By Friday night we will all be sick of the iPhone 3G news. But even if you stick with your current model, the 2.0 software upgrade is still a big deal. From a consumer perspective, the important takeaways appear to be significant social media application competition between Loopt, MySpace, Facebook, and even AIM with its Buddy List/Social Graph. The iTunes Remote application foreshadows further integration of the iPhone as a signaling device for buying, WiFi downloading, and now controlling of digital media playback. And the App Store significantly expands what you can do over WiFi and 3G direct to the iPhone bypassing iTunes.
Each of these feature sets will move rapidly into the enterprise space on the back of the improved Exchange support, free distribution of apps starting with Salesforce and Oracle business tools, and a steady drumbeat of mashups of early application UI and location-aware services and the forthcoming third-party push notification services due later this summer. Already there is significant interest on the part of Blackberry, Treo, and Windows Mobile users frustrated by the inability of their platforms to grasp the value proposition of the Web-enabled phone.
Apple’s strategy of delivering early on Microsoft’s promise of software plus services with MobileMe may prove more effective as a sales tool for IT than as an upsell from .Mac. Resistance to the $99 price tag may be a deal breaker for those wedded to free Gmail, but a reliable push email and calendaring service at Apple’s close to zero-install footprint seeds the next generation of workers with enterprise class tools as they enter the work force. It’s like those classic educational programs that Apple used to seed the Mac in a previous generation.
But the emergence of social messaging may be the most significant enterprise driver for the iPhone of all. Whether it’s Facebook Chat or Twitterific, the ability to leverage the power of micro-communities and their unique behavioral signatures gives users powerful ways to pay for services and even earn revenue while using them. Facebook’s iPhone app turns its contacts data into a click-to-call directory; imagine what happens when its events database is similarly harnessed and converted to transactions via a workflow process.
Today we see the outlines of the value-added Web, where URLs lead to not just pages but attendant services brought to life by the iPhone rich container services. Lightweight services such as Twitter may appear to be simple public chat streams, but MobileMe provides a developer framework for arming these vanilla TinyURLs and trackable keywords with rich UI enhancements akin to Visual Studio’s Intellisense squiggly lines. Hover over the TinyURL and a hint tells you what will happen if you click; authenticated users or groups see different renderings of the page or services as you navigate to them.
Twitter and the increased autonomy of the iPhone 3G bring the new radio device a substantial distance closer to financial stability. By allowing direct downloading of advertising-supported applications, essentially doorways to cloud services, Apple is building a next generation market for audio and video product that can stay out of the hands of the entertainment cartels that have proven so difficult to dislodge. A realtime stream of subscription services to a favorite artist that can be harvested on the fly will extend the trend of artists such as Prince and the Eagles taking distribution into their own hands to changing the actual form of the media itself.
Even the weaknesses of the new iPhone have enterprise implications. The turning off the 3G radio to save battery life encourages a widening fabric of stores and even municipalities to build out WiFi and GPS-aware applications to engage users as they move around. The flow of data from the devices directly to the vendors reduces marketing costs and lets users subsidize payment with rich intentional data. And mining Twitter’s Follow and Track data to help arrange appointments, sales calls, and negotiations based on a user’s social graph characteristics will likely become a hugely successful Salesforce module.
Whether you jump in now or wait a few months for the applications to mature, the iPhone platform has given Apple a big lead in the new enterprise. By refactoring the approach businesses will take to engineer and market their products, Apple has moved into a powerful role as the razor to a new generation of blades that will for some time run best on the originating device. Much like Twitter.