by Martin Veitch

There’s no such thing as a business smartphone anymore

Feb 02, 2010
IT Strategy

I stumbled on a full-page display ad in the London Evening Standard on Monday that replicated the already familiar iPhone campaign promoting apps from partners. However, while most of the apps pushed in the past have been largely consumer in nature, this one (which ran late last year in the US) focused on office tools under the legend: “Helping business get down to business, one app at a time.”

The apps covered everything from book-keeping to sales data access, invoicing to charting and Microsoft Office editing to document scanning, spanning the quotidian existence of keep-the-wheels-turning corporate life. The implicit message was clear: the iPhone is not just for fun, it can do dull too. And of course, that’s true, which is a royal pain in the arse for marketers that have long insisted on the difference between business-orientated devices and those for consumer leisure purposes.

This divide always had elements of the artificial and now it is irreparably broken. In order to create separate SKUs, device makers wuld build consumer products with games in brighter colours and at lower prices while corporate devices would ship with security/manageability tools, tout integration with office software and be available in duller colours and at higher prices. Companies like Microsoft, Symbian and Nokia made strenuous efforts to crack the business market, probably believing that this sector would have a higher value than the consumer sector, as Dell had demonstrated in PCs.

As the sector has matured, however, what is becoming clear is that buyers – even those in the procurement wings of dishwater-dull financial outfits – want to combine business with pleasure. The BlackBerry may have emerged as a piece of business kit to be bracketed alongside the Brooks Brothers shirt and briefcase but even RIM has had to make stylish versions with nice cameras, screens and media players.

Even IT bosses have given up fighting this. Five years ago the idea of breaking the single corporate image and streamlined management routine would have been anathema. Today, users hold sway in lobbying for favoured devices and for many the answer is a Mac on the desk and an iPhone in the pocket. Tellingly, Microsoft has failed to replicate its dominance on the desktop and laptop in the phone market, even at many companies that remain staunchly loyal to the Windows/Office pennant. So long as the device can hook up to the corporate email standard, it has a chance of becoming the corporate choice.

I spoke on Monday to John Mangelaars, regional VP of Microsoft’s Consumer & Online International. I’ll write up more of his thoughts later this week but Mangelaars was honest when it came to Microsoft’s limited success on handsets.

“We didn’t realise the phones were moving into the emotional space rather than the business space,” he told me. “There’s a couple of things every device needs such as security and manageability and people are assuming things like that. It’s a little bit weird.”

The fact is that in a world where we all work too much and travel too far from our loved ones we seek devices that let us work, rest and play. Email must sit alongside photo album, shareholder speech alongside Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On, the games of business arbitrage among another sort of shoot ’em up. The handsets that are successful today do it all and represent the way that the work/life divide has all but closed up. Today, we’re truly always on.