The iPhone still is not a Business Phone

Since the launch of the original iPhone almost two years ago, it has been the position of this journalist, that the iPhone is not equipped, nor designed to be a business class phone. Although Apple has done a lot to address the concerns raised by many around the time of the original launch, such as third party apps and 3G speed, there are still inherent (and potentially unsolvable) problems with the phone.

Without a doubt, the iPhone is the sexiest phone on the market. Even with Research in Motion’s Blackberry Storm launch and a variety of other touch screen devices from other manufacturers, nothing meets, much less exceeds, the beauty and elegance of an iPhone. With it’s intuitive scrolling interface, the presence of a real web browser and hours of entertainment value via games from the app store, iPod capability and social networking capability, a la Livingston Communication’s Mobile Manifesto, there is no doubt that the iPhone is the device of choice for the long tail of consumers.

However, the finger typing (as opposed to tactile QWERTY keyboard of other devices, such as Blackberrys) poses a significant architectural barrier to business adoption. From a business standpoint, a mobile device is meant for utility. Email, productivity, and collaboration. That’s what we in business need from our phones, no? We need to be able to ensure connectivity to mission critical offices, and projects.

In Washington, we are a working class. We may not be the working class, as bandied around in political campaigns, but we are a town driven by long hours, massive public-interest footprints and a very east-coast “on the go” mentality. In Washington, Verizon Wireless rules the roost because of solid coverage and underground Metro coverage (granted, other carriers will have expanded coverage by the end of the year and full access by 2012).

During the Inauguration, while those in proximity to me (on the National Mall) lost coverage for all or a portion of the ceremony while using the Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile networks, Verizon Wireless troopered on without so much as a hiccup.

So, let’s review the iPhone. The iPhone is locked into the AT&T network (for now). Therefore, large collections of iPhones all throttle the same towers as opposed to dispersion of traffic across a multitude of networks. FAIL.

The iPhone presents significant usability and utility challenges to the “working” American due to the finger touch system. Additionally, the lack of viable Exchange integration (sorry, the iPhone OS 2.0 upgrade providing ActiveSync is junk), and lack of Group Policy mechanisms that prevent IT Administrators from effectively tying into a Enterprise Active Directory structure and enforcing group policy and security across an infrastructure in the same way they can for Windows Mobile or Blackberry devices, will continue to prevent the iPhone from seeing widespread adoption in enterprise environments.

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Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

12 thoughts on “The iPhone still is not a Business Phone”

  1. I could not have said it better myself, but I would have also probably had more vitriol behind it given my Apple “love.”

  2. Agreed, great points. Ultimately, the Iphone is excellent for entertainment and visual stimulation – however, efficient and time-effective usability is lacking.

  3. to summarize the reasons the iPhone is not a Business Phone are:
    * lack of a physical keyboard
    * Verizon’s superior DC metro network
    * lack of tight Exchange and AD integration.

    As far as the keyboard is concerned I’ve heard lots of anecdotal comments that a QWERTY keyboard is better than the iPhone’s ‘keyboard’ but no real research that says this is indeed the case.

    As far as your Verizon argument goes based on that any phone not on the Verizon network isn’t ready for business.

    As far as MS integration, this assumes your business is built on MS.

    Oh and 90% of ‘IT Administrators’ are interested in nothing more than making their lives easier not doing what is right.

  4. Yes! Someone has finally said it. I absolutely love the iPhone, but I couldn’t agree more that it is better for the consumer market than for business. I shudder when my business users threaten to toss their Blackberrys for the iPhone.

    Blackberry on a Verizon network is still the best business phone out there.

  5. I don’t know if I agree here, Aaron.

    Take Atlanta, for instance… Verizon has the most awful coverage here *especially* in-town. I switched from Verizon + Blackberry to AT&T + iPhone specifically for the opposite reasons you state.

    Let’s take BB OS to start… The sync between BB & Exchange (if you have it) is painful to work with. On my hip, I have a company BB Pearl, and it is largely unused. The main issue is subfolders. I get on the order of 200+ daily from work alone, and I have to use filters/rules to parse emails out into subfolders. Problem is, BB server doesn’t like to sync subfolders with your phone. So, if one of my subfolders is an important one, say from managers or my team, I can never see what they’ve sent me unless I garbage dump ALL incoming mail into the inbox, and hope to be able to parse that from a handset.

