The iPhone 3G as a Business Tool – Part 3

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been looking at the iPhone 3G as a business tool. It’s been an interesting time. I’ve gotten quite a large number of comments on the iPhone OS and its advantages and challenges in the Enterprise and in a business environment. Last week’s comments on Calendaring, also in the Enterprise and in a business environment, created quite the off line discussion among the Gear Diary Team. Some of those comments have required me to go back and readdress some issues in this week’s commentary. You can see both articles here:

iPhone 3G as a Business Tool – Part 1: iPhone OS
iPhone 3G as a Business Tool – Part 2: Calendar, iCal and Exchange

If you remember, I said that I was going to tackle the following areas:

  • Operating System
  • Calendar
  • Mail
  • Tasks

 

The iPhone 3G as a Business Tool - Part 3

 

This week, I am going to modify this slightly and talk about Contacts, as well as Mail and Tasks. We’re going to look at how the iPhone handles these in an enterprise setting and see where the good, the bad, and the improvements need to come. After I’m done with the analysis, I’m going to have an interesting recommendation that hopefully, will bubble up to someone over at Apple. If they bite, who knows…

Also, I wanted to make a quick aside before we get into the guts of this week’s commentary… I’ve received a number of different comments on how this series has not touched on any other sync solution, like g-Mail, Google Calendar, Yahoo Calendar, etc. I’m not covering these here in any real detail – and for a specific reason: Apple hasn’t provided for them as a sync solution in the iPhone or in iTunes, AND they are not an enterprise level solution.

I’ve got a g-Mail account and Google Calendar doesn’t sync with g-Mail on the iPhone 2.x OS without some interesting tweaks (and I honestly haven’t explored them). I also don’t know of any mid-size or larger organization that would run their business through any cloud based mail server/service, like g-Mail/Google Calendar, Hotmail/Windows Live or Yahoo Mail.

This series concentrates on the iPhone 3G’s readiness, out of the box, with the tools provided BY APPLE (Exchange support is built in, and the only enterprise/business integration component they provide) to support implementation in a business setting and/or in the enterprise. Hacking or twisting services into the device in order to get it to do things that it wouldn’t/won’t do natively isn’t supportable or sustainable by an IT department of ANY size, and is out of the scope of this series.

That said, let’s take a look at everything and see how things add up this week…

Contacts
With the implementation of the iPhone 2.1 OS, many of the issues that I had with Contacts and the Address Book have been addressed. However, there are one or two things that, if addressed by Apple, could make this applet much more user friendly, whether in a business or consumer setting.

The iPhone 3G as a Business Tool - Part 3

First thing’s first… the slowness with Contacts still exists, even after the 2.1 OS upgrade…Which really sucks.  I don’t know about you but I have a few contacts (see below).  I’ve amassed these over the last 15-20 years; and I want them all with me, all the time. 

Search Bar and ABC Bar
Is it just me, or do you have a REALLY hard time using both of these search tools? The Search Bar may or may not auto activate when you open Contacts. If it does, then depending on the number of contacts you have (I have over 1300 in my Address Book), it may take a while to get text to appear in the search bar when you tap a key on the soft keyboard. I’m not certain if this is my 1300 contacts, or if it’s still the iPhone 3G’s problems with slowness of the Contacts app. Either way, it’s not acceptable and clearly a problem that Apple needs to address.

The iPhone 3G as a Business Tool - Part 3

I find the ABC Bar on the far right side of the Contacts window completely useless. I never have any idea if I’m tapping the desired letter, and quite frequently don’t, which leads me to tap the same place over and over again, trying to get the contact list to move to the desired spot in my Contact list.

The iPhone 3G as a Business Tool - Part 3

You do know the definition of insanity, right..? Madness appears to have set in slightly, as I keep doing this over and over again. I’m vowing to stop using the feature and just remain frustrated with the overall Search Bar. With my fat fingers, I think it gives me the best chance at successful contact searching.

Category Filters
Again, don’t get me started. Sometimes, even if search works like it’s supposed to, I want to filter my Contact List so that only specific one’s show. Since the iPhone (in any generation) doesn’t support category filters of any kind, in any applet, I’m out of luck.

Here’s the capper, though… If Apple does decide to support Category filters at some point, Search needs to work with AND without an implemented filter. That would mean creating an extra search screen; with some kind of button/magnifying glass button/icon at either the top or bottom of the screen (if you stick with the current development conventions…). I’m not certain how likely this is, but if you’re going to dream…

Mail
Address Lookup and the GAL
As I mentioned last time, having access to the Global Address List, or GAL gets you a lot of things. Besides being able to view free/busy time in the calendar when trying to set up meetings, you can look up addresses for, and send e-mail to, people who are NOT in your Contacts list. You can also automatically add that person to your Contacts list from the GAL when you look them up.

