iPhone 3g v Blackberry – the phoney war for small business

Despite the hype around the launch of the iPhone 3G by Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Monday, there were also some serious nuggets aimed at the business community. So is a …

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11th June 2008 at 9:22 pm

iphone3g

Despite the hype around the launch of the iPhone 3G by Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Monday, there were also some serious nuggets aimed at the business community. So is a battle looming between Research in Motion (RIM), the makers of Blackberry, and Apple for the hearts and minds of the small business user?

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Although Blackberry’s core constituency is the corporate world and Apple’s is the consumer, both clearly have an eye on the sizeable SME (small to medium-sized enterprise) market.  The fact that they’re coming at it from different directions makes for an interesting contest.

Other than being much cheaper than its predecessor, the new iPhone also has three key elements for business: integration with Exchange Server allowing push email (i.e. email that arrives automatically and near instantly); the ability for developers to make business-focused applications for the phone, and; MobileMe, more of which later.

While a challenge to Blackberry, most of this is not new.  RIM has built its business on push email, security and business focused applications for years.  It is quite simply way ahead.  Indeed recent US data from IDC showed it increasing its US market share for business smartphones by 9.4% to 44.5% in Q1 2008, at the expense of Apple and Motorola.

It already has its Independent Software Vendors programme churning out business specific applications e.g. CRM integration via salesforce.com, mTem, a mobile time and expenses tool and ‘Work and Repair’ which gives field workers one touch access to job, customer, inventory and warranty information.

It remains to be seen whether Apple can attract significant volumes of developers through its iPhone Developer Programme interested in creating practical business applications, rather than games.

Indeed there’s an argument for saying that the iPhone’s lurch into the mobile gaming and enterprise space simultaneously is a strategic error.

Do you really want to issue your employees with what amounts to a mobile gaming console?  Surfing social networks on the web is one thing, getting them hooked on Super Monkey Ball is something else all together.  At least the ‘Crackberry’ instils an addiction to work-related email.

Surely two separate versions of the iPhone, one for business and one for consumers will become a reality in the not too distant future.

As Dr Windsor Holden, principle analyst at Juniper Research, said to me earlier today:

“The iPhone is still overwhelmingly a device aimed at consumers.  It may pick up business customers around the edges, but it’s not a direct competitor to Blackberry.”

Dr Holden’s argument is Blackberry should stick to its knitting and it will stay ahead.

I’m not so sure and I’m not sure RIM is either, if the plethora of consumer focused add-ons and leaks of a new phone called ‘Thunder’ is anything go to by.

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Sarah Probert, EMEA marketing director for large enterprise and SME segments at RIM dismissed stories re Thunder as rumour and speculation when I spoke to her recently.

But she did outline her company’s small business strategy. One vital element is a desire to work more closely with third party channels so small business owners can get support and advice from trusted suppliers other than traditional mobile providers. Another important element is the launch of Blackberry’s new easy to install version of their push email software to allow small businesses to set up the service on their own servers or computers.

Which brings me back to Apple’s MobileMe.  It also offers push email, calendar and contacts synchronisation on mobile, laptop and desktop over the web for $99 a year.  Yes, it’s consumer oriented, but it’s also the most significant of Apple’s announcements from a small business perspective.

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The ability for business data to flow seamlessly between mobile, office and ‘cloud’ (i.e. servers accessed over the web) will be the real battleground for small business customers over the next few years.  Not having to worry about backing up documents, instant access to information and seamless synchronisation at minimal to zero cost will become the de facto standard expected by SMEs.

Apple is now positioned to compete for this market.  Google, with its Android mobile operating system is also perfectly placed to integrate Gmail, Docs and its other online services onto mobiles at zero cost to the user.  Microsoft may also be on to something with Office Live and Mesh.

All of a sudden having push email as a unique selling point becomes less important as do the traditional  carriers and handset manufacturers.  It’ll be interesting to see how RIM positions Blackberry as it squares up to new competitors who are very much not the usual mobile suspects.

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Alex is the founder and editor of SmallBizPod, the UK's first podcast dedicated to small business, start-ups and entrepreneurship. Alex writes about topical small business issues, entrepreneurs and anything else that catches his eye here on the small business blog. http://www.smallbizpod.co.uk

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  1. Tony says:

    I’ve got both – a blackberry which I use for Business and a iPhone, primarily for personal use. They really do different things and although the new 3G iphones are offering Blackberry like push email capability/ sychronisation, overall I find the Blackberry a much better interface for managing emails.

    Having said that it will take a lot to beat the iphone on most other fronts, such as web interface and MP3 etc.

    It will really come down to what you want and need and howyou intend to use them

  2. I have been on the fence, waiting for Apple or Blackberry to release the perfect device. I work in e-commerce which is basically a 24/7 job and as such can’t afford to be out of touch. But I also don’t want to be carting around a collection of handsets to do the one job. I am hoping that Apple have nailed it with the 3G iPhone (working in London you need 3G as GPRS regularly drops in the centre) and I also need a decent browser that can allow me to make updates to the website whilst on the move. The company that releases a device that supports SSH will win me (and our business) over.

  3. @Tony, horses for courses agreed. But I think the boundaries between business and personal software are blurring.

    @Sam very good point re SSH which I hadn’t thought of. That really would be very cool.

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