    On the contrary, my iPhone handles all the subfolders without issue. I can browse through and reply to any email in any folder, pick people from the GAL, accept and create meetings, and do anything I would *expect* from an ActiveSync-enabled telephone.

    BB 0, iPhone 1

    My office is in downtown Atlanta right in the middle of a ton of large buildings. Regularly, for whatever reason, the Verizon service just drops out. Completely. No lessening of power, switching of networks, etc. Just gone. Now, the service in outlying areas like extreme NW Georgia, and across the state on interstates and the like, no problem But I just cannot be on a conference call, get bumped two or three times and have to keep dialing in. My iPhone: no such trouble of any kind. Solid 3G signal across the entire metro, no issues with drops. The only place I consistently drop is by this large, black, nondescript cubic building in the government sector of town. hmmm… I used to get that in D.C. all the time.

    BB 0, iPhone 2

    Keyboard formfactor…

    I’m a big guy. Tall, large. And, yes.. I have gorilla hands. I was really concerned about this one when I bought my iPhone because the virtual keyboard seemed awfully small to me. I got very used to two-thumb typing, and really worried that I might be stuck holding the phone with one hand, and pecking out messages with the other index finger. Much to my surprise, not so.

    The biggest issue I faced was the method to cradle the phone with my fingers while typing with my huge thumbs. After a good bit of practice and attention to what the tendencies of the auto-correct engine were, I fell right into two-handed typing on the iPhone with ease. Now I can email, text, and even post blog entries from my phone in a rather capable fashion. I’m finally sold on this one, but BB deserves a nod for their mechanical keyboards.

    BB 1/2, iPhone 2 1/2

    Group Policy/security, etc.

    I’m not sure where you’re getting this one.

    The moment I put my phone on the CNN network, I was required to set a password. This is a policy-enforced requirement that gets pushed out to our phones from CNN corporate. They make requirements on us like this for lost/stolen devices. They can disable a phone remotely, and can even wipe the device. I can do lookups in our GAL, and have access internally through a VPN to reach all intranet sites as needed.

    Our IT team actually requested to add the iPhone to available handsets precisely because it was so much more easily managed, and had proper security already available through it’s connections to the network. The ActiveSync works wonderfully, and even more feature-full than the BB server’s standard operation. (I’m told the function I need – folder browse is not available. If this is incorrect, I am only hearing this second-hand).

    I have to admit that while the BB still remains *a* workhorse for business, it is not the only one or the best handset for everyone in every instance. I think that the right way to do this is to look at your needs, the needs of your user base, the tools you need to manage your flow of information, and make the best choice for *you*. This doesn’t always end in the same tool being chosen in each case. In our case, the iPhone works fine for journalists and journalism support. The Blackberry just doesn’t cut it. The server, administration, and management tools on the iPhone platform are far superior over the Blackberry, but in *our* application.

    As they say: YMMV.

    1. “On the contrary, my iPhone handles all the subfolders without issue. I can browse through and reply to any email in any folder, pick people from the GAL, accept and create meetings, and do anything I would *expect* from an ActiveSync-enabled telephone.”

      A correction to your point about the Iphone’s ability to correctly sync subfolders -nothing could be further from the truth. I haven yet to find a person who gets new message notifications on their iPhone for items that have been moved to a subfolder based on rules set on the server. To date this is not possible and is the single biggest shortcoming of corporate email on the iPhone BY FAR. What user in the corporate community doesn’t use subfolders? My iPhone doesn’t alert me to new emails like 95% of the time because of this issue!

  6. I have to say, I’m right with Jerald on this one. Active Sync support for the iPhone far outweighs the AS support for BBerries, and coupled with the applications development side of things, there are many fewer hurdles for adoption of iPhones.

    1. Jerald makes good points, yes. However, I’m not talking about ActiveSync. I’m talking about BES. If it’s truly a business and truly built on an AD/Exchange environment, and IT administrators are truly concerned about security (if they aren’t then the point is moot anyway), then the issue is not ActiveSync and instead BES integration. iPhone has no reliable GPO functionality on BES.

  7. A correction to your headline though – the iPhone isn’t ready for big corporate businesses. Although I deplore the tie to ATT, the “utility” is fine for a small business, AND you get the “most elegant” phone out there.

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