The Best Business Smartphone Available (Today)

Chances are, if you are reading this blog, then you have some affinity to technology and that you’re in the business of technology (whether directly, or using technology to do your job – and I don’t mean having a computer on your desk at work). This is a pretty tech-savvy crowd around these parts so I’m guessing that most of you own a smartphone of some sort. Many have iPhones. Perhaps as many have BlackBerrys. A few of you are sad, sad people who own Treos.

A swath of new smartphones have just hit the market and, though I don’t claim to be a gadget or phone blogger (Really, you need to go read Boy Genius and Gizmodo for a far more geeky and informative analysis of all the various devices that hit the market), I do know that I’m a businessman and entrepreneur. I know that, from my perspective, there are key principles and requirements in any phone.

In order for a businessperson or entrepreneur to invest in a phone (again, from my perspective), there needs to be a few key things.

  1. Email – Clearly the killer app forever now, any phone must support email. As part of this, there needs to be a wireless sync/push feature.
  2. Productivity – Any smartphone needs to be able to open files from major vendors – Word, Excel, PDFs, Images, etc.
  3. Competent mobile browser – As mobile professionals, we need the web more than the average home user. We need access to sites that are not inherently broken because they appear on the mobile device.
  4. Reliable network – This is not a plug for Verizon because several U.S. and international carriers can be considered “reliable”. Whatever the network that the phone is on, it needs to be reliable.
  5. Third Party Applications – How easy is it to add apps that you need to your phone? Are there quality apps available or not?
  6. Copy and Paste – One of those “Duh” features that is essential.

You may notice some notable omissions from this list that emphasize the angle of business utility. For instance, cameras, WiFi and GPS are all nice but unnecessary for business. Touch screens, such as the one that comes with the iPhone or BlackBerry Storm are also nice additions, but not required for business utility.

In my mind, there are three phones on the market that are worth considering for business use. I have my preference on which one is best, but businesses all have to decide what their needs are and, if they are practical, choose among one of these three devices.

Apple iPhone 3G S

apple-iphone-3gThe third generation iPhone just hit the market on June 19th. It boasts all of the features of the iPhone 3G plus a quicker OS and a better camera. Most of the new features of the iPhone are available via an OS 3.0 upgrade available for free for older iPhone owners. With the new iPhone, you can tether your iPhone for broadband access on your laptop (except AT&T customers in the US), and an all important Remote Wipe capability that will allow network administrators to remove sensitive data in case the phone is lost or stolen. Cost: $199 with new two year contract from AT&T (US)

Pros

  • Huge number of third party apps including many business apps via the iTunes App Store
  • Remote Wipe
  • Intuitive touch screen
  • WiFi or 3G connectivity

Cons

  • AT&T as the carrier in the United States has been hugely unreliable delivering even basic services like voice mail
  • Exorbitant data plan fees
  • Large glass screen lends itself to breakage
  • Insecure Microsoft Exchange integration
  • Inability to multi-task applications

Palm Pre

palm-prePalm used to be the dominant manufacturer of handheld devices. With the rising popularity of BlackBerrys and iPhones, Palm has slipped tremendously. They recently, however, came to market with a very sleek phone that has an open development structure with their WebOS. Unlike the iPhone, the Pre does a very good job of multitasking and with it’s touch screen, switching between open applications is a smooth process. Also unlike the iPhone, the Pre provides a physical keyboard that, while somewhat awkward to use, should appease users who like the tactile feel of actual keys. Cost: $199 with new two year contract from Sprint.

Pros

  • Small form factor
  • Sprint has a very good data network
  • Bright HVGA screen (touch screen)
  • Email and integration with Microsoft Exchange
  • WiFi or 3G connectivity
  • Classic Konami Nintendo game Contra code to unlock developer mode. Geek Props.

Cons

  • Screen is much smaller than the iPhone
  • Awkward slide out keyboard with tiny keys makes typing difficult
  • Third party application availability is limited at this time
  • No Remote Wipe, a security requirement that might prevent large scale adoption in enterprise

BlackBerry Tour 9630

blackberry-tour-96301For BlackBerry afficionados, the new BlackBerry Tour (available for both Sprint and Verizon Wireless) is a beautiful phone. It has the brilliant screen (if slightly smaller version) as the BlackBerry Bold from AT&T and the form factor and keyboard styling of the new BlackBerry Curve 8350i (from Sprint). It has all the Enterprise integration that BlackBerry has been known for including remote wipe and Exchange integration (via Blackberry Enterprise Server for Exchange). Cost: $199 with new two year contract on Sprint or Verizon Wireless

Pros

  • Familiar usability for BlackBerry users
  • OS 4.7, which includes a usable browser (departure from the norm)
  • Multi-tasking applications

Cons

  • No touch screen
  • Awkward position of MicroUSB slot makes it difficult for right handed users to use the device while it is plugged in
  • Still no competent native Mac support, though this is supposedly coming soon.

