OZ Minerals should have picked the iPhone

Australian mid-cap miner OZ Minerals should have picked Apple's iPhone instead of Research in Motion's BlackBerry.


news editor
Renai LeMay

commentary The news this week that Australian mid-cap miner OZ Minerals had chosen to standardise on the BlackBerry platform following its creation from the merger of Oxiana and Zinifex, left me with just one burning question.

Why didn't the company pick Apple's iPhone device instead?

Sure, on paper, the decision, which will see an additional 150 BlackBerrys deployed to company executives to make a total of 250, makes complete sense.

After all, Research in Motion, traditional Canadian manufacturers (since 1999) of the fine line of BlackBerry phones, currently enjoys what some have described as an almost unassailable position in the pockets of corporate Australia.

The BlackBerry line has seen off several past challenges from the likes of Nokia and is still almost a compulsory acquisition for anyone of a middle manager rank or up, although some doggedly prefer Symbian devices or *gasp* sluggish Windows Mobile handsets.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, OZ said it surveyed the market comprehensively (including, communications advisor Sally Cox told ZDNet.com.au later, the iPhone). "The BlackBerry smartphone came up trumps," she said.

"Research in Motion's email and data offering is absolutely unbeatable," Cox added, noting security and cost advantages had helped the BlackBerry beat the iPhone and other handsets to the punch.

The problem with these statements is that while they might be true, they don't reflect the competitive reality in the smartphone market.

The iPhone is simply a far more flexible and user-friendly device than the BlackBerry.

Yes, the BlackBerry's email offering is great, with the back-end combination of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, and it is extremely efficient in the way it consumes costly mobile data. Despite BES's link to the head office in Canada, even most governments rate the well-established (some would say default) mobile platform as secure.

But the iPhone's email functionality (including the ability to securely connect to Microsoft Exchange) is also fantastic, and at launch the iPhone blew the BlackBerry out of the water when it came to web browsing capabilities; a feature BlackBerry users have been demanding for years. Despite its best efforts, RIM still hasn't caught up.

It's impossible to over-estimate the importance of a great mobile browser in an age when most business applications are heading into the web-based cloud.

Furthermore, the iPhone is simply a far more flexible and user-friendly device than the BlackBerry; as its stellar sales figures and the rapid proliferation of applications demonstrates. The BlackBerry has done mobile email well for a decade; but the iPhone does email almost as well, and so much more besides.

This is a reality that corporate software giants like Oracle and Salesforce.com have not failed to notice; SAP even went so far recently as to release an iPhone version of a salesforce automation suite ahead of the BlackBerry version.

The iPhone's price tag is also comparable with most BlackBerrys ... of course, if you're really worried about that you should probably go with the much cheaper Nokia E71, which is still a pretty decent choice but still not up to the iPhone's benchmark.

Of course, I don't know OZ Minerals' specific situation (the company hasn't provided further details about its decision-making process) and the BlackBerry does have a number of advantages over the iPhone: superior manageability, a more proven platform, more handset choice, and overall a more sophisticated approach to the corporate market.

But the mere fact that Research in Motion went so far as to issue a statement regarding OZ Minerals' BlackBerry decision indicates heightened competition in the corporate mobile market.

I expect to see more large Australian organisations follow the University of South Australia's lead and formally offer the iPhone to their staff soon, and if I were a chief information officer I'd do my staff a favour and pick the iPhone.

iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile or Symbian? Or even Palm? Tell us what your corporate phone poison is and why.