Should Your Business Use iPhones?

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Should Your Business Use iPhones?

Apple launched the iPhone on June 29, 2007. This introduction marked Apple’s entry into the wireless phone market, with a solution that is part telephone, part iPod, and part Internet communications device.

Although analysts might not agree on the market share that iPhone will command after its debut, they do agree that the buzz surrounding the product fuels consumer demand, and that these devices will eventually appear in the corporate environment. Business needs to be prepared when this happens, and now is the time – before iPhones start to appear at your business.

It is important that companies have stated policies for the use of new technologies at their business. Policies around remote access, client data, and data security should be clear and precise,and include any regulatory or legal requirements to which the company may be held. These policies should be communicated to staff regularly, and reviewed with new vendors who may come into contact with your information. If you don’t have existing corporate policies around new technology, it’s crucial that you define them before allowing new technologies in your network environment. Failure to do so may have serious consequence at your company.

With the iPhone in particular, it’s important to know a bit about the product before staff members start using it as a business tool. Firstly, understand that the iPhone is designed for consumers, not business-people. The design does not focus on productivity or security, and as a result, will have an effect on the security of the information that’s on it. There is no remote-wipe feature in the event of it being stolen, and it can’t be centrally de-activated or administered from your business location. Using the iPhone for corporate email communications can possibly impact the legal and regulatory guidelines for your company.

As the iPhone is not geared for productivity, its email functionality isn’t designed with a corporate email infrastructure in mind. At the current time, it doesn’t sync with Exchange, and there’s no enterprise email connectivity beyond POP3 and IMAP. The iPhone can view Word, Excel, and PDF docs, but cannot edit them.

Although it has the ability to sync contact and calendar data from Outlook, it must be physically connected to your computer in order to do so – there isn’t a contact or calendar data ‘push’ from Exchange or Outlook, as with the RIM Blackberry devices. Both Outlook Web Access and SharePoint can be used from the iPhone’s web interface. However, the extent of the functionality is currently unknown.

The iPhone will support web 2.0 applications if your company uses them. A number of web-based applications function on the iPhone unless they use Java or Flash for content. Additionally, if you’re using Apple’s Safari web browser, the iPhone can sync your bookmarks. Previews have not yet demonstrated a client for instant messaging such as Yahoo Instant Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger or Apple’s iChat. Still, the device does support SMS.

An important consideration is that AT&T is the sole service provider available for the iPhone, which has a reputation for bad coverage in some areas. Additionally, EDGE, AT&T’s standard Internet service, is slower than many other providers’ 3G networks. Future iPhone models will have the ability to use AT&T’s newer, faster data network, currently available in about a hundred and sixty cities.

Apple has a history of changing industry through innovation, and will continue within the handheld phone market. The features of the web browser, the touch-screen user interface, and integration of phone and data functionality is sure to raise the standards of all mobile phone manufacturing.

Clearly, Apple did not set out to create the best hand-held Exchange client in the world, or provide the best available features for integrating with a Windows network. However, they did aim to redefine just what a hand-head phone and Internet communicator can be – though aimed at consumers instead of business.

It’s quite likely that a few of your employees will purchase a personal iPhone, then ask you to help integrate it with the office network. You must understand the issues and make choices about how you’re willing to integrate this new technology with your network.

Nick Pegley is VP Marketing for All Covered: Technology Services Partner for Small Business, providing disaster recovery solutions and technology services in 20 major U.S. metro areas.
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