Is the iPhone 3G a BlackBerry Killer?

iPhone 3G: It’s here, it’s upgraded, and Apple has addressed nearly all the complaints and objections raised by business users about its do-it-all device over the last year. But while many ogle the iPhone’s faster data speeds and GPS features, it’s the 2.0 software that has some execs slobbering: The iPhone can now deliver push e-mail, calendar, and contacts from a Microsoft Exchange server at the office. All you have to do is get your IT department to open the door for you. It’s a small-sounding advance, but it means everything to Apple. If the company hopes to meet its oft-published target of ten million iPhones sold by the end of the year, a heaping pile of orders are going to have to come from enterprise customers. The problem is that those customers are currently clutching their BlackBerrys with death grips. Push support isn’t the only enterprise-friendly advance for iPhone 2.0 software. Other features include WPA2 support, device configuration options, identities, certificates, and remote- wiping capability. RIM’s recent problems with service outages might also lead BlackBerry users to eye greener pastures. So should RIM be worried? As promising as I find the new iPhone, I’m skeptical that it will have a large impact in the business world. The reasons are complicated and pure conjecture on my part, but I’ll try to make my case nonetheless. While Apple has the hype, BlackBerry has the force of history. Some BlackBerry users have had these things for 11 years now. You don’t just throw out that kind of legacy overnight. For legions of users the BlackBerry works just as well as Apple says its products do. I’m sure many Berryheads would argue it works better: Execs who have had years of practice with a physical keyboard might not know what to do when they have to use their fingers on a touchscreen. Anyone who’s made the switch knows that learning to trust the iPhone’s error-correction software requires a learning curve. Another reason: The BlackBerry says “professional” the same way a dark suit does. It’s become shorthand for the corporate world; when a client sees you with one, he knows you’re serious about 24/7 connectivity, and that telegraphs the notion that you’re more worthy of his business. Slap an iPhone on the table and he probably figures you’re just a guy who can’t bear to be away from YouTube for more than ten minutes. This is hardly a new phenomenon. It’s the same reason your CEO whips out a ThinkPad instead of a MacBook in the boardroom. There’s some hard evidence to support the idea that BlackBerry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Though IDC showed BlackBerry market share taking a precipitous dip through 2006 and 2007, that didn’t stop RIM from suddenly grabbing the No. 5 market share slot among all cell phone manufacturers in the first quarter of 2008. RIM is now selling at a rate to own 5 percent of the entire cell phone market, which is no small feat considering its reputation as a corporate-only device. Apple didn’t make the list at all. However, according to Steve Jobs, the first version of the new iPhone was beta-tested by 35 percent of Fortune 500 companies. RIM isn’t taking the iPhone’s challenge lying down. New models like the BlackBerry Bold maintain a professional look while offering a much faster processor than the Curve, a brilliant display, and streamlined OS. Rumors of a touchscreen model seem all but certain, but I’m not sure that’s going to fly with CrackBerry junkies. It seems as though executives love gadgets with a whole lot of buttons. Christopher Null is a veteran technology journalist. He writes about tech daily at tech.yahoo.com/blogs/null

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