One of the gripes many U.S. iPhone users have had since Apple first launched the uber popular smartphone in late June is that it’s currently a 2.5 generation (2.5G) device, and it does not run on a newer, faster 3G cellular network.
Today, AT&T, the leading wireless carrier in the United States by subscribers and the country’s only carrier that offers the Apple phone, quelled the issue when its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Randall Stephenson announced that a 3G Apple iPhone will become available in 2008. Stephenson spoke at a Churchill Club event in Santa Clara, California, according to Bloomberg.com. He did not, however, comment on pricing details, saying only that Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, will decide how much the 3G iPhone will cost. The 8GB 2.5G iPhone now retails for $399.
Stephenson’s announcement is relevant to IT departments and corporate smartphone users because it brings the iPhone a step closer to becoming a viable business device. Corporate users will increasingly need powerful devices to run complex enterprise applications and to transfer content, and 3G phones are better suited for such tasks than 2.5G or less powerful devices.
One major challenge Apple faces in bumping the iPhone up to 3G is that it will require more battery power to operate, and the iPhone already has significantly shorter battery life than many comparable smartphones. (Jobs called 3G chipsets “real power hogs” in September when addressing the challenge of making a 3G iPhone.) So the company will need to improve the device’s battery life before it sends a 3G version to market. Currently users who employ the device frequently need to recharge every day.
One feature that has largely kept the iPhone from infiltrating the enterprise is the lack of a secure corporate e-mail client with “push” mail support. But it seems very plausible that Apple will soon wade into corporate waters with the iPhone. Shortly after the iPhone’s release, Steve Jobs told USA Today in a joint interview with AT&T’s Stephenson that corporate e-mail support “would not be a big issue” and that pilots were already underway with notable companies—though that was five months ago and no related announcements have been made to date.
If Apple does release an enterprise e-mail client for the 3G iPhone that can integrate with Microsoft Exchange environments and offer push e-mail, I think it’s only a matter of time before the device becomes accepted by CIOs and IT departments as a truly valuable business smartphone. (Push e-mail is currently available only to iPhone users with Yahoo Mail accounts.) I know a number of executives who currently use iPhones as personal smartphones, and they sing the device’s praises. I even know a technology executive who forwards corporate e-mail to a Gmail account so it’s accessible via iPhone. Were a secure mail client available, I’m sure he and others would go the safer route. And consumers plan to use their iPhone for business and play over the coming year, according to a recent IDC poll.
What else besides a lack of 3G support and a secure corporate mail environment with push mail is keeping the iPhone from becoming an acceptable business device?
Would you trade your BlackBerry or Treo or whatever business smartphone you’re currently using for a 3G iPhone with such a mail environment?