Is the iPhone Ready for the Enterprise?

By  Lee Sherman — July 30, 2007

The iPhone is arguably the hottest consumer product ever made. So why should IT care?

Because, first, given its popularity among well-heeled executives, it is sure to be found sneaking through the back door of your enterprise, so you'll need to find a way to deal with it sooner or later. And second, because despite some major omissions, it just might prove to be the best way to run your Web-based custom applications.

The iPhone is small by smartphone standards, at 4.5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide and 0.46 inch deep. Its 3.5 inch 480x320 pixel resolution (160 dots per inch) touchscreen display is breathtaking to look at, and its icon-based touch interface, which eliminates computer detritus such as nested menus, sets a new standard for simplicity and ease of use. Next to the iPhone, Treo and Blackberry devices look pretty archaic.

Phone

Making a call is as simple as tapping on a person's name in the address book or dialing with an onscreen keypad. The lack of a search function means you'll have trouble finding a contact if you only remember part of their name, but you can narrow the search somewhat by tapping on a vertical row of letters on the side of the screen. The iPhone handles thousands of contacts with ease, and setting up conference calls is easier than on any other phone I’ve seen. The Visual Voicemail feature lets you listen to messages in any order you wish, a distinct advantage over wading through voicemail.

Email and Text

The iPhone supports Yahoo!, Gmail, AOL and .Mac accounts, but currently only works with corporate MS Exchange servers through a complicated IMAP setup. This hole is expected to be filled either by third-parties, several of which have already announced solutions, if not by Apple itself. PDF, JPEG, Word, and Excel attachments can be read, but there's no way to edit them.

The iPhone doesn't include an instant messaging function, but this pain is somewhat alleviated by the text messaging software that maintains conversation threads.
The soft predictive keyboard has proved the most contentious thing about the iPhone. Some users adjust to it in a matter of days, finding it eerily good at correcting typing errors and anticipating what you want to type; while for others it will never be a replacement for the hardware qwerty keyboard found on other smartphones.

Web

Where the iPhone really shines is in its inclusion of a full version of Apple's Safari Web browser (minus support for Flash and Java). You've never seen Web browsing like this on a phone. Pages appear with their full layouts intact. You can double-tap with your finger to zoom in and pan by swiping your finger across the display. Speed is acceptable when on the newly revved-up AT&T Edge network, and you'll fly when connected to WiFi.

Instead of being limited to WAP or text-only "mobile" sites, you can go to any Web site— and that includes those behind the firewall. This point bears repeating. Out-of-the-box, the iPhone supports your corporate Web apps. In addition, many enterprise application providers are starting to announce apps that have been specifically optimized for the iPhone's touch interface, which is a natural for forms applications and providing friendly access to backend systems. For example, BMC is working on an iPhone-specific version of its IT management application for trouble ticketing.

Multimedia

The iPhone is also a superior iPod, handling music and video with aplomb, but corporate users will have little use for this function and the extra cost may not be justified in your organization. Likewise, the 2-megapixel camera could be a concern. Despite the fixed lens and lack of flash, pictures are more than good enough to reveal company secrets. Security, as ever, is of the essence.

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