Sure, the iPhone’s cool, but the BlackBerry’s still best for business

Will Apple iPhone’s “greatest show on Earth” sway Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry’s business faithful? Hint: Bet on the BlackBerry for business.

Sure, the iPhone’s browser bailiwick and coolness factor will appeal to slick, image-conscious execs.

Yet the vast majority of the business segment proper won’t give up their BlackBerrys — which have pretty much become a lifeline to their jobs — anytime soon.

After all, it’s only business.

“People who carry the BlackBerry are not in it for the thrill,” says InfoWorld chief technology analyst Tom Yager. “The BlackBerry is boring next to the iPhone, but it is the quintessential, always-connected messaging device. Its operation is second nature to professionals, and you can trace that objective back 10 years to its original design.”

Put aside, for now, the back-end stuff such as security, support, management, wireless carriers, and even price — real people choose mobile devices based on personal preferences, not necessarily IT policies.

And BlackBerry’s signature user-oriented features have become part and parcel to the way people work every day: push messaging, apps running in the background, always-on instant messaging, and, of course, the venerable and practical hardware keyboard for serious and, at times, lengthy correspondence that needs to happen, well, now.

By contrast, the iPhone’s touch keyboard has been criticized for being unwieldy for such typing correspondence.

So the real question is this: Can the iPhone compete against BlackBerry’s messaging strengths?

The BlackBerry’s messaging advantage

In the United States, the BlackBerry reigns among business users — but the race is just starting to heat up. A Forrester Research survey released last week showed that smartphones — which includes the BlackBerry, iPhone, Nokia’s E-series, and Palm’s Treo — are making their way into the hands of employees at a rapid rate. The number of employees using smartphones is expected to double to 82 per cent in 2013.

The BlackBerry stole execs’ hearts with its push messaging many moons ago. Even captains of industry went on record saying they’d be lost without their BlackBerry’s incessant and familiar buzzing. Last week, Apple touted the same push feature in iPhone 2.0. A major coup? Depends on how you define push messaging.

The first iPhone could check for new e-mail only every 15 minutes or other user-designated interval; but when it ships in July, the iPhone 2.0 software will give both iPhone 3G and current iPhone (as well as iPod Touch) devices push-messaging capabilities via a back-end Microsoft system. The problem, says Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, is that it won’t be perfect.

“I’ll use an [existing] Microsoft device as an example,” Dulaney says. “Say you get a partial download of a message, and so you scroll down and try to get the rest of the message. It can take 20 seconds, but with RIM, it’s instant. RIM has very granular control of e-mail.”

RIM achieves this thanks to its own network, which Apple doesn’t have.

“You can’t have push without a proprietary network that gives you a presence in real time and lets inbound messages float around in the ether until it sees you’re able to receive it,” Yager explains.

In fact, Apple had to create its own version of a piece of BlackBerry’s infrastructure — a proprietary notification service — to make push messaging work in iPhone 2.0, Yager says.

Another issue: The BlackBerry integrates with all three major e-mail platforms: Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Notes, and Novell Groupwise, as well as the Internet-standard POP mail protocol (but not the standard IMAP protocol).

The iPhone ties directly into only Exchange, in addition to supporting both POP and IMAP for basic e-mail support on a variety of e-mail platforms.

That’s because the BlackBerry was designed from the outset to connect to corporate e-mail accounts, whereas iPhone was aimed at the consumer and is now being adapted for business. (IBM has announced its intent to make a native Notes client for the iPhone, but it’s not clear when that might ship. Novell has announced no plans.)

The BlackBerry’s platform support is “a big issue for customers who want to access their enterprise e-mail,” says Jan Dawson, an Ovum analyst. But he suspects this disadvantage will be transitory: “The iPhone’s first step was [support for] Exchange, because it’s the most used platform. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple added compatibility with Lotus and other e-mail platforms down the line.”

Another advantage for BlackBerry users is that they can have multiple applications running simultaneously.

