With the recent simultaneous release of the new iPhone 3G and the iPhone 2.0 software for existing devices, Apple Inc. resellers say they see a tremendous surge of interest in the device for business use.
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"It's pretty obvious with the release of the iPhone 2.0 software that Apple means business -- and good business at that," said Janet Schijns, president and CEO of The JS Group, a Somerville, N.J., consulting firm that provides services to corporate Apple environments. "Prior to this release, corporate users may have been able to sneak an iPhone past IT, but they were still lugging around their BlackBerrys or Windows Mobile devices as well."
Mike Oh, founder and president of Tech Superpowers Inc., an Apple reseller in Boston, agreed. "Obviously, the addition of Exchange compatibility is a big thing. There were plenty of excuses for corporations to ignore it before. Now, by supporting corporate standards and environments, those excuses have largely gone away."
Unlike other types of business-sanctioned smartphones, which are generally dictated from the top down by IT, the iPhone's move into corporate America is likely to be powered by users, Oh said.
"With the iPhone 1.0, people were buying the device for home use and trying to convince their IT managers to support it," he said. "The general response was, 'Sorry, that's a consumer device.'" Now, however "the conversation is changing. Although largely driven by the user population, corporate IT managers are now fully engaged in discussing the possibilities," Oh said.
The new security features of the iPhone -- specifically, the ability to "wipe" the machines remotely -- are attractive to the business community, as is the price point, said Brian Ardinger, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Nanonation Inc., a Lincoln, Neb.-based developer that builds hospitality industry business applications for the iPhone. "We are trying to think outside the box to come up with new applications and believe there are lots of ways the iPhone can be incorporated into a virtual concierge environment in a hotel, or for training or supporting service employees."
Robbie Laughlin, assistant manager and trainer at Carbon Computing, an Apple reseller in Toronto that provides corporate training on Apple hardware and software, said his firm has already had a lot of requests from companies intending to bring the iPhone inside their shops.
"We're seeing a lot of small to medium businesses in particular converting their whole offices," he said. And its usefulness for business is only going to grow over time, he added. "Although there are only a few good business applications at this time, there are people developing more every day, which will make it even more valuable for corporate users," he said.
How prepared was Apple for the possibility that the iPhone could be adapted for business use? Oh called it a "strategic redirection."
"I believe that Apple primarily intended for the iPhone to be a consumer device, and was surprised that people were willing to go to such lengths -- unlocking it, and installing business applications on it to make it suitable for corporate use -- despite its limited business capabilities," he said. He pointed to his own organization as an example. "In our business, we were willing to deal with the lack of support of business features such as push email because of the other things, like the full Web browser and innovative interface."
Schijns said, "The form factor that makes the iPhone so unique also makes people say 'no' to the iPhone for corporate use -- for example, the touch screen makes responding to emails very difficult. Plus, the inability to cut and paste emails others send to you quickly removes the iPhone from the list of business-appropriate devices for many people I know."
Bill Hughes, an analyst at researcher In-Stat in Scottsdale, Ariz., said he's "cautiously skeptical" about the iPhone's ability to make inroads into larger enterprises. "In a limited poll I took, it was only the smaller businesses with less than 10 employees that had standardized on it," he said.
It's not a technical issue, he said, so much as an "internal political" one. He believes it's still too much of a consumer device to make it onto mainstream IT approved lists. "Regardless of its technical excellence, it's just a little bit easier to implement a BlackBerry -- which is very clearly a business tool -- from a political perspective," he said. "I anticipate corporate boards saying, 'Why should we give our users a device that has an iPod built in?' Technically it has everything going for it, but organizationally? I'm not sure."
Still, most Apple resellers and consultants say Apple has a big win on its hands.
"When the first iPhone came out, you had a lot of business users yelling, 'Where's mine?'" said Janice Kempf, owner of Clear Link, an Apple reseller and consultant based in Sacramento, Calif. "Now that the device supports Exchange and delivers push email capabilities, they'll be able to get their hands on them -- and it will make them very happy."