Business suits, Monkey Suits, You know the drill

A strange thing happens around the corporate office when I whip out my iPhone and check email, place a call, or browse Safari. There is first silence, then Also Sprach Zarathustra (theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) slowly builds to a crescendo and my office colleagues gather like early man around the mysterious black monolith.

You see, like most offices across the land, we use mostly Blackberries. Now, I'm not sayin' that these BB toters are Neanderthal, pre-man or apes; I mean, they have to have opposable thumbs to work the keyboard, right? I'm merely pointing out that my iPhone is the ONLY iPhone on the premises and somehow I get my work done and keep track of my schedule, contacts and email, just like everyone else. Read on to see if your iPhone can survive in a hostile work environment!

Will It Work?

If you read a previous article of mine, Trippin' with my iPhone, I discussed the merits of the iPhone as a great travel companion and a multi-functional consumer's dream device -- truly a little slice of heaven. Writing that article really got me thinking about how I could effectively use my iPhone at work -- no jailbreaking, no SDK, just the pure, unadulterated Jobsian iPhone fresh out of the box. Could I compete with my BB denizens?

Some of the criticisms I've endured at work go something like these:

  • "You don't have true push email."
  • "Where's your task list? How will you get anything done if you don't have a task list?!?"
  • "You can't receive and accept important meeting invitations." --- hmmmm. Not sure this is a BAD thing. I'm-not-saying-I'm-just-saying.

Even with the much-anticipated 3rd-party apps and forthcoming Exchange support, I've found my iPhone to be a worthy business phone. Although I am sometimes scoffed at by my BB toting peers, I remind them of the aforementioned iPhone upgrades and tell them in my best John Lithgow's Dr. Lizardo of Buckaroo Banzai fame voice: "Laugh-uh while you can, monkey-boy!"

See, we're really hitting this businessman-monkey connection hard.

Can the iPhone compete in its current incarnation as a business phone? There are several reasons why I believe it can. I'll now go into further detail about each of those reasons.

Let Me Pencil You Into My Calendar App

Pic 3 Calendar

In my experience as a Palm user, WM dabbler and a little time on my brother's Blackberry, I've found the iPhone's Calendar to be at least on par with the rest. I can enter the Title and Location, Start and End time for the appointment or activity, set it as a repeating event, set an alert to remind me, and even enter some additional notes. My only gripe is the redundancy required when saving an appointment. There are a few times I've entered everything and forgot to touch "Done" when I was finished. Unlike most of the competition, the iPhone saves nothing unless you tap that "Done" button.

The other drawback is the inability to accept appointments and meetings. The way I work around this is accept (or decline) the meeting on my desktop, then when I sync my iPhone, it's all there in the Calendar. Easy as pie. For me, the iPhone has worked fine for my business and personal calendar.

Visual Voicemail - Anything Less Is SO Twentieth Century!

Picture 2-16

Even the concept of Visual Voicemail; the ability to see my voicemail graphically, then pick and choose which ones I wanted to listen to, delete, or call back in any order; sold me from the start. I used to dread voicemail and tolerate it as a necessary evil. I have never enjoyed skimming through all of my voicemail to get to the one that is REALLY important. Now, it's a breeze on my iPhone. Tap, listen, delete. Tap, listen, do nothing = saved. Voicemail is now painless and, dare I say, fun. That feature alone has made me the envy of my colleagues.

Make Contact with your Contacts

Pic 4 Contacts

The iPhone makes even something as mundane as your Contact list a joy to work with and browse. I just flip my finger and scroll along, or even easier, just tap the letter corresponding to my contact's first or last name (depending on how you've arranged your contacts). It's also extremely easy to add a photo to a contact -- either take a new photo on the spot or choose an existing photo from your iPhone's Photo Albums. Contacts on an iPhone and contacts on anything else (BB, WM, Palm, etc.) are all pretty much the same regarding content, but the iPhone's interface just seems to do it all with a bit more style and panache. Again, a worthy Contact app for the business world. If I need to accept a virtual business card, I just do it on my desktop and sync.

Email - It's Not Just For BB Anymore

Pic 6 Email-1 Pic 5 Email-1

Let's face it. The BB is an emailing machine. When you think corporate email, you think Blackberry. This has been THE greatest shortcoming of the iPhone being a competent business device, particularly on the enterprise level. With that said, are you wondering how I am getting my corporate email without a BB? I have an answer for you. Gather around; listen carefully; I shall whisper softly this marvelous secret.

Ah, shucks. It's really not a secret, it's just more about schmoozing your I.T. department than implementing some kind of secretive technological wizardry. I merely asked I.T. if they can change a setting on the server to forward a copy of all my work email to my .mac account (or you can go with AOL, Gmail, etc.). Presto! I now get all my work email on my iPhone by virtue of my .mac email address. This does create some redundancy (email at both my desktop work email account AND on my iPhone), but I don't mind. If I delete an email on the desktop, it updates my iPhone, and vice versa. With all due respect to my BB Email Monster toting cohorts, I don't feel like I'm really missing anything. If autocheck every 15 minutes isn't soon enough, then the person trying to reach me can text or call me.

Without A TASK List, How Do You Get Anything Done??

I must admit, I miss the native task lists I can create on my WM and Palm devices. Notes on the iPhone just doesn't cut it. However, there IS a workaround on this point too (bet you figured I had one, eh?). For me, it's as simple as creating a Calendar entry for a task needing completion. I just look at my Calendar, and there's the reminder. Once I've completed the task, I delete the Calendar entry.

Conference Calls the iPhone Way

Pic 9 Conf Calling

Yes, other devices can be used for conference calls, and the iPhone is no different in function. Like many other things, however, its not about what the iPhone does, but HOW the iPhone does it. Recently I hosted a conference call with a colleague in California, two in Utah, and an attorney in the Philippines. I was sweating it a little because it was an important call and I had yet to use the iPhone's Conference Call features. The request for me to host the call was a last-second decision and I hadn't even read up on conferencing with the iPhone. Fortunately, user interface is really where the iPhone shines.

I called the main number for the conference and entered the access number for "host". With the three State-side colleagues now on the call, I placed them on hold and dialed the attorney in the Philippines. Once getting him on the line, I just tapped "Merge" and we were now all on the same call together. I used "Speakerphone" and could hear and was heard loud and clear. It was a smooth and seamless conference call experience, all handled from my iPhone. That, my friends, is good business.

Wrapping It All Up

Is the iPhone a perfect business phone? No. IS there a perfect business phone? No again. However, I've found that I can use my iPhone at work and still perform pretty much all the basic business functions that my other phones can perform. I would argue that the iPhone is superior in some areas, like the ease-of-use in setting up a conference call. When in the business world, I want something that just plain works and does it in the easiest way possible so I can save time and, therefore, money.

Even now, the iPhone is a worthy player in the business world. I am very excited to see how much more useful the iPhone will be at work once the 3rd party app and Exchange floodgates are open.

Until then, leave a comment (or two!) about your work-related iPhone experiences or what you think the future will be for the iPhone in the workplace!