iPhone 3: fit for business?

The iPhone is undoubtedly a brilliant entertainment device, but the original model had major gaps in its enterprise capabilities. It seems Apple was well aware of these limitations, and in order to grab a bigger slice of the lucrative business phone market it’s added many enterprise features to the newly released OS 3. You’ll get this new OS version on any iPhone you buy today, and it’s a free upgrade for existing iPhone owners (although iPod Touch owners have to pay, which seems a tad unfair). Do these new features cut enough mustard to make the iPhone now a serious contender as a business smartphone?

iPhone 3: fit for business?

Let’s take a look at some of the more significant new enterprise-related features, starting with the biggest attraction of all – copy and paste! I realise that Apple’s detractors will be shouting at the page right now, frothing that every other phone has had copy and paste since Year Dot Minus 10, so that its final appearance on the iPhone really shouldn’t be headline news. I have a sneaking sympathy with that opinion, but to anyone responsible for purchasing phones for a large enterprise, copy and paste on the iPhone actually is a big deal, because it at last elevates it to serious contender status.

iPhone copy and paste

As you’d expect from Apple, the cut-and-paste interface is easy and elegant: double-tap within some text and the nearest word is highlighted, with a pop-up offering Select and Select All. Choose “Select” and you see two draggable bars that expand the selection to cover the text you want to copy. At that point you can click Cut or Copy in the menu above your selection, although of course Cut only becomes available in an application that allows you to edit content – you wouldn’t see it on a web page or a game help screen. Best of all, this cut/copy facility works with images and text.

Once you’ve cut or copied some content you can go to any other app that accepts input and double-click where you want to paste the text or graphic, at which point a Paste menu will appear. Double-click in an app that isn’t looking for input and you won’t see the Paste menu, so it’s all very straightforward and logical. One tiny fly in the ointment is that the copy function works slightly differently in the Safari web browser – you have to hold your tap for a second or so to get the select menus, rather than double-tapping. It’s disturbingly un-Apple-like to tolerate two clashing modes of interaction such as this, even though I understand the reason: double-clicking on a web page could trigger some navigation event that shoots you off to another page.

In the spotlight

Enterprise users will be delighted to learn that the iPhone now has a proper search facility, courtesy of a mobile version of Apple’s OS X Spotlight indexing system. Oddly, rather than accessing this from an icon like other iPhone tools, you must swipe the main home screen to get to the search screen, where you’ll see Search sitting on the left. It searches across all content on the device, and if you click a returned result it opens that document in the relevant application. Once again, it works exactly how you’d expect (and yes, once again, other phones have had search for donkey’s years!)

In addition to this global search function there’s also now a search facility available within individual email mailboxes, but its user interface is hidden, which is a rather serious usability howler – you need to first open an individual mail account, go to its inbox, then scroll up above the first mail message where you’ll find the search box. In a user interface that’s generally so easy and intuitive, this gaffe really irritates. Sorry, Apple, but I think you could have done much better here.

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