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Apple iPhone 3G in business

Arif Mohamed

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In 2008, Gartner told businesses that the Apple iPhone was now ready for business usage with the arrival of the iPhone 2.0 firmware.

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The iconic touch-screen device was refreshed with "enterprise-friendly security" and application enhancements, said Gartner.

"In its initial release, the iPhone was, with few exceptions, an Internet tablet with browser-based applications as its main offering, however, the release of firmware 2.0 changes that, enabling enterprises to develop local code and create applications that do not depend on network capabilities," said Gartner vice president Ken Dulaney.

He added that as a result the iPhone is now able to match its main business smart phone competitors, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian.

Key Features

The main business attractions of the iPhone 3G are push email with Microsoft Exchange support; inbuilt GPS; large onboard storage; and the graphical touch-screen interface.

The iPhone also features calendar and contacts, and gives mobile users secure access to corporate resources via a Cisco IPSec VPN, with WPA2 Enterprise and 802.1X authentication. The latest firmware refresh, iPhone OS 3.1, adds the ability to remotely lock the iPhone with a passcode.

Battery life for the iPhone 3G is 12.5 days on standby, and five hours talk-time using 3G.

Build Quality

Apple has seen great success with the iPhone smart phone as a consumer must-have device. However, businesses have been harder to convince, despite the attractions of the phone's sleek interface and multimedia capabilities.

Analysts argue that this has largely been down to early performance issues. But they add that Apple has successfully corrected these with later firmware upgrades.

Steve Broadhead, founder of Broadband Testing Labs, said, "Apple arguably redefined the smart phone concept when it launched the iPhone, even if the original version was well off the pace as a phone in many ways."

"With the launch of the 3G version, Apple at least theoretically had the technology to support its user interface, but well-documented operation issues made it all but unusable before firmware upgrades appeared to significantly improve its performance, as well as adding various new features."

Personal Appeal

Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner, said that the analyst firm now believes that formerly consumer-oriented smartphones, such as the Palm 3 and the iPhone, are now "good enough" to be used in the enterprise, having improved their respective security features.

The iPhone is particularly good for enterprise email, messaging, team calendaring and voice functions, said Cozza.

However, for many businesses, the iPhone is still considered a 'cool' device aimed at consumers, with no specific enterprise advantages, she said.

However, Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at Quocirca, likened the iPhone to the BlackBerry in its early days, brought into the organisation by executives who chose it for their personal and business use.

"The iPhone is a good device for its application breadth and ability to define your own functionality. If you're an individual in a role that demands high initiative, you might be more productive by being able to personalise your phone," said Bamforth.

But the problem comes with large scale deployments of iPhones in a corporate setting, he added.

Enterprise Application Support

Apple has worked hard to build a developer ecosystem around its device, said Bamforth.

The arrival of firmware 2.0 in summer 2008 marked the release of the iPhone SDK. In July 2008, Apple opened its App Store online marketplace for iPhone applications, including a number of business tools. The move spurred competitors, including Palm, Microsoft and RIM, to develop their own software stores.

Summer 2008 also marked Apple's licensing of Microsoft ActiveSync, introducing deeper Office integration, and the introduction of Cisco IPSEC and WPA2 security for WiFi connections.

But despite the success of App Store, Bamforth questioned whether businesses are getting the quality of applications they require.

"Businesses want good quality, preferably certifiable apps on their smart phone platforms. The challenge for phone makers is convincing the ISVs that they can make money out of an online store. The Apple store has been great for volume, but the iPhone is still seen as a consumer platform."

Availability and Price Plans

The iPhone 3G is priced around the £340 mark, with a range of business tariffs available from O2 and Orange, starting at around £30 but varying according to usage and number of handsets.

Comparative Tests

The Apple iPhone 3G 2.2 scored highly against comparative handsets such as the BlackBerry Bold, Symbian-based Nokia E71, and Samsung SGH-F48, in performance tests by independent testing firm Broadband Testing Labs.

Its overall score of 8.1 out of 10 was the highest, when testing call setup and maintenance functions.

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