The new iPhone 3GS is a conservative, yet intelligent addition to the iPhone family. Its faster processor and greater operating memory are exactly what the doctor ordered. However, the lack of a keyboard, UMA and better battery features allows the competition an edge with business users.
If Apple could tolerate one more SKU, the iPhone 3GS-B, it would sharply cut into RIM's remaining share of the smartphone pie. The "B" would stand for business, of course, and Apple stands to benefit considerably from more aggressively pursuing business users. Apple's profits could improve, not only from greater market share, but also because business users are less concerned with initial purchase price.
The styling of Apple products has consistently been trending towards thinner and with fewer buttons (the new iPod Shuffle for example). Business users, however, are willing to trade a little of that sexy slimness for more usability.
A slider-style QWERTY keyboard similar to one in the T-Mobile G1 would please a great many number of verbose e-mail users.
Data entry, I concede, is pretty good on the iPhone. In fact, it's probably just about as good as you can get with a non-tactile 3.5-inch touchscreen.
An intently focused person can be fairly proficient typing on an iPhone. Business users, however, are notorious multi-taskers. They are constantly shooting off a quick e-mail in the middle of a meeting, in line at the store, and, with tenuous legality, at stoplights while driving. On the road, they will write lengthy e-mails from the comfort of their hotel rooms. Because the iPhone lacks tactile feedback, it requires its user's full attention and can never be as easy to type on as the somewhat bulky BlackBerry Bold with its big QWERTY keyboard.
UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) provides carrier service over unlicensed technologies like Wi-Fi. While the iPhone works well with data over Wi-Fi, It fails to support voice. Smartphones like the Blackberry Bold and Tour allow their users to use Wi-Fi for phone use. This is immensely beneficial when in internet-connected areas that lack proper network coverage.
While we are at it, how about a little bit bigger battery? A business user who takes an early morning flight, and ends up in meetings all day would appreciate a phone that could last until he winds down in his hotel that evening. Sure he could carry an external battery powered charger, but that's anything but convenient.
While Apple claims to provide up to 5 hours of 3G talk time or Internet use, there always seems to be a mad dash for the charger at the end of the day. People who travel often rely on their phone's GPS feature and they are frustrated when their phone dies while searching for their destination. Of course people can be more proactive by ensuring they always have a car charger handy but often those are forgotten in a car back home while the traveler is using a rental.
There are a number of ways to improve battery life on the iPhone: Dim the screen, turn off 3G, turn off Wi-Fi, and turn off blue-tooth, to name a few. The iPhone needs a software-switch, preferably on the home screen. This switch could enable users to quickly toggle from an optimal battery mode to high performance mode. The parameters should all be user adjustable.
For many power users, there is a fine line between the decision to reply on a powerful smartphone versus augmenting their phone with a netbook or notebook. Adding bulk to a business-class smartphone is a welcome tradeoff to the added bulk and weight of an additional device.
A business model iPhone with a full QWERTY keyboard, UMA and a longer battery life would eliminate some of last reasons for BlackBerry users to abstain from switching to an iPhone.
Michael Scalisi is an IT manager based in Alameda, California.