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iPhone found ready for enterprise, better than BlackBerry

A close study has shown that opening the doors to iPhones at large-scale business has not only made workers happier but has often saved money over competing smartphones in the process.

In a report issued last week, Ted Schadler of Forrester Research has presented an about-face for the research group's attitude towards iPhones that recommends businesses consider the devices for their network and that many users are genuinely more interested in accessing work content on an iPhone than on corporate mainstays using Microsoft or Research in Motion software. Using the web is a "chore" on a BlackBerry but intuitive on an iPhone, Schadler writes, and many workers are ultimately happier when they can pick their phones instead of having that choice dictated by IT.

Where Forrester had previously warned companies to avoid iPhones when possible due to the high phone prices and lack of security, it now says that many of these legacy worries have been softened significantly in the wake of Apple's iPhone 2.x firmware and uses Amylin Pharmaceutical, Kraft Foods, and Oracle as examples of how permitting the phones ultimately helped their respective bottom lines.

Amylin's senior IT director Todd Stewart describes iPhones as being easier to support than "other mobile platforms" and that iPhone 2.0's hooks for Exchange calendaring and e-mail meant it only took three days to ready the 3,000-person firm to support iPhones. The relative strength of mobile Safari and the e-mail client has led many to treat their systems more like netbooks than mobile devices.

On a pure cost basis, the phones themselves are less expensive to run: their combined plans save about $360 per year, per phone. Stewart adds that individual ownership of devices, instead of handing them out from a corporate pool, has also trimmed costs by persuading workers they should be more careful with their smartphones.

"If an employee owns his own device, the phone tends to hit the pavement a lot less," he says.

Kraft, meanwhile, emphasizes that the iPhone was brought in to support a "culture change" at the company and that many of those using iPhones are happier than they were before they switched. It pushes the company at large to use newer technology and has been cutting costs by letting iPhone owners get their own support rather than depend on the company alone for help. "Overall they provide better support than we can," one person from the company's IT management says.

Oracle sees the iPhone's software development base as a way of rendering its business tools mobile and sees the smartphone as offering possibilities that weren't there before. The company plans to develop apps for customer relations management and other key aspects of its business, and at the iPhone 3.0 SDK event demonstrated some of these apps in advance of their release.

Some problems still remain and range from hardware to purely administrative issues. Besides the sometimes short battery life, calendar sync and VPN auto-login aren't fully in place. Management tools to control the phones' security are still relatively scarce, and features that are for now taken for granted in veteran mobile operating systems, like copy-and-paste text, aren't in place as of April. As many businesses won't necessarily keep traditional company-wide accounts, it's often necessary to move users either to individual corporate accounts or even personal accounts that are matched with official compensation.

iPhone 3.0's release in the summer should address some of these problems, particularly CalDAV for calendars, a more automated VPN login process, and significantly tighter security policies that involve disabling built-in cameras in high-security environments as well as creating encrypted backups.

Even with the immediate hurdles, all three of the sample companies have had rapid growth or expect to in the future. Oracle currently counts 4,000 iPhones among its total mobile base; Kraft is adding 400 phones a month and may top 5,000 by December, while Amylin despite its size still anticipates that as many as 650 of its smartphone-equipped workers — or 75 percent — will use iPhones by the end of the year.

And notions that BlackBerries are go-to devices should fade, according to Schadler, who argues that smartphone use is no longer dominated solely by e-mail and schedules, with other functions often falling short on those phones that center too heavily on obvious corporate uses.

"We find the BlackBerry better for email and calendaring and the iPhone better for everything else," he notes.