The iPhone 3G and its iPhone 2 OS propelled Apple's leading-edge mobile device into serious contention as a business smartphone. And the iPhone 3G is one of the best -- if not the best -- mobile 2.0 device out there for overall use. But Apple missed when it came to business functionality, leaving a space that the RIM BlackBerry Storm, Palm Treo Pro, and Google Android-based T-Mobile G1 are all trying to fill.
Unfortunately, the iPhone OS 2.2 update (which also applies to the iPod Touch) released this weekend doesn't address the gaps in what business users need from the iPhone. That may give the new BlackBerry Storm a real chance to push the iPhone out of the enterprise, at least as a standard sanctioned device.
[ See the 13 key flaws in the iPhone 3G for business | See InfoWorld's comparison of the iPhone 3G, Storm, Treo Pro, and G1. ]
What iPhone OS 2.2 Does -- and Doesn't -- Do
The most visible of these is in the Safari browser, which now has a tiny search box on the same row as its URL box -- making both too small. This was an inelegant design change, from the previous versions' placement of a Google search box under the URL box when you were active in that part of the screen. It's clear the idea was to free up some room on the small screen, which is admirable, but the two boxes are too small to display sufficient information -- this is particularly noticeable with URLs. Fortunately, when you tap either one to enter or edit text, it expands to the full screen width as you're typing.
A welcome UI change is a preference setting to turn off or on the iPhone's autocorrect feature when you type. A bad typist (touchist?) like me will probably keep it on, but it was a smart decision to make this a user-configurable option.
The third UI change is a slight change in what happens when you press the Home key. If you have multiple home pages -- easy enough to get as you add apps and home-bookmarked Web pages -- pressing the key brings you to the first home page, where the Apple default apps are typically presented. You also get taken to the first home page if you are on another home page; before, pressing Home when on these other home pages did nothing.
In terms of application changes, they too are minimal and center around Google Maps: providing street-level views, showing pin locations' addresses, and providing walking and public transit directions. But these are changes Google has made to its Maps feature on the desktop, so they're not iPhone-specific advantages. There's nothing wrong with them, of course; they're just not going to advance the iPhone's business case. For both business and personal use, the ability to e-mail someone a location from a map is quite handy.
The other major functional change involves the new ability to download podcasts from Apple's iTunes Store without having to sync via iTunes on the desktop. You can now download both free and paid podcasts over Wi-Fi and cellular connections. This too is a nice change, but not one to advance the iPhone's business case.
Apple claims that the latest updates fix some bugs in e-mail and browser operations; it's too soon to see if the update fixes the application crash, slowdown, and freeze issues I've experienced in Mail and Safari ever since the 2.0 software was released. The 2.1 update did not do the trick.
What the iPhone 2.2 update doesn't do is fix the shortcomings that are sure to give businesses a reason to keep the iPhone at arm's length. There's still no on-device data encryption. Passwords are limited to four-digit numeric PINs. You can't synchronize notes or set up calendar items with the same scheduling controls as in Exchange. You can't cut and paste data. To me, those are basic business capabilities that the iPhone simply should have. Never mind the other enhancements that I wish the iPhone had in order to make it the "no question about it" choice for business smartphone users.