At the end of the day, each organization needs to determine what is best for them. iPhones are fantastic devices for custom applications and is being used in the military, enterprise and government alike. They are not the most secure devices though and, for now, require AT&T in the U.S. The Palm Pre offers a significant value for businesses, but lacks Enterprise features such as remote wipe. It is also the first generation model of this phone. The BlackBerry is the most utilitarian phone and remains popular for businesses but its lack of a touch screen, the likes of which Apple has made us expect and long for, makes it “meh” for some users.

Whatever works for you.

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.

The Dickensian 2008: A Look Back

This year might be the strangest year ever. It roared in with news of Robert Scoble having his Facebook account suspended for utilizing scripts to sync data between Plaxo and Facebook in violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service. Of course, the year ends with Facebook opening up fbConnect in a way to share that same data with anyone who so chose.

We started 2008 with CNETs Caroline McCarthy reporting that MySpace voters preferred Barack Obama on the left and Ron Paul on the right. As we know now at the end of 2008, there was one group of netroots voters that managed to be successfully heard and we now have a new President-elect. On the other side, the GOP demonstrated their complete ineptitude tapping into the grassroots by marginalizing the candidate that would have fired up their internet base. At least at the end of 2008, there are some pockets of common sense on the right, but those pockets will likely not be heard or heeded.

In the first half of 2008, ridiculous acquisitions, funding rounds and business plays flourished. An example was when job search site, Monster.com acquired San Francisco-based Affinity Labs for $61M. On contrast, companies receiving funding or valuations at the end of 2008, are doing so on devalued terms while other companies are laying off workers and cutting back contract costs in an effort to extend their runways as far as they can into the second half of 2009 or beyond.

In every way, 2008 ends in a Dickensian way, highlighting two sides of a very different coin and leaving investors and entrepreneurs with a scared and tentative look in their eyes.

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We made our annual predictions early in the year, and wanted to review those predictions for those keeping track at home.

Macworld/Apple

We said: Since Macworld is right around the corner I don’t think we will see any real new products but rather a grow what they have to meet their projections. This means upgraded iPod Touches, iPhone 2.0, iPhone SDK, upgraded Apple TV, patches to Leopard, improved Cinema Displays and upgraded Macs/Macbooks. The only thing I could see would be integration of their multi-touch technology on laptops (like the rumored sub-notebook).

What actually happened: Apple announced Time Capsule, an iPhone SDK for developing Apps for the iPhone (now available through the iTunes App Store for the iPod Touch and the iPhone 3G), iTunes movie rentals, Apple TV 2, and the now famous Macbook Air.

Accuracy: We accurately projected the iPhone SDK, Upgraded Apple TV, and the Macbook Air with multi-touch. Later in the year, we would see the iPhone 3G, improved cinema displays and the release of the new Macbook/Macbook Pro lines. We consider 100% accuracy here in 2008 with a 50% accuracy for Macworld 2008.

Microsoft

We Said: Let’s face it, Vista blows. It’s slow, doesn’t have any real innovation under the hood and takes more horsepower to run. I predict they will continue forcing it down people’s throats and in revolt people will continue to order machines with XP. On the other side of the coin, the Xbox is rocking and I predict they will announce an integrated Windows Media Center/IPTV version with HD-DVD to compete with the Playstation 3. They have a real opportunity to own the living room since Apple TV has flopped.

What actually happened: Some manufacturers, including Dell, decided that based on actual customer demand and trends (wiping pre-loaded Vista systems and installing Windows XP), computers could be shipped with XP instead. In addition, the Xbox did receive a much-needed face lift (called Xbox Experience) that we talked about here, though it did not go as far as we expected. We did not predict the emergence of Apple TV/Xbox Experience/TiVo challenger Vudu at the beginning of the year.

Accuracy: We consider our predictions to be mostly inline with actual results, but we missed or misjudged several things along the way. We claim a 60% accuracy rating here.

Web 2.0

We Said: Ok, hype over. Game over. Most “Web 2.0″ companies will go into the dust bin of history because their marketing strategy or ideas just didn’t pan out. Also, as more companies adopt these technologies into their “œEnterprise 2.0″³ strategy there will be less of a rush to create another social network or AJAX-ified web site unless it has real value. Side note – kill the term Enterprise 2.0. The enterprise hasn’t changed, the apps have just gotten easier to develop.

