Our winner for Datamation Handheld Device of the Year, the Apple iPhone, launched in June 2007, with customers lined up nationwide to get their hands on one. And it's been in the news nearly every day since. With that kind of excitement, it's no surprise that it was our winner by a landslide. Or maybe it is, since the iPhone, unlike its competitors (and every other winner here) doesn’t have a clear business purpose.
Depending on your definition of "smartphone," the iPhone might not even qualify. It can't sync up with corporate communication systems, and you can't edit office documents or presentations on it. While it's great for staying in touch, it doesn't even have standard consumer smartphone features, such as 3G support.
But with its game-changing touch screen display and Apple's trademark intuitive controls, the iPhone didn't need all that.
"Part of the real driving factor behind the success of the iPhone was its positioning not as appealing to a business user in terms of productivity, but really as a lifestyle device around music, pictures, and movies," said Ben Bajarin, consumer technology analyst with Creative Strategies. "The other factor was that it got consumer's attention because it was a leap in innovation with the touch screen."
Cutting Across Barriers
The iPhone succeeded as a lifestyle device, but its appeal cut across the traditional consumer-business user barrier.
"One of the things that Apple has done is captured the attention of end users," said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director of Jupiter Research. "It's really not about business users versus consumers; it's about people. These are the same people who became enamored with Apple's marketing and the elegance of the device."
One person who's surprised by the iPhone being embraced by business professionals is Scott Bourne, who's hosted and produced the podcast The Apple Phone Showsince the iPhone debuted.
|Apple Mac Columns|
| The Mac Leopard Roars
Review: the iPod Touch
Leopard is Good (but it ain't no threat to Microsoft)
Top 10 Mac Productivity Enhancements
"In my experience, IT professionals are resistant to change and the iPhone is nothing but change. It doesn't have the kind of e-mail support that business professionals need, a la the Blackberry," Bourne said. "Its strong Web browsing capability carries the day, I'm sure, because that's what makes it appealing to most people."
Carrying too many gadgets is a burden, but some people might use the iPhone alongside another handheld, just to get the best of both worlds.
"The iPhone isn't taking off as a business tool. Business people are using it, but they're using it with a Blackberry or other smartphone," said Bajarin. "It's rumored that Apple is looking at licensing the technology necessary to let it integrate with Microsoft Exchange, which would open the door for it to be used as a productivity device."
The iPhone's appeal as a business device could change when Apple releases the iPhone software development kit later this month. The SDK will finally allow third-party development on the platform.
"We'll probably see more stuff going forward," said Gartenberg. "How that happens remains to be seen, but better integration with Exchange, better interoperability with Office applications, such as PowerPoint, a lot of those things will be opened up with the release of the SDK later this month."
With the flood of developer interest that's certain to hit the iPhone, expect its business profile to rise rapidly. If that takes off, we wouldn't be surprised if the iPhone takes this award next year, as well.