During the launch announcement of the iPhone 5S on September 10th, one of the key features continually promoted was the presence of a fingerprint scanner. A stainless steel ring around the home button will scan a user's fingerprint and unlock the device, which tech pundits are heralding as "the end of the swipe" and "a boost to corporate security concerns". On the heels of such tech pundit puffing, my question is "Should you ever use an iPhone as a work phone?" And my answer has slowly become, and is now cemented as, "no".
Note to passing fanboys: I am not hating on Apple. I love the company. My Macbook Pro is a champ device, as was the Macbook I had before it. There are, within my immediate proximity, five Cupertino-designed devices as I write this.
The iPhones I have used in my time of smartphone ownership are well crafted, sturdy, and provide a clean and snappy experience when used in conjunction with its iOS operating system. That said, the device is surprisingly business-unfriendly in its construction. Here's why:
- Lack of a physical keyboard - This is hardly unique to the iPhone, but handling all the different communication streams -- from email to Twitter -- required in the course of modern business is hindered by the lack of a physical keyboard.
- Small screen - I hate gigantic screens on phones. I've said as much. However, whether you're proofing a proposal from the road or running numbers, a big screen helps. The iPhone's 4" screen is OK, it isn't great, and this judgment decreases when typing, as the soft keyboard occupies half the screen regardless of orientation.
- Limited Output - The iPhone can perform slideshows and screen movies admirably... on the device. Using it to display something to a group is limited to AirPlay (read: other Apple) products. There is no ability to connect to the standard ports of larger displays and projectors, something other devices are able to do via mini HDMI or through micro USB connections.
- Proprietary Input - Quick. Name something besides the iPhone that uses Lightning cables. Your answers are pretty much "the iPad" and "another iPhone". That's one more cable in the bag. This is in stark contrast to smartphones using standardized USB cables that allow your phone cable to also sync a portable hard drive, charge your Bluetooth earpiece, and be used by countless other devices.
The iPhone's iOS was innovative and borderline-revolutionary when it debuted in 2007 -- smooth and refined, and so easy to use, when compared to the Windows Mobile, Palm, and Blackberry devices it was competing against. And the initial attempts to replicate it in early Android versions only made it look better by comparison. But it has failed to keep up as its competitors chased it down and ultimately outran it.
Whether Android or iOS has the better set of consumer features is an argument for another day. For everyday business use, the iPhone is not up to par in terms of software for these reasons:
- Multitasking -- the ability to jump between, say, your calendar and your email -- often requires applications to restart when hopping back and forth. This is counter-intuitive.
- File Management is severely limited with mail attachments limited to photos, and no built-in file sharing capabilities between apps. Outside of photos, files can not be natively saved to the iPhone for later sharing or editing.
- Optimization settings are poorly structured. And by optimization, I mean the ability to make your phone work they way you want it to work. The new iOS7 has a built-in "parallax" feature, meaning your background image moves slightly in response to the turning of the camera. It adds a feeling of depth, and as power users can attest, screams "battery hog". Turning it off requires going through several menus and looking for a poorly labeled switch. Need to kill non-critical services to try and save battery life or enhance performance? Too bad, the phone offers no insight into what apps and services are using what resources, and zero insight into background services you did not initiate.
The iPhone is a great consumer device. It takes good photos, it has great call clarity, and developers love it and all the new apps hit iOS first. Take it out of a fun environment, and put it into a business one, and it becomes a middle of the road device, quickly outpaced by the majority of its competitors.
Agree or disagree? Let me know below.
Photo courtesy of MacRumors.com