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Will Safari Make iPhone The Smartphone Of Choice In Business?

BI software provider Information Builders claims that the iPhone's Web browser is its ticket to the enterprise.

Apple's decision to allow only Web-based applications on the iPhone is considered its biggest limitation. But some app developers argue that the Web browser is the iPhone's biggest strength and could make it a smartphone of choice in business.

Information Builders, a provider of business intelligence and Web-reporting software, is one of the first to offer a mobile analytics tool that lets businesses interact with data on a smartphone similar to the way they would on a desktop. The company's WebFocus Active Reports software can be accessed through a Web browser on any smartphone.

The iPhone comes with a full Safari browser that supports JavaScript and advanced zoom and scroll functions, which makes it ideal for viewing Active Reports that require users to scroll vertically or horizontally.

Users can perform 90% of Excel functions in the Web browser, including viewing reports, applying calculations, visualizing data, creating charts, and changing chart types, said Rado Kotorov, director of strategic product management at Information Builders, in an interview.

One drawback of browser-based apps is they require users to stay connected to the Internet because they need to interact with a server. Kotorov said Information Builders addressed the issue by allowing users to access Active Reports without an Internet connection. Interaction happens in the browser instead of a server, he said.

One benefit of browser-based apps is they don't need to be tailored to specific smartphones. If a company has a mix of Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and Palm OS smartphones, it can administer the same app to all of them instead of downloading client-based software on each smartphone.

Information Builders isn't denying the fact that some browsers are better suited for viewing charts and graphs than others. A browser needs to have the ability to run JavaScript in order for the Active Reports application to work. Browsers in BlackBerrys, for example, don't support horizontal scrolling, so additional software needs to be installed.

"What will revolutionize Web-based business apps on smartphones are full-featured browsers like Safari on the iPhone and the Opera Mini," Kotorov said.

Last month, Opera Software released a free beta of Opera Mini 4, the newest version of its mobile Web browser. Opera Mini 4 includes a zoom feature originally introduced by Opera Software for Nintendo's Wii. The zoom feature dives into a page and snaps the content to make scrolling smooth. If used on a BlackBerry, it solves the horizontal scrolling issue.

Similarly, the iPhone's sophisticated mobile browser could be its ticket to the enterprise. Mobile business users often cite a poor Web browsing experience, small screen size, and limited memory as the pitfalls of smartphones. The iPhone addresses all three. "Soon expect to have 30-Gbytes of storage on these devices," Kotorov said. "The iPhone is like a mini computer that could become a good alternative to a $3,000 laptop for someone who's only creating reports or showing presentations."

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