A Pro-Business Argument For The iPhone

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My colleague Frank Ohlhorst, one of the smartest technologists I know, writes that the iPhone isn't really a business device as much as it's a nifty toy, and that the network savvy among us will tend to stick with the BlackBerry or Treo.

On paper, there is no reason to think the iPhone should be a device for serious business. It is a closed device, it doesn't play nice with Lotus Notes and you're stuck with a choice of one carrier: AT&T. Why, then, would anyone think it should be taken seriously in the commercial space?

I've been using an iPhone for a couple of weeks. Here's why:

The iPhone has pretty darn good push email functionality (if you can sync your Yahoo, AOL, Gmail, or .Mac email to the device.) You can also set up POP mail or Exchange (if IMAP support is set up on the Exchange Server.) For those who can access Lotus Notes via webmail, you can do that on the iPhone's Safari browser although sending email or performing other Notes functions can be mind-bendingly difficult. (But if you can auto-forward Notes email to another account, like Yahoo, that works fine.) The bottom line for email on the iPhone: for most people it will work well.

Other functions, like Visual Voicemail, are just wonderful. With this, your voicemail messages are lined up on the iPhone's screen so you can see them all at once and you don't have to listen to them one at a time. You can instantly weed out the unimportant messages from the urgent ones. Even if you didn't want to use email or web browsing in the iPhone, Visual Voicemail alone is a great productivity tool. It's been integrated into the device very smoothly. (Other vendors offer this technology but Apple seems to have gotten it right.)

As a telephone, it's intuitive, integrates well with contact lists, has great sound quality, is light, easy to put into "sleep" or "Airplane" mode and if you do have to turn it off you get to use Visual Voicemail when you turn it back on.

Add to that great iPod audio and video features, a decent camera, a terrific integration with Google Maps and easy-as-pie keyboard and text messaging, and it is a device that the BlackBerry and Treo are not. It's a cross-over device.

In business, it can do between 80 percent and 100 percent of what you need a BlackBerry or Treo to do. But outside of work, the BlackBerry and Treo simply can't touch the iPhone. People mix their work time and their personal time constantly. The iPhone addresses this.

And, yes, the iPhone is expensive for a phone. But it's inexpensive for an ultra-portable computer with WiFi and EDGE web access.

Now put all of those thoughts on hold for a few seconds.

I spoke recently to an Apple solution provider about the iPhone and Apple's forthcoming Leopard operating system. Speaking hypothetically, the solution provider wondered if Apple would optimize Leopard server and iCal for the iPhone. Making a device like the iPhone work seamlessly with the back end IT of a company would close the loop for business. Apple hasn't said it will do this, but it hasn't said it wouldn't do it. We'll find out in October when Apple ships Leopard.

We've all been told, at some point, not to use the office phone for personal calls. We all do it any way. So when IT managers and others tell us not to use the iPhone for business, guess what?

Ready or not, Big Business, here comes the iPhone.

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