Mike de la Cruz, a senior vice president with German software giant SAP, shows off the latest weapon of the corporate road warriorhis iPhone.
A hit with consumers because it combines a phone, music player and Web browser, analysts say Apple's iPhone is gaining ground as a business tool as well, and could one day rival Research in Motion's popular Blackberry line.
Although sought out by high-end consumers, Apple products have never been accepted widely by business, so major corporate adoption of the iPhone would be a breakthrough. "It's fun," de la Cruz said in Boston at an industry conference earlier this week. "It's so popular."
Indeed, it is popular enough that software makers such as SAP, Salesforce.com and scores of smaller developers are letting sales and finance teams work away from the office on their iPhones.
On Monday, SAP broke with precedent by saying it would introduce a version of its upcoming customer relationship management software for the iPhone before launching versions for mobile devices from RIM and Palm. The reason? SAP's own salespeople were clamoring for it, saying the iPhone was easier to use, according to Bob Stutz, SAP senior vice president in charge of developing customer relationship management software. "This isn't necessarily iPhone deployment by way of the IT department, but it's by people who really want to use this device and IT is responding in a really positive way," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with market research firm Jupiter Research.
But analysts said several things need to happen before the iPhone becomes a serious challenger, the most crucial of which is more support for corporate e-mail.
Blackberries became an indispensable part of the business world for their ability to forward e-mail from a corporate network straight to the phones.
The iPhone's e-mail service can be configured to work with corporate systems, but it does not "push" the entire message to the device. Contacts and calendars also cannot be updated over the airwaves, but require the iPhone to be physically docked with a computer.
Since many businesses use Microsoft's Outlook software for e-mail, contacts and scheduling, Apple would need to license Microsoft technology that lets mobile phones work with Exchange, the server software that underpins Outlook.
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