Imagine an iPhone built for business

iphone-menu.jpgShe’s been treated as a hopeless case, but I had some sympathy for Carrie when, faced with a crisis during the Sex and the City movie, she needs to make a call and is baffled by the iPhone handed to her. “I can’t work that,” she says, handing it back. When you’re under pressure, you don’t have time to learn a new interface.

As Apple prepares to launch version 2.0 of its popular product, the SITC scene is a good reminder that not everyone is able to keep pace with the way smart phone feature navigation is changing. Among the most likely changes to the device this week, observers are making predictions about its weight (possibly fatter, to accommodate a better battery); 3G capabilities, the better to compete with established players; and, overall, something much more affordable and available internationally. It’s too soon to expect Apple to change the look and feel. But I can’t stop dreaming.

Apple has a unique position in the market because it crosses the boundaries between consumer and corporate users. More precisely, it reaches the technology-savvy consumer who probably works in a corporate environment (although Toronto Life magazine would not agree; a feature in its latest issue suggests business users are BlackBerry loyalists). Therefore it is in the best position to build on the interface it pioneered in iPhone 1.0 and offer something that helps customers balance their varying use-case scenarios more effectively.

What I’m dreaming about, for example, is a set of icons on an iPhone that specifically tie into business applications or at least bring them to the forefront. Instead of text/calander/photos/camera, for example, users would be greeted with buttons linked to ERP, CRM, BI and productivity applications. Even better if these could be customized around the branded services, whether it be MySAP or It already does this with Safari and iPod default icons. Much as OS defaults in Windows became a political battlefield among its OEM partners, Apple now owns the kind of real estate that will govern how users operate one of the most likely successors to the PC.

I’m not suggesting this set of icons and menus would displace what iPhone users are accustomed to. It’s a matter of allowing people to set up the device based on what they need the most, and making it easy. I’m sure some developers and IT professionals could roll their own iPhone, but it’s not something the average business user will be able to do. Much better than the Apple should offer a business version (a “suit skin” versus a “life skin”) and allow users to toggle back and forth according to the activities on which they are focused.

As I write this Apple is poised to introduce a number of features for business users, and that’s great, but it’s not the same as creating an environment in which those users will want to live and breathe. Maybe that’s a project for iPhone 3.0, but this product got its hype in part from its design. That’s where Apple’s greatest innovations will likely remain.

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