What's the best business smartphone?

What's the best smartphone for your business? BlackBerry, iPhone, Nokia, or even HTC, Samsung or Android? In a ZDNet.com.au feature, we investigate businesses and talk to CIOs and executives to find out which handsets are picking up speed and which are falling by the wayside.

It might come as a shock to find out that in an organisation as large as the Royal Melbourne Institution of Technology's corporate environment, half of the mobile phones used are Apple iPhones.

The university's executive director of information technology services Allan Morris, however, prefers the BlackBerry. "I've used BlackBerrys for several years. I find that for email, diary management, you can't beat them in terms of reliability," he tells ZDNet.com.au recently. "If you want something that's more of a business device, I certainly think that the BlackBerry's a win."

Morris currently uses a Bold, but has had no problems with other BlackBerry devices for the years he's been using them. Though he's steering clear of the BlackBerry Storm due to the bad reviews it's received.

The IT director understands why people would opt for the iPhone — there's the apps, the iPod capability and the phone's marketing appeal — but he has an iPod Touch for those things. "Would I throw away my BlackBerry as a business device for an iPhone? No I wouldn't," he says, quoting the better battery life and ease of accessing emails as some reasons why.

From an IT point of view, Morris finds it easier to hook up the BlackBerry phones, which he says only takes 10 minutes, but he confesses that it is because the university uses an email system for which the iPhone doesn't have a native interface, while the BlackBerry does.

When asked about other devices, although he knew there were lots of options on the market, Morris says he doesn't have many people coming to him and asking to hook up alternatives. "Out of 10 requests we'd be lucky to get one that wasn't a BlackBerry or an iPhone," he says. Popular Nokia and Samsung phones were not mentioned.

In the formative soup that is the global financial crisis, Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM) seems to be strengthening its hold on the business smartphone market, ripping market share from competitors like Nokia. Even the iPhone's glamour is unable to dent the company's success.

According to IDC data, RIM has been the only vendor to post a quarter on quarter increase in smartphone shipments every single quarter for over two years. In the first quarter of this year, it managed a 13.6 per cent increase, a good performance considering that the total market fell by 28 per cent. Year on year, RIM grew 112.8 per cent, compared to a year-on-year market growth of 26.5 per cent.

Although Nokia still leads the overall smartphone market, with market share for the year sitting at 70.9 per cent, this has dropped from 77.5 per cent recorded in the fourth quarter of 2005. Meanwhile, RIM has risen from 5.6 per cent of the market to 13.3 per cent from 2005 to 2007.

According to Mark Novosel, IDC market analyst for telecommunications, the numbers show that there is strong demand for BlackBerry devices in the corporate sector, but also reflects growing interest in the consumer market. RIM's consumer success was highlighted when Vodafone Australia thanked BlackBerry and the iPhone specifically for an increase in revenues at its recent results.

The iPhone has also enjoyed success in the market, selling 125,000 devices in its first three months in Australia.

I've used BlackBerrys for several years. I find that for email, diary management, you can't beat them in terms of reliability

RMIT ITS director Allan Morris

With analysts talking about consumers bringing their favourite devices into work and IT shops having to cater to their "BYO" mentality, there have been some speculation that it might be the iPhone that could challenge BlackBerry's success in the business market.

Yet the device many have dubbed the "Jesus phone" has suffered a slow path to gaining business credibility. In 2007, just before the vaunted release of the 3G model, Gartner warned that it just wasn't secure enough for business.

Gartner is able to give grudging approval, however, after a firmware update added essential features such as remote wiping and support for Microsoft Exchange push email. IDC's Novosel believes the iPhone is a "new kid on the block", and is in many ways unproven as a serious contender in the business sense. He points out that he hasn't heard of any major (numbering in the thousands) corporate deployments of the phone.

Probably the largest publicised move in Australia has been that of Lion Nathan, which recently bought over 150 iPhones for its corporate fleet, as reported by The Australian.

Novosel's view is reflected in his numbers, which show that iPhone shipments are not yet making it into the top echelons of market share. With Nokia first and RIM second, Samsung comes in at third place, largely due to the popularity of the Omnia, according to Novosel, which is Windows Mobile-based. Yet when ZDNet.com.au called around amongst executives, it was the iPhone that featured amongst the more entrenched BlackBerry and Nokia devices.

At internet service provider iiNet, only executives and some senior managements have smartphones hooked up to the corporate network, according to the organisation's chief technology officer Greg Bader.

Bader says that the execs mostly have BlackBerrys, but that there are a few iPhones fostered by the managing director Michael Malone's fondness for Apple. "Most have BlackBerry because they've been using them for a number of years," Bader says. "We don't really worry about all the gimmicking."

Since smartphones are a productivity tool, people were likely to choose a device they were familiar with, he says. "At the moment it's iPhones and BlackBerrys."

Bader personally is an exception, having leant on the IT department to let him "trial" a HTC Touch. "I'm a geek so I like gadgets," he says. "The iPhone's too common."

Yet as Jetstar chief information officer Stephen Tame tells ZDNet.com.au, the more individual a company allows its employees to be in a device sense, the more patching is necessary for the IT department, and is the reason why firms will often choose to keep to their standard fleet, which is usually the BlackBerry. However, Tame refuses to consider BlackBerry because its proprietary back-end rules out having other devices connecting to the same hardware. It doesn't make sense to have two systems running, he believes.

Jetstar's smartphones are 80 per