodgates, and businesses of all sizes are going to rush through.

Apple's decision to allow developers to release native applications for its smartphone will help too, though to a lesser extent. The new software will bring features to the iPhone that Apple itself hasn't had the time or inclination to create, like the ability to edit Microsoft Office documents.

Not the alpha dog

I have no doubt the iPhone will become a big force in the corporate smartphone market, but it's not going to instantly dominate it the way this model has practically taken over the consumer market.

The iPhone strongly appeals to first-time smartphone buyers, who want to get something easy to use. But many business people have had a smartphone for years, are very comfortable with their current platform, and aren't interested in jumping ship.

And one of Apple's design decisions will play a major role. It's going to have a hard time convincing many long-time BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Treo users that they should give up their physical keyboards for virtual ones.

Another thing that's going to reduce corporate interest is the requirement that the applications companies develop in-house get Apple's approval before they can be deployed on iPhones. I can easily see this sticking in the craw of many IT departments. They certainly don't face that hurdle with Windows Mobile or BlackBerry.

And finally, while Apple has been working on the second-generation iPhone, its competitors haven't been sitting still. The HTC Touch Diamond, unveiled last week, has clearly been created to go head-to-head with Apple's smartphone, and it is loaded with cool but business-friendly features. And even RIM might have an iPhone-esque touchscreen-based model in development.

Still, Apple has made the right moves to get its devices in the door at companies, and I expect it to do well, once the next iPhone system software upgrade is released, which should be next month.

This was last published in May 2008

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