Is the iPhone fit for business? Part one

Although the iPhone is aimed squarely at consumers, we all know many corporate devices come to favour through the back door, so why should the latest member of Apple's family be any different?

I have to admit that my last experience of a 'touch sensitive' phone was LG's Chocolate in 2006. While I'm a confirmed chocoholic and then some, my time with the device left somewhat of a bitter taste in my mouth. As such, my sceptic's hat was firmly on when iPhone mutterings were first heard some time ago.

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Nonetheless, I cast my scepticism aside when Apple offered me the chance of an indepth review session with its beloved newborn as I was keen to see exactly what the innovation had to offer.

Day one

I have to admit that my day one of testing wasn't an immediate act. The iPhone sat unloved in its (minimalist) box for the best part of a week, waiting for some attention from its new foster parent. Rather than leaving it at home for fear of burglars or at the office for fear of jealous colleagues, I lugged the device around in my bag. Everywhere I went, it went too. Every stranger that spoke to me, every tube journey I travelled, and every step I took was an act fraught with concern that I may become muggers' bounty. But I survived unscathed.

Once I'd gotten over my initial over paranoid outlook and lacklustre approach to reviewing the device I found the set up process pretty easy, although synching contact numbers was a bit of a pain to say the least.

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Given that the iPhone is not aimed at business users (who are likely to have all their contacts stored in Outlook or the like) the process you have to go through is a tad arduous. Most of my personal contact numbers are not stored in the conventional business way and I no longer have all the cables and sofware that came with my phone. I have previously worked around this by using Bluetooth file transfer or saving numbers to SIM, inserting the old SIM in my new phone and then saving numbers to said new phone. Neither of these options are viable with the iPhone so I had to sit there manually entering my address book, contact by contact. That seems more than a little archaic for a state of the art device.

Having said that, to see how easy it would be in an ideal world, I was able to synch up my husband's N95 device with Outlook to transfer his contacts and then export this data from Outlook onto the iPhone. The whole process took a matter of minutes from start to finish. So I guess the speed at which you can transfer your contacts over rests quite heavily on your previous phone.

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Elsewhere, simplicity is evident in Apple's latest brainchild, demonstrated through the Mac OS X-based user interface (UI) and sleek hardware aesthetics.

After unlocking the phone using the 'slide to unlock' bar, users are greeted by a black home page with four key icons (Phone, Mail, Safari and iPod) beaming up at you from their residence along the horizontal bottom main menu. Above the main menu, users will find 13 other icons: (from left to right) SMS, Calendar, Photos, Camera, YouTube, Stocks, Maps, Weather, Clock, Calculator, Notes, Settings and, finally, iTunes.

The selection of icons is perhaps a little needless as many of them aren't necessary at top level navigation or seem to duplicate effort. Most of us, for example, are used to locating our calculator functionality through the settings menu, while some expect to locate photos via the camera button or vice versa.

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The choice to place 13 icons and leave some blank black space at the left-hand bottom also seems odd at first glance but is most likely room for manoeuvre when Apple updates firmware in the future.

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There is also talk of Apple opening up the iPhone to third-party developers from February 2008 (when the SDK is released), which could elevate the device's appeal among business users to another level.

The device's 3.5", 480 x 320 pixel screen display is enticing and would seem a perfect vehicle for browsing web pages and watching videos (more on this later) or - fingers crossed for business users - word processing and other office productivity applications. At 135g and 115mm x 61mm x 11.6mm the iPhone isn't the lightest or smallest device on the market, but what it lacks in compactness it more than makes up for in other areas.

Aside from the visually-stunning UI, there are only two main buttons users need to concern themselves with. The first (at the top of the device) is the on/off switch, while the only navigational aspect that is made of plastic is the round button on the front below the display. This directs users back to the home screen whenever needed. Additionally, you can set up this button so that a double click brings you to one of three locations: Home, Contact Favourites or iPod.

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Alas with all things of beauty, the iPhone is likely to be the subject of unwanted attention in the form of sticky finger marks on the display, meaning the cleaning cloth included as standard is a welcome find. I suspect that in the future iPhone users will be less identifiable through their white earphones and more so through their OCD-like incessant cleaning rituals.

Day two

I'm not sure for exactly how long I've got the device so I haven't given the number out to that many people to avoid confusion. I'm already carrying a BlackBerry and a Sony as it is - devices that are frequently complemented by additional temporary phones for review purposes - so yet another number may just cause people to spontaneously combust, or my bag to break.

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I'm quite fussy when it comes to ring tones. I'm constantly annoyed on my commute home by people with crappy text alerts and sickeningly irritating ring tones that only an idiot would pay for, let alone be proud to own. As a result of my disdain for those around me, I usually have all my phones on vibrate unless I'm at home. I find this much easier to deal with as I, like so many in the business world, attend many last minute meetings and don't have the time, patience or insurance cover to risk RSI to constantly switch from one user profile to another.

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The iPhone does indeed have such a vibrate functionality, which I have wholeheartedly embraced. It's also got a nifty little silencer button at the top of the left hand side so you can quickly mute an incoming call if needs be.

For those who are proud to be loud when it comes to ring tones (and indeed for me when at home), the issue of sound for your call alerts might be a bit irksome on Apple's latest dish de jour. For while it does come packed with a few - some would argue quite randomly selected - gems (motorcycle, pinball and time passing to name just three), it's not as easy as you'd think to add more ring tones.

Most of us (be it right or wrong) get our ring tones from our friends or, if we're sad or mad enough, compose our own from scratch using a music editor of some sort. With the iPhone, the days of forwarding on catchy ring tones to your friends and colleagues using Bluetooth are long gone. You'll have to pay twice for the pleasure. Once to download the song onto iTunes and then once again to download it as a ring tone. In a world where people are actively rebelling against paying for anything once, I'm not sure how much of a good PR move this is, but in the corporate world where reputation alone is enough of a motive to ensure everything is kept above board, Apple might just have a fan base.

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