Apple iPhone a True RIM BlackBerry Rival in the Enterprise? Not So Fast...

The iPhone took some significant steps towards becoming a viable business device yesterday with Apple's release of the iPhone SDK as well as some related enterprise improvements. My colleague Chris Lynch, who attended the exclusive, invitation-only, most-of-us-aren't-cool-enough release event, wrote a blog post on what the SDK, Apple's new Microsoft Exchange support and the accompanying enterprise security enhancements really mean to businesses and their IT departments. But hold the phone: Apple still has a lot of work to do before the iPhone becomes a true BlackBerry rival.

As I see it, some big problems remain: Device price, keyboard functionality, and application distribution top the list.

Apple iPhone

Corporate IT and the iPhone Still Don't Mesh

IT may now start considering the iPhone as an option, but it'll likely be some time before iPhones are deployed to large groups of employees. A high-level executive may request one, and it will be easier and safer for IT to grant that wish now, but iPhones are still expensive and as far as I know, there's no bulk discount for corporations.

And the monthly service plans for businesses through AT&T are significantly more expensive than BlackBerry service. Business is all about dollar signs, and it's just plain cheaper to user BlackBerrys than iPhones—at least for the moment.

Plus, the iPhone is still very much a shiny toy; it's beautiful looking, and fun to employ, but IT departments--not necessarily their users--mostly value form over function. The iPhone's touch screen is not particularly well suited to extensive typing as it provides no tactile feedback, for instance. And it's clearly a media-centric smartphone—regardless of whether or not it supports Exchange. Most of the native applications Apple unveiled at the SDK event, for example, were games or other consumer apps. BlackBerrys and Palm Treos are business-centric, and will remain more attractive to IT departments as such.

The Trouble with the New iPhone App Economy

The fact that Apple's distributing third-applications through its own channels means that it gets the final say on which business apps make the cut and which don't. I recently spoke with Frank Mahdavi, chief strategy officer with MIR3, a firm that makes an emergency notification app for the iPhone and iPod touch, about the iPhone SDK release. Mahdavi told me that though he understands why Apple wants to maintain a high level of control over what apps its devices run, this makes it less appealing—and more difficult--for developers of business-specific applications to create iPhone apps. That's because those apps then need to be designed with Apple's standards in mind, and those standards could limit the functionality (read: value to users) of such apps.

BlackBerry Curve 8320 from RIM

The Blackberry: An iPhone for Grown-ups?

I really think Apple has a ways to go before it poses any significant threat to RIM in the enterprise space. It is worth noting, however, that in its first year offering the iPhone, Apple took the number three slot in worldwide smartphone sales, and that's nothing to shake a stick at by any means. And a recent survey also found that corporate iPhone users are more satisfied with their devices than BlackBerry folks. Again, interesting.

But that same survey suggests RIM has nearly 75 percent of enterprise smartphone users, compared to Apple's five percent. That's a lot of green in between, as they say in the pool halls.

I recently posted inquiries on a number of BlackBerry forums, in which I asked users if they'd trade in their BlackBerry for iPhones with Exchange support and security enhancements, and the majority of them echoed my above sentiments—though, to be fair, there were a number of iPhone fans in there as well. One response in particular caught my eye and tickled my funny bone: "The BlackBerry is an iPhone for Grown Ups."

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