Without access to the GAL, I’ve got no way to send a message to any particular person unless I type it in manually; and then depending on what information is kept in your GAL (addresses, phone numbers, etc.) you can’t add a complete Contact record to your List.

This is a huge enterprise level hole that needs to be plugged somehow. Apple needs to step up to the plate and build this into their Exchange ActiveSync module so that business users have the access they need. While this isn’t available now, I would suspect that Apple is considering plans to address this need in a future update. How, when or (and let’s be honest…) if it gets addressed, obviously is yet to be seen; but it needs to be addressed.

Hello..? Message Priority..!
I was looking for this feature the other day when trying to send an important message on my iPhone and couldn’t find it. The iPhone just doesn’t seem to be able to set a message priority at all. I mentioned this to an iPhone veteran, and they responded with, “you still use that feature??”

Shuh! Doesn’t everyone?! With mobile devices so common now a days, I would think that getting a note from the boss from his Blackberry doesn’t send everyone scrambling like it did 5-7 years ago. Having the red exclamation point next to an unread note tells me I have to move my butt.

In fact, message priority doesn’t even show up with received messages. So not only can’t I set them, I can’t see a message’s priority on my iPhone. Also, not good. With the way things are right now, if I don’t at least scan the contents of every message, I may miss the huge task that I’ve been asked to do for a critical project and get burned later on…

Multiple e-Mail Accounts? Multiple Signatures
Your iPhone lets you use a signature with Mail, which I think is really cool. However, you get one signature and one signature for EVERY account you have on your iPhone. Again…problem. If I’ve got work mail synchronizing with Exchange, I’d like my work info in my signature every time I write and/or reply to a work e-mail.

The iPhone 3G as a Business Tool - Part 3

If I’ve got personal mail synchronizing with any other mail or account, I’d like to have a personal signature show up for messages sent and replied to on those accounts. I don’t necessarily want the entire family calling, or more importantly, e-mailing me all of their cute internet forwards to the work account.

The iPhone 3G as a Business Tool - Part 3
Signatures on desktop Outlook are accessed via the Options dialog. Click the Signatures button

Having this kind of functionality is especially important when communicating with customers or vendors you work with. Having this information for them is very important; and quite honestly, I don’t want to have to type that stuff over and over again in each note.

The iPhone 3G as a Business Tool - Part 3   
Outlook 2007’s Signatures dialog. I have signatures for more than one mail account…

 

Moving Messages & Creating Folders
This one is easy… I can’t create a new mail folder on the device, file messages in it, and have that sync to the device. I can only file messages in existing folders. If I want a new folder, I have to create it on the desktop, or some other interface, sync my iPhone with the Exchange Server, and THEN I can file messages in that folder. What’s up with that?? I know I can do this on a WM device… Perhaps it has to do with the ActiveSync license that Apple bought. Perhaps its just the implementation of AS that they have on the iPhone. Who knows..? Any way you slice it, while not HUGE (how many people do you know with a couple thousand messages in their inbox??), this is a hole that needs to get plugged.

The iPhone 3G as a Business Tool - Part 3

Before I hit the next subsection here, most of the above Mail app items just seem to be unfinished bits and bytes that just got either ignored or left off at the last minute…or again, is it just me? It really seems that, from a business/enterprise perspective, Mail was rushed in order to have it ready for release on 11-Jul-08. I really don’t think it would take much development work at all to address these Mail app issues and get them coded, tested and released.

Keyboard Tactile Feedback
I’ve been trying to thumb out messages on my iPhone for about 6 weeks now, and the biggest problem I’ve got is the spell check in my thumbs. It sucks.

The iPhone 3G as a Business Tool - Part 3

The fact that the device only has 2 switches (volume on/off and Sleep/Wake) and 2 buttons (volume rocker and Home), makes tactical keyboard feedback a virtual impossibility; but this is still a huge hole.

Misspellings in your text messages can be funny. Sure, having the phrase, “sold to me” turn into, “sodomy” can make anyone laugh, but misspellings in your e-mail just make you look lazy, unintelligent and stupid. I’m a frequent Twitter-er and I’ve got mis-tweets all the time. I hate it when that happens, especially when my flubbed tweet is, like, the only one on my home page.

Anyway, like many who learned to touch type 20 plus years ago, or recently with your Blackberry, Treo or WM device, I touch type on my devices with my thumbs. No, I don’t look like Reed Richards from the Rise of the Silver Surfer blazing away with rubber thumbs; but when I get going, it’s amazing how fast I can get something relatively unintelligent in a TXT bubble. Without any real way to know what keys I’m pressing, I’m just tpyung giveridh. (Damn…!)

Tasks? What tasks..?
This one gets its own section… The OS supports Contacts, Calendar Events and Invitations, and e-Mail; but that’s it. The only other piece of PIM data left is Tasks. I need my to-do items, guys!

