Opinion: Analysts miss the point on the iPhone
Gartner, IDC and 451 Group research analysts this week warned IT administrators to keep iPhones away from their businesses. “We’re telling IT executives to not support it because Apple has no intentions of supporting [iPhone use in] the enterprise,” Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said. “This is basically a cellular iPod with some other capabilities and it’s important that it be recognized as such.”
As if that will stop people from buying them anyway when they hit the market in the U.S. next week.
The reality is that no matter how hard IT administrators try, the iPhone will be snapped up by their employees—and not just the average Joes either. The device is a status symbol that will likely be snapped up by business leaders as the digital technorati. Try telling your CEO the iPhone doesn’t play well with your IT systems.
Dulaney and other researchers notwithstanding, this device can be good for the enterprise because of the business needs of smartphone users:
All of these things are important—and all can be done to a greater or lesser extent on most business-focused PDA phones. But in the business world, the mobile Web browser is the key to the future of business apps, and it is a becoming a platform unto itself. One thing that Apple CEO Steve Jobs made abundantly clear at last week’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is that the iPhone would include a full browser. The Symbian and Linux platforms’ best browser is Opera Mini—which isn’t that bad—but it by no means constitutes a full browser. Windows Mobile’s browser isn't bad either, but it also falls well short of Internet Explorer (IE) 7. Additionally, the iPhone browser has a lot of zooming and panning tricks that make it more usable on the relatively small screen. In that crucial area, advantage: iPhone.
Why is the browser crucial? Because most new business applications are being built around it. Ajax and other browser technology innovations over the past few years have turned the browser into a veritable platform. Sure, a lot of legacy applications still require browserless, platform-specific client applications. But those days are numbered.
It’s not just the isolated applications that are moving to a browser. All of the stalwart office applications are also moving to the Web. With Google Office (which now works with Safari—the iPhone browser), Soho Office and even Web-centric versions of Microsoft Office applications, the browser is truly the new business platform.
The iPhone is not without its business-use flaws. It doesn’t natively sync up with Lotus Notes or Exchange—and Microsoft, at least, will most likely do everything in its power to try to keep it that way to protect its Windows Mobile business. It can, however, hook up to IMAP e-mail, LDAP address books and WebDav for calendaring; with a bit of tweaking that will work well for Exchange-based companies. Microsoft SharePoint can also be browsed from the Web interface, but to what extent? Time—and the work of apps developers—will tell. A newly anointed relationship with Cisco on all things iPhone should also let the device into the VPN and might even let an iPhone play well with Cisco voice over IP (VoIP) solutions. And of course, don’t forget the arduous task of getting your conservative IT department to accept the idea of letting loose an Apple phone—or even MacBook Pro—into the office.
Previews of the phone haven’t yet touted an instant messaging client like Apple’s iChat or AOL Instant Messenger. It is likely, however, that Apple will include something with instant-messaging functionality in the near future—there are still four slots left in the iPhone’s application window.
It’s also true that the first generation iPhone isn’t the raw specs winner by any stretch. That honor goes to the Symbian/Windows Mobile 6 Phones coming from Toshiba (the G900), Nokia (the N95), Samsung (the F700) and HTC. (the Shift)
AT&T’s EDGE wireless network is slow by today’s standards, and while Wi-Fi connectivity will help, there are questions about why Apple has forsaken the HSDPA/UTMS component and when an update might occur. Given that battery life is a factor—Apple this week released updated specs that go beyond what it touted in January—EDGE makes sense because it’s more energy efficient.
Also, the 8GB max on storage is seems low. At a time when you can buy an 8GB SD card for under $80, Apple likely looked to keep costs down with an eye on upping that storage when it’s economically smart. Most users would likely be happy with a micro/mini/SD card slot now standard on most smartphones.
There is, of course, the price. The iPhone’s hefty $499 and $599 price tags, depending on which model you buy, is a definite disadvantage in business. With relatively comparable gear (from a corporate standpoint) such as the Motorola Q, which is almost free with a service plan, buying an iPhone requires serious justification. We’re talking about spending the equivalent of a budget laptop.
Of course, something that you spend half your day using should justify the premium that this delicious piece of hardware demands.
And then there are at least two intangibles: