I've been testing Apple's hype-tacular iPhone since the company released it to the public in a media orgy on June 29. And while some of what the iPhone does is truly fantastical, none of the demo-friendly technology Apple employed in the device is particularly compelling for business users. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the iPhone is not a smart phone at all, at least not in the conventional sense. Instead, you might think of it as the cell phone equivalent of the Media Center PC you might put in your den. Sure, it's superficially similar to the PCs you might use for work. But you really just use the Media Center PC, like the iPhone, for fun, and not for work. If that's not obvious to you, please read on.
It doesn't take a month and a half with the iPhone to understand its limitations for business use. The device is completely incompatible with Microsoft Exchange out of the box--let alone other managed corporate email solutions--unless you enable IMAP support, which many businesses will simply not allow. Yes, there are third party solutions popping up for Exchange compatibility, but these are from smaller, less-well-known companies, and it's unlikely that anyone currently using Windows Mobile or Blackberry devices will want to make the switch based on the performance and reliability of such a service.
Indeed, the iPhone is not centrally managed in any way and has to be activated and synced through iTunes, Apple's consumer-oriented media management application. That may be fine for the kids at home, but it doesn't support any form of corporate deployment. It is, in other words, a complete non-starter in the enterprise.
On the few iPhone applications that are currently available--you can't even install and download new applications, let alone restrict the ones that are on there by default--you'll see plenty of snazzy zooming and resizing effects, all triggered by simple and fairly intuitive finger swipes and squeezes. But many of the built-in applications are almost are almost comically consumer-oriented. YouTube? Seriously? And while zipping through a photo or music collection may be entertaining at first, how often will you really do such a thing?
Those iPhone applications that might be of interest to business travelers are otherwise constrained. For example, the native Google Maps application is excellent, but since the iPhone doesn't include or support GPS, it's just eye candy. The device's synchronization capabilities are pretty limited, and unless you're using Exchange with Outlook clients and are willing to enable IMAP, the iPhone's email functionality will go unused. Calendar and Contacts should work fine, but there's no Tasks feature on the iPhone at all.
I guess the point here is to not get sucked in by the hype. Just remember, the iPhone is not a smart phone. It's not a device that can integrate with the Exchange Server you're likely using, it can't be managed in any way, meaningful or otherwise, and offers more in the way of consumer niceties than corporate features. It's pretty yes, and intelligently-designed. It offers interesting, even occasionally stunning mobile technologies. But it's not a smart phone. And once you come to the understanding, you'll realize that it can never replace the solutions you're currently using. Repeat after me, the iPhone is not a smart phone.
An edited version of this article first appeared in the August 7, 2007 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE. --Paul