A business user can talk on the phone, chat in two IM sessions, and chart a location on TeleNav via a button that scrolls through applications.

By contrast, iPhone apps suspend or stop when you switch from one to the other, Yager notes.

For example, e-mail downloading stops while you browse the Web.

That’s not a big deal for when you’re making a call or writing an e-mail and need to quickly switch to a browser, your contacts, or Google Maps to look something else, then switch back to your call or e-mail. But it can be an issue for real-time apps such as chat, video, and streaming media.

Have the enhancements announced this week by Apple made the iPhone 3G ready for large-scale business usage.

At least one expert believes this is not the case.

“Most enterprises should wait before broadly deploying and supporting the iPhone,” writes Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, in a newsletter published for clients and released today.

Gold listed several limitations, the most important being a lack of data encryption native to the device, which would make the data on the iPhone vulnerable if it is lost or stolen.

One large business beta tester of iPhone 2.0, who asked not to be named, said lack of native encryption and general security worries are so great with the device that any other concerns about functionality are secondary. However, the tester also said that Apple is shipping new builds of the iPhone 2.0 software nearly every week, and that improvements could be made before the iPhone’s scheduled shipment on July 11.

Gold also described a lack of device management and end user policy settings to enable IT to manage the device, deliver applications and set policies, such as the ability to turn off the camera if required by company policy.

A concern raised by some IT managers who heard Monday’s announcement about iPhone 3G was the lack of an over-the-air means to deploy enterprise applications.

Gold also mentioned this concern about application distribution and said that if an enterprise must deploy applications through the App Store, it would require the business to go through an Apple server “which is generally unacceptable for mission critical and/or proprietary apps.” Apple said enterprises could also use iTunes through a workstation, meaning a wired connection to the iPhone would be required.

But Gold said many businesses don’t want to do that.

Other concerns that Gold raised include the absence of an Apple development environment in most businesses, which would require more staff; a lack of information about the device’s durability and how much service will be required; lack of a removable battery, meaning heavy users might need a second one to get through a work day; and lack of instant messaging capability.

Having to commit the business to use only AT&T as the carrier could also be a problem, Gold said.

“It is highly unlikely iPhone can meet compliance standards for full security and audit trail in regulated industries,” such as financial services, health care, government, retailing and legal services, he added.

Gold said the limitations means that businesses should deploy the iPhone 3G only as the exception, for example, for executives who demand it, and that IT staff will need to find add-on applications that make it secure. One example of how this might work is to deploy Sybase Information Anywhere software for e-mail deployments on iPhone, he said.

“IPhone will seep into the company, but will require special handling if it is not to represent a security and data protection risk,” Gold said.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said earlier this week that because iPhone 3G and 2.0 software are unproven, businesses should provide iPhone access only to a limited set of applications, such as Exchange and Apple’s e-mail client.

One of the new features announced by Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Monday, the ability to search iPhone e-mail for a sender’s name, don’t seem to be included in the iPhone 3G or 2.0 beta software, the beta tester added. Perhaps it will be ready by the time the product ships July 11, the tester said.

Some potential business users have raised questions about the cost of AT&T’s global roaming service and support abroad. In response, an AT&T spokesman said this week that Apple will be responsible, at least in the U.S., for technical problems related to the iPhone 3G device itself. Outside the U.S., carriers abroad will handle service on the device, Dulaney said. Apple officials did not respond to an inquiry to confirm this information.

AT&T also said there will be two international data plans for its iPhone customers, one for US$24.99 a month for 20MB of data, and another for $59.99 a month for 50MB of data, in 41 countries. For $5.99 a month, the AT&T World Traveler plan offers iPhone and other customers discounts off standard roaming rates when calling from one of 85 countries.

On calls from most European countries, the rate would be 99 cents a minutes on that plan, compared to $1.29 a minute for the standard rate, the AT&T spokesman said.

Comment: edit@itworldcanada.com

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