by Al Sacco

HSBC to Bank on iPhone 3G as Corporate Smartphone, Ditch BlackBerry?

Aug 14, 20083 mins
Data Center

The battle between Apple’s iPhone 3G and Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry smartphone rages on in both the business and consumer markets, but international banking giant HSBC may soon deal the BlackBerry a substantial blow in the enterprise: On Tuesday, Brenton Hush, CIO for HSBC’s Australia and New Zealand division, told that his company is considering ditching the BlackBerry for the iPhone 3G.

Though not official, such a decision could result in the one of the largest enterprise iPhone purchases to date. HSBC currently employs some 300,000 staffers worldwide, and according to Hush, as many as 200,000 iPhones could be purchased to replace the company’s current fleet of BlackBerrys.

“It’s definitely something we’re considering from a HSBC Group perspective,” Hush told

Lineup of three Apple iPhone 3G smartphones
The Apple iPhone 3G

Since the first-generation iPhone’s release in June 2007, Apple’s smartphone has been constantly compared to RIM’s BlackBerry devices. Though Apple originally targeted a mostly-consumer demographic with the first-generation iPhone, it made gains in the enterprise space in recent months with the release of the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 2.0 software upgrade, which includes Microsoft Exchange support and a number of heightened security safeguards.

A purchase of 200,000 iPhone devices, though noteworthy, surely isn’t enough to sink RIM’s ship, or even seriously slow its sales momentum in the smartphone space, but such a large scale deployment could certainly be detrimental to RIM in less obvious ways. For example, if HSBC goes ahead with the deployment, it will represent one the first major corporate iPhone distributions and, if successful, could herald a large number of followers.

Forrester Research’s has published advice on the top 10 reasons IT should not support the iPhone: among them, there’s no proof that iPhones are viable business devices, Forrester says. A successful deployment at HSBC would change that, and such an example could be the foot in the corporate door that Apple needs.

The iPhone’s still lacking some core business functionality, but one feature that’s really slowed its acceptance as a business phone is the device’s virtual keyboard. The general consensus seems to be that virtual keyboards don’t lend themselves to rapid typing as well as devices with full QWERTY keyboards—which many of RIM’s BlackBerry smartphones have—but this is largely based on preference.

When asked if he thought the BlackBerry has any clear advantage over the iPhone—QWERTY keyboard or otherwise—Hush, who doesn’t currently own an iPhone but has experience with the devices, said no, excluding some enterprise infrastructure considerations.

Just as Apple has started to set its sights on RIM’s traditional business demographic, the BlackBerry-maker has shifted into Apple’s territory with the release of consumer-oriented devices like the BlackBerry Pearl and Curve. But just yesterday, in a move that could prove to be a major victory for the iPhone in the consumer space, Best Buy announced it will soon begin selling the iPhone 3G at its U.S. retail locations. (Currently, iPhones are available only through Apple and AT&T.)

With HSBC’s global annual technology budget of $6 billion and an IT department made up of 30,000 staffers supporting some 300,000 employees, according to, an HSBC iPhone deployment would be sure to catch the attention of many a curious CIO. You can bet crowds of technology decision makers will be keeping a eye on Hush and HSBC, eagerly awaiting news on whether or not it goes ahead with the iPhone deployment and, if so, taking cues from the results.