What actually happened: We feel that this was an overly-generalized prediction. It could have been more specifically Enterprise 2.0, as opposed to Web 2.0. That said, there was an actual push and adoption into the Enterprise space. Most notable of all Enterprise 2.0 companies was Yammer which is build as a standalone Twitter for Enterprise. Yammer won the top award at Techcrunch50.

Accuracy: Though there certainly has been more focus in recent months on utility over “bling” (Ajaxified sites, as we put it), we don’t necessarily believe that corporate Web 2.0 has advanced far beyond “Corporate blogging”, but with Yammer like companies popping up, we’ll claim a 40% accuracy rating.

Twitter

We Said: Twitter will get bought – it is a cool tool but not a lot money to made behind it. It needs to be part of a bigger whole. They also need better infrastructure because they crash whenever there is a big tech conference. CES will be a big test for them.

What actually happened: Twitter did not get bought, and in fact, took a third round of funding. It may have been their failures of June/July that prevented an acquisition, and there certainly were rumors of a Facebook acquisition of Twitter recently. The company seems to have turned a corner on reliability, and have a business model in mind, even if it hasn’t been outlined. In addition, Twitter development continues to proceed with a release of an all new Twitter API in 2009.

Accuracy: 0% – hands down, we were wrong. The company continues to confound even the experts.

Pownce

We said: Pownce will die – Twitter won this battle. Game over.

What actually happened: Pownce died.

Accuracy: 100%. ‘Nuff said.

Digg

We said: Digg will get bought – After rumors of a sale for the last 18 months, they finally get bought by a media behemoth. Sale price? $300 million.

What actually happened: While Digg did not actually get bought, they are bleeding money as reported by TechCrunch this weekend. According to the TechCrunch, the Microsoft search deal which was supposed to bring in over $100M over three years is clearly not doing that at all.

Accuracy: We want to take some credit for seeing the dark side of Digg, but clearly cannot based on our actual predictions. 0%.

Yahoo

We Said: Yahoo will continue to struggle and have massive layoffs – Yahoo didn’t change much with their executive restructuring and they have really sucked at integrating their products. They are going to get hit with lower stock prices and will have to cut the fat out.

What actually happened: What didn’t happen, might be the more accurate question. We had the Microsoft-Yahoo deal that was on, then off, then on, then off. The forced resignation, by all accounts, of CEO Jerry Yang, the hostile board takeover (“hostile” in the loose sense, not the SEC sense) by Carl Icahn, and the devaluation of Yahoo stock to approximately half of what it opened the year.

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As for the predicted Yahoo layoffs… Well, it’s such a bloodbath that sites like this exist to track the chaos.

Accuracy: Can we score a 110%?

HD-DVD vs Bluray

We said: HD-DVD and BluRay will not have a winner, still – This year is just going to continue the fight with hybrid drives getting cheaper so by 2009 the choice will be irrelevant.

What actually happened: Bluray won.

Accuracy: 0%

Google and Wall Street

We Said: Google’s honeymoon with Wall Street will end – With the acquisition of DoubleClick there is more of a chance for Google to fail. Along with it trying to change to many sectors, Healthcare and Energy to name a few, it will need to shore up its core competencies before people start to trash it and the stock will be worth half what it is today.

What actually happened: Everyones honeymoon with Wall Street ended with the collapse of the economy. Google has lost over 60% of it’s value, falling from a Jan 2 open of $685/share to the current trading number of $298/share.

Accuracy: We will claim 75% accuracy on this. We can’t claim 100% because the reason for the value loss is not similar. It’s just the nature of the market at this time.

Facebook

We Said: They are a necessary evil right now and their beacon debacle will need to be fixed in order for them to go IPO. They will be the new IPO darling as analysts are ready to trash Google.

What actually happened: Facebook did not IPO in 2008, though they had a significant investment from Microsoft at a highly questionable valuation of $15B. Experts like Kara Swisher don’t expect an IPO until 2010. I might add that with the economy the way it is, pre-collapse predictions of 2010 might still be ambitious. I personally doubt Facebook will ever IPO.

Accuracy: 0%

Bringing 2008 In for a Landing

It’s always tricky to really predict a year in advance. With the economy and turbulence in the various sectors and markets, 2009 will be highly tricky to predict. Predict we will do, early in the new year, though so stick around.