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Major businesses are jumping to board the iPhone ship due to its powerful and flexible nature, despite flaws

Watch out Blackberries -- there's a new business phone in town; that's the growing message being perceived by the business community.  The phone to which the buzz is refers is the iPhone, which may or may not being surprising to some.

The TIME invention of the year, it turns out, is not just all fun and games.  It’s easy to use interface, full featured web-browser, jumbo color screen and flexible OS base also make the iPhone an ideal business tool, according to a growing number of software and marketing firms.  Okay, so maybe part of it is the "fun appeal", but the iPhone knows how to find that ideal mix of work and play.

"It's fun.  It's so popular!" raved Mike de la Cruz, a senior vice president with German software giant SAP AG, at a recent business conference in Boston.

SAP, Saleforce.com Inc, and many other software firms are embracing the iPhone and are allowing their sales and finance employees work away from the office using the iPhone.  So if you see a well dressed business man in a New York City street cafe, furiously scrolling through charts of sales figures, don't be surprised -- he's probably just one of the growing hoards of iPhone-embracing workers.

The popularity and utility of the device has led SAP to change course and announce that it will launch its customer relationship management software for the iPhone before it launches similar software for RIM and Palm Inc.  The move is by no means a snub to the latter, but rather a statement on SAP's part of the potential it feels the iPhone holds for bringing great things to the business world.

While the iPhone is popular due its fun appeal and easy to use, it still has several weaknesses holding it back in terms of business potential, however.  One feature that is lacking is the email capabilities.  The iPhone supports standard corporate email but does not support "Push" capabilities, and must be docked with a computer to update calendars or contacts.  Also the iPhone does not support business stalwart Microsoft Outlook, and licensing the Exchange base of Outlook would require some awkward negotiating on Apple's part with the arch-rival it so enjoys poking fun at.

Shaw Wu, an analyst with American Technology Research thinks such a partnership is not impossible.  He points to how Apple worked out an agreement with Microsoft to allow the iPod to be compatible with Microsoft Windows, and the great success the move yielded.  He says, "What really made the iPod take off was when they made it compatible with Windows. So if they made the iPhone compatible with Windows e-mail, meaning Outlook, that would really make sales take off."

Another complaint is that the phone's EDGE network connection is simply too slow.  This problem at least will be remedied in 2008, as AT&T executives have confirmed that faster 3G is on the way, only awaiting Steve Jobs' price point decision. 

Other complaints include Apple's locking of the iPhone to the AT&T network and the lack of a physical keyboard, which many executives have griped about off the record.  While Apple is unlike to reverse its network policies, a keyboard or new typing solution may be in the works.

Despite posting sales of 1.12 million iPhones in its fiscal fourth quarter, the phone is by no means dominating the business phone market, despite growing interest.  RIM shipped 3 million of its Blackberry phones in its second quarter, which ended at approximately the same time.  Also, these figures to not do proper justice to the fact that most Blackberries sold were for business users, while most iPhones sold were for recreational users.

Still, some businesses are warming up to the trendy iPhone and showing it a bit of cautious love.  Apple's moves in coming months will likely determine whether this trend continues and if the iPhone will be a business blockbuster or just another flop.





"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs
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