Despite the closed design of Apple's smartphone, application and service options grow.
The iPhone launched two weeks ago as a stylish, multifunctional smartphone for consumers. But Apple's souped-up cell phone is quickly becoming a respectable business communications device, too.
The iPhone remains a closed system that doesn't allow install-it-yourself applications, giving Apple firm control over the iPhone's security and performance. That design decision was a red flag to businesses that use a variety of apps and consequently need more flexibility than Apple's giving.
The new business accessory
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But developers can build rich Web applications using Ajax and featuring cascading style sheets that can be accessed from the iPhone's browser, and for some, that's good enough. "The iPhone is business-ready for anyone who has adopted the Web services model," says Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias.
Visto, a mobile e-mail service provider, this quarter will make available its Visto Mobile service for iPhones, so users can access enterprise e-mail systems, including Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Domino. The iPhone comes with an HTML client that fetches messages in the background from most POP 3 and IMAP services. Visto Mobile will use IMAP to deliver business e-mail to the iPhone, says Joyce Kim, VP of marketing at Visto.
Device management company Synchronica last week said it will support over-the-air synchronization between Exchange and the iPhone. Using Synchronica's Mobile Gateway 3.0, service providers can offer business users the option of receiving corporate e-mail on their iPhones without having to ask an IT manager to open the firewall or install additional software. Mobile Gateway uses Microsoft's Outlook Web Access to retrieve e-mail from Exchange servers and deliver it to the iPhone's e-mail client.
Also last week, NetSuite announced SuitePhone, a rebranded version of its flagship on-demand software that lets customers access ERP, CRM, and e-commerce apps from iPhones. SuitePhone works with Apple's Safari browser, bringing NetSuite's interface of drop-down menus and in-line editing to the iPhone.
Because the iPhone has a large screen for a small device, it makes a good mobile computer for NetSuite customers. Brian Keare, chief operating officer for Circle of Friends, a small supplier of children's bath products, tested his iPhone with NetSuite and was pleasantly surprised. "I was hopeful that it would work well, but I was taking a risk," Keare says. "It ended up working better than I had hoped it would." The company has found the iPhone useful enough that it plans to buy a couple more for top execs.
The iPhone doesn't have anywhere near the business fan base of Research In Motion's BlackBerry, yet it wasn't uncommon last week to see businesspeople tapping their new iPhone touch screens. "It will be groundbreaking in business and really does point the way to where smartphones are going," says analyst Mathias.
Michael Karfakis, CEO of Vitamin, a design and marketing firm, equipped his five employees with iPhones so they could "use it for everything," including research, blogs, podcasts, e-mail, and video. "They are being used personally and professionally," says Karfakis. "We held off on other technologies because they just didn't do enough."
Many smartphones have Web browsing capabilities, but Karfakis raves about the iPhone's usability. The iPhone's closed software environment hasn't been a problem because Vitamin doesn't need to run third-party apps; the company's users get by with JPEGs, PDFs, and Word documents.
"We realize that there may be bumps in the road," says Karfakis. So far, so good, however. The iPhone's off to an impressive start.
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