Taking a back seat to all the fuss about the price of Apple’s 3G iPhone and the slick iPhone apps platform: The notion that the iPhone 2.0 will help Apple elbow its way into corporate market, where Research In Motion has been dominant for years.
As expected, Wall Street analysts disagree about whether Apple (AAPL) will be a serious threat to RIM after the update, which includes support for corporate email/calendar/contact synching, security, etc.
The bull case from Piper Jaffray’s very bullish Gene Munster: “Surprisingly,” he writes Wednesday, half the iPhone developers he interviewed this week at Apple’s WWDC were building enterprise apps. “We see this as a positive indicator of the potential for Enterprise adoption of the iPhone.”
AmTech analyst Rob Sanderson has a different take: “We think iPhone will be successful in the consumer market, but we don’t have high hopes it will become a meaningful platform in the Enterprise segment,” he says. “Businesses invest in IT for productivity enhancement. While iPhone offers the best rich Internet browsing and media experience in the industry, these applications are more often productivity deterrents than enhancers.”
We’re not so sure about that. While Exchange support is probably the feature that will bring the iPhone in the door at most corporations, we think its Web browser — the “productivity deterrent” Sanderson refers to, could be an important feature, too.
The iPhone’s Web browser is easily more powerful than any browser RIM offers. Being able to use a fully functional mobile browser with fast, 3G network speeds — without having to take your laptop out of its bag, boot it up, and connect the 3G laptop card — is a productivity booster, not a distraction. This becomes even more useful as companies shift their enterprise software from Windows-only desktop apps to cross-platform, Web browser-based apps.
To be sure, Apple has a long way to go if it’s going to displace RIM in the corporate world. RIM has a solid grip on the market and has BlackBerry servers in many corporate datacenters. BlackBerries come in different shapes, sizes, and prices, and are available on all four major U.S. wireless carriers; iPhones are limited to AT&T and don’t get cheaper than $199.
But now the iPhone can at least begin chipping away — especially among “prosumers” who buy their own phones but use them mostly for work. That market has become increasingly important for RIM, and that’s the battleground to watch first.