We all know how the iPhone frenzy has grabbed popular imagination since it was first announced in Jan 2007. With its cool feature set, slick appearance, powerful computing capabilities, beautiful display and intuitive touch navigation, this poster boy of the mobile generation has captured the imagination of gizmo freaks and tech phobics alike. To get some measure of iPhone’s success, one only needs refer to Tim Cook’s (Apple’s COO) recent statement at a conference – he said that the company had “really good confidence” the company would hit 10 million iPhones sold by the end of 2008.
According to a research from IDC, 70 percent of those polled who own, or plan to purchase an iPhone in the next year, consider it to be for both personal and business use.
Considering the vast proliferation of iPhones in such a short span, it is natural that all those who own a iPhone would want to extend its use to business as well. And it is no joy carrying around a Blackberry and iPhone in either pocket. All that does is to exert extra downward pressure on the belt. It is no wonder then, that iPhone’s usability in a business context is a raging debate nowadays. That is still a secondary question, because the fact remains that present and future end users of iPhone see is as something they want to use for business.
The Bad News
Unfortunately for corporates, iPhone was created mainly for the meatier consumer market, and never really meant to be a business tool.
What Obstructs “iPhone for Business”
– It’s mainly a PIM
– Third party applications not supported
– Lack of Exchange Support
Mainly a PIM – iPhone mainly has PIM (personal information manager) capabilities (email, contacts, calendars, calendars, notes) and not meant to be used for team collaboration, which requires the ability to share and work together on information.
Sorry Third Party Developers – iPhone runs on a custom built operating system called the “iPhone OS”, and at this point does not allow third party applications to be built & installed on this native OS. Users are restricted to applications pre-built into the system (mail, SMS, calendar, photos, etc). This meant no special business centric applications could be created to make use of iPhone’s computing & display capabilities and internet-ability.
No Exchange Support – The gravest omission was a lack of support for MS Exchange, which meant that users could not view even the most most elementary business information – business mail, contacts, tasks, and calendars, on their iPhones, what to speak of advanced collaboration. The only way to achieve this was complicated and unreliable workarounds.
The Good News
iPhone’s Business Friendly Features
– Rich Safari Browser
– Web 2.0 Applications Allowed
– Internet Friendly
– Recent Apple Announcements
Hurray for Web 2.0 – The good news is that they allowed a small window, through which an elephant could be pushed. Soon after its launch, Apple announced that it would allow third party web applications supporting web 2.0 standards, to run on iPhone though its rich Safari browser. This effectively meant that iPhone could be part of the web 2.0 revolution, and access all the rich applications therein.
The Safari Browser – iPhones web browser Safari, is a full web browser with the works. It is light years ahead of the custom made web browsers of traditional corporate handhelds like Palm’s Blazer browser, Blackberry browser, etc. It is not just comparable to a desktop browser, but is a desktop browser. This allows iPhone to ride high on the current web 2.0 wave, rather than just being a bystander.
According to AT&T and Google, iPhone generated 50 times more search requests than any other mobile handset.
Internet-ability- iPhone allows internet access through wi-fi or wide area EDGE networks. One important prerequisite for a mobile to be an effective remote collaboration tool is the willingness and comfort level of users to use the device for web access. With no little thanks to the large display & the safari browser, the iPhone has been a huge success as a device for web access. The iPhone increased the average wireless data usage as much as 30 times higher than on other phones.
Apple finally Awakens from its Slumber – Only lately has Apple has woken up to the previously ignored aspect of business usage. This was largely caused by the hue and cry raised by the media and users over its frustrating lack of business friendliness. Even as I write, there is news of iPhone finally offering Exchange support, and an iPhone SDK (software development kit) which will allow programmers to develop applications specifically to be installed on the iPhone.
But these new developments are not just in their infancy, but even foetal stage. It will be some time before these new applications find their feet, an truly provide trouble free functionality to businesses.
Exchange support at this time is issue riddled and works only for companies that support Exchange 2007 or Direct Push on Exchange 2003. Moreover, this and the launch of installed applications for iPhone wont take place until a firmware update slated for June 2008.
Webapps to the Rescue : HyperOffice as a case in study
Amongst the first companies to recognise the opportunity presented by iPhone for rich business applications was HyperOffice. Already well experienced in the web based business collaboration domain, they developed HyperOffice for iPhone, an iPhone specific version of their flagship product, HyperOffice.
This allowed business users to use almost the entire feature set HyperOffice right from their iPhones. Rather than an isolated personal information manager, HyperOffice allowed iPhone to be used as a dynamic collaboration tool through which users could access the company intranet, share contacts and calendars, plan projects, share and edit documents, schedule meetings, & many other things.
They also realised early on that a major pain point for users looking to use iPhone for business was a lack of Exchange support. HyperOffice allows users to get past this hurdle easily by acting as a bridge between Exchange and iPhone. It allows users to receive information directly from Exchange, or access Outlook information (mail, contacts, calendars, tasks) right on iPhone, with or without Exchange. No matter where users access mail and other information – Outlook, iPhone’s email client or on any other web device, information is automatically synched. Users always get updated information.