I’m a QA Director. I plan. I write it down. I do it, and then I check it off a list. Come on! How difficult is it to write a quick little iLife program that does Tasks/To-Do’s? Porting it over to the iPhone after that shouldn’t be TOO hard. The implementation in Outlook isn’t very elaborate, and it’s a great model to follow. I shouldn’t have to rely on 3rd party developers to address this.

I’ve also got Tasks synched to my Exchange Server, and would like to bring those down to the device as well. Anything that does get developed needs to sync to Exchange anyway, if you’re using Exchange, that is…

Conclusion
So, after all of this, what do you think? Is the iPhone ready for implementation in the Enterprise; or in your business situation, Exchange based or not? Will you be able to use it as a business tool as it stands today? Some will… some won’t. It depends on what functionality you are willing to live with and live without. Some of us will try, and will find it painful. Others, like me, will find it just annoying, as certain, often used features on other platforms/devices are simply… missing.

Security issues aside, including some sort of anti-virus quarantine and scanning (perhaps done as information is synched or backed up and NOT on the device; BUT will need to be addressed before many IT managers will allow the devices to hook to the corporate information store), my biggest problems are the disconnects and problems with the iPhone’s PIM implementation.

Some features aren’t completely implemented or are immature. Some items are simply missing. Some of these can also be easily remedied IF Apple steps up to the plate and addresses them; or allows them to be addressed via third party developers, though I think the latter isn’t very likely.

I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Does Apple’s current iPhone implementation work for you, or is it missing something. I admit that my analysis is just on the basics, and largely concentrates on PIM needs; and from a power user perspective in an Exchange environment.

Recommendation
The problem is that the iPhone is a consumer directed device. None of the software really has a business focus. It addresses general consumer needs. Apple is trying to capture some of the Enterprise market with the iPhone 3G, but I think the implementation is sorely lacking, and full of holes, as I’ve noted above. What might be the best solution, given the way I’m almost certain Apple may or may not approach these problems is for Apple to create a “business” version of the iPhone.

Now, again, hear me out for a minute… (and the following figures are very rough…)

The current, original implementation remains consumer focused. While some features may cross over, the larger needs, especially those with PIM information, can be easily addressed with another code line and life cycle. It also gives them the ability to partner a bit more with their carrier partners, getting them to subsidize the development and implementation of the software.

Here in The States, there are 2 different data plans for the iPhone 3G – a consumer data plan for $30 and a business data plan, including the ability to sync with an Exchange Server for $45. I don’t really know how many consumer users are synching their iPhone 3G with an Exchange Server, but my guess is that many are. AT&T doesn’t want Exchange users on the $30 plan; they want them on the $45 plan. If there are 1M iPhone users in the US (a rounded out guesstimate, based on no fact what-so-ever), AND AT&T can capture those users, they stand to generate an additional $360M dollars over the next 24 months.

If AT&T were to give Apple just 1% of those previously untapped, previously uncaptured dollars ($3.6M), that would likely pay for all of the development for a “business” version of the iPhone. Registering the IMEI of the device with both Apple and AT&T, with simple modifications to iTunes to filter these out and track them in a business user database would insure that only authorized users got access to the business version of the iPhone software, with updates.

Apple retains control. They get what they want. AT&T gets additional revenue. They get what they want; and I (remember me, the business user needing all these features), I, get what I need. It’s a win-win-win all the way around. Yes, I’m the one really funding the development here (the end user); but depending on the implementation and how all of this is addressed, it just might be worth an extra $15/month to me; but again, that depends on what and how business features are delivered. It also depends on how AT&T decides to approach users synching to an Exchange Server on the consumer data plan.

AT&T is going to have to be diplomatic about it. Being brutish isn’t going to do anything. There’s no difference in the network/data plan. It all runs on the same 3G network. Business users don’t really get anything for the extra money AT&T makes them pay. Here, they do. With this idea and implementation, they receive value for the extra $360 bucks AT&T would make them pay over the life of the 2 year contract. So again, everybody wins.

 

I would like to thank my friend, Melissa Guajardo, for all the help she gave me in getting this series ready for posting.


  • tamaracks

    I don’t think there’s any way to create a folder in the iPhone Mail client, with or without ActiveSync. It seems to be something they just left out of the client in general. Not that it changes your evaluation, it’s just not an ActiveSync issue.

  • iPhone 3G as a Business Tool – Part 3: Contacts, Tasks & Mail – http://ping.fm/7shDB

  • oops46

    Alas Chris you are very right. Like you I have an AT&T Tilt that I had to activate and put the Iphone away. In my case, the calls were jumbled, both sending and receiving and although the Tilt doesn’t have the browser, graphics, or appeal of the Iphone, it DOES make calls from everywhere, has voice dialing built in and the battery lasts 1-2 days with bluetooth activated.
    I can still browse the web on wifi on the iphone and do so, but thats about all I use it for now