The iconic Apple iPhone got an internal makeover but not much else this week, no radical redesign, no iPhone 5 name change. Fashion-conscious consumers weren't very happy, but iPhone-toting CEOs should be pleased with the iPhone 4S. They might even cheer Apple for leaving out a flashy upgrade.
As you've probably heard by now, the iPhone 4S is Apple's newest iPhone unveiled on Tuesday with much fanfare. On the hardware side, the iPhone 4S touts a much improved camera and wireless system, a faster A4 chip (the same one that's in the iPad 2) and dual GSM and CDMA support. On the software side, the iPhone 4S comes with a voice-controlled artificial intelligence assistant, called Siri.
There's no question Apple aggressively priced the iPhone 4S to compete with cheaper Android phones. Apple and Google are in a pitched battle in the smartphone market, as Android phones have collectively outsold iPhones in the past few quarters.
But business executives should be happy that Apple didn't fall into the trap of doing iPhone upgrades solely because of competition with Android. For business users, real world necessities trump marketing positioning driven by hype and perception. And there are a lot of iPhone business users: Apple claims 93 percent of the Fortune 500 are testing or deploying the iPhone.
All of this leads us to the first of five reasons why the iPhone 4S will be a powerful business tool. "What's in it for business users? Surprisingly, quite a bit," says Aaron Freimark, IT director at services firm Tekserve, which helps Fortune 1000 companies adopt iPhones and iPads.
Avoiding the 4G facade
Since some Android phones support super-fast 4G LTE networks, tech analyst Rob Enderle and others figured Apple's newest iPhone would have to support 4G as well.
"Another 3G phone would be a problem given the heavy push into 4G and would likely give iPhone 4G competitors an unusual advantage," Enderle told me in a discussion about the pros and cons of 4G prior to the iPhone launch.
Never mind that immature 4G chipsets drain battery life like a sieve or that LTE coverage remains spotty as wireless carriers begin their rollout of the network. "It's the chipsets and faster wireless protocols that are really the battery hogs," says Kyle Wiens of iFixit. "Look at the battery life of every new 4G phone, it's not acceptable."
Needless to say, business users prefer battery life and coverage over a 4G marketing ploy. By not going with 4G, Apple has improved the battery life of the iPhone 4S up to eight hours of 3G talk time, 10 hours of video.
The need for speed
What about data transfer speed? Apple apparently hasn't lost much, claiming that the iPhone 4S running on 3G networks including HSPA+ doubles the iPhone 4 download speed to 14.4 Mbps and uploads at 5.8 Mbps.
"This is an amazing download speed, and we'll have to see it to believe it," Freimark says. "If they can engineer their way to 4G speed out of a 3G connection, it's going to be pretty remarkable."
While everyone loves faster download speed, business users have the most to gain. They are often downloading business intelligence reports with iPhone apps such as Roambi. Also, more and more data-heavy critical business information is becoming available on the iPhone in the form of podcasts and video.
Related to this, the added processing power of the new A5 dual-core chip in the iPhone 4S should boost performance of graphics intensive apps like Roambi. For IT departments that want flashy graphics, as well as to improve performance of virtual private networks and on-the-fly encryption on the iPhone, Freimark says, "the new chip effectively raises the bar".
The "S" in iPhone 4S is for Siri
For super-busy executives, virtual personal assistant Siri should be a godsend.
Apple showed off Siri at the iPhone 4S launch, whereby Siri was able to understand and connect spoken words such as rain and raincoat, read text messages, take dictation, access apps such as alarms and calendars and even create geo-fences that will remind you to pick up some milk after leaving the office. For a CEO, this functionality could be invaluable.
While Siri sounds like something out of Star Trek, one big question remains: How will Siri perform in the real world? It's a wait-and-see game, of course.
But Freimark thinks Apple will deliver on the capabilities of the technology. Apple's existing iPhone voice-recognition technology, a feature turned on by holding down the home button, is already pretty good, he says. Apple also spent millions last year to acquire Siri, an iPhone app that made CIO.com's list of 15 best iPhone apps for busy CEOs.
The Siri app hasn't been updated for a year, which probably means Siri and Apple engineers have been working together on this for a while. "There's a good possibility that the right minds are coming together and living up to the promise," says Freimark, adding that it could be the killer app on the iPhone.
Freimark rightly notes that Siri won't be an "app," rather a feature built into iOS and running across apps. When I fired up Siri on my iPhone 3GS, the app indicated that it will be "going home soon" and presumably won't be available in the future as a standalone app.
An iPhone for the global economy
As expected, Apple unified its CDMA and GSM iPhones into a single world phone. This of course benefits all globetrotters, but especially business executives competing in the emerging global economy.
For instance, one of Tekserve's customers has an executive who carries two iPhones: a CDMA Verizon iPhone for the United States and an unlocked GSM iPhone for overseas. Now he's going to be able to trade in his two iPhone 4s for one iPhone 4S.
Airplay for business
The iPhone 4S supports Airplay, or wireless mirroring to the iPhone. Consumers will be happy that they'll be able to hook up their iPhone 4S wirelessly to the hockey puck-sized Apple TV and watch movies. For business users though, Airplay on the iPhone can play a critical role in presentations, says Freimark.
That is, an executive carrying an iPhone and an Apple TV can make a presentation on the fly.
"If you take an Apple TV, which is a little bigger than a deck of cards, that has an HDMI port on it and does Wi-Fi, and you plug it in and connect it to your iPhone 4S, you can do a live presentation anytime you want," Freimark explains. "It's a really impressive thing."