Along with 500,000 other consumers in the United States, I went out and bought myself an iPhone this past weekend. While by far this is the best phone, iPod, and mobile Internet Browser I’ve ever used (just like Steve Jobs said), there are plenty of reviews on the web which can tell you all about that.
What I am more interested in, is “Can I use it to replace my Blackberry?”
The main things I’m looking for is this:
1. Able to connect to Exchange
2. Push Email
3. Filtering which email folders I see from the phone
4. New emails in any folder appear on the main phone screen
5. Connecting to the corporate address book
6. Calendar Syncing
Before I start to describe my experience, I’d like to point out that this is based on the iPhone’s “1.0” software. Apple has indicated that it will be improving its software over time. As all the limitations I mention here can be resolved by a software update, I would hope that Apple will be able to address these issues quickly, which would have a huge impact on my conclusions.
Connect to Exchange
Let’s dispel a few common myths. The iPhone can connect to Microsoft Exchange at your company. However, a lot of companies only enable the proprietary Microsoft protocol “active sync” for their Exchange servers, and don’t allow the industry standard “IMAPS” protocol. Many companies claim that this is for security reasons, but in actuality this is not true at all. IMAPS is secured through SSL just like an encrypted web page. The reality is that many corporate IT departments are too lazy to set up the IMAPS protocol, which allows both the iPhone as well as other email clients (such as Thunderbird) to connect to Exchange. My company does have IMAPS enabled, so the iPhone had no problems connecting in my case.
Apple is currently supporting push email from some sources, such as GMail and Yahoo Mail. They do not support push email yet from Microsoft Exchange, although the rumor is that support for that may be coming in a future software update. If you don’t have push email, you can set the iPhone to check mail every 15, 30, or 60 minutes. It will also check for new mail every time you open the mail app.
I think this is one of the biggest problems with the iPhone’s mail app, the the only real reason I can’t use it to replace my Blackberry. You can’t choose which mail folders show up in the iPhone from your IMAP mail account. Many people use Microsoft Outlook/Exchange at work, and use its “rules” system to automatically separate incoming emails into different organizational folders. While the iPhone can see all of these folders, only messages in the “INBOX” will trigger the iPhone to alert you of a new message. If you have Exchange set to automatically place new emails in a sub folder, the iPhone will not tell you about them.
Connecting to Corporate Address Book
The standard way of doing this is via an LDAP connection to Microsoft Exchange or other LDAP directory. While the iPhone can (and will) sync to your Outlook address book, it will not sync your company directory, and it will not let you look up names against the company directory like Windows Mobile and Blackberry will. This comes in very handy when writing emails to co-workers, or simply looking up their phone number to call them. This is an area where it would be a very useful feature for current Blackberry users to have, but it’s not strictly necessary in order to switch to the iPhone
I don’t use the calander on my phone so much, but based on some feedback to this post, here’s a bit more info on it. Currently, you can sync your iPhone calender on either Windows or Mac, but only when you have it plugged in to your computer. This is unlike email, which gets synced wirelessly. Also, this is unlike the Blackberry or Windows Mobile, both of which can sync your calendar via wireless.
I encourage you to read more about the iPhone from other sources. It really is an excellent phone. For business users who don’t need instant email, but can settle for every 15 minutes, and who don’t use Microsoft Exchanges “rules and filters,” switching to the iPhone will be painless. For heavier Blackberry users who rely on the company directory integration, or who work in a frontline support role where getting emails instantly is a must, you probably want to wait for at least a few software revisions in the iPhone before switching.
While the iPhone is a great device, it really is geared towards consumers at the moment, and business use has been sidelined. However, it wouldn’t take much for Apple to address the biggest issues business users face, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them all resolved by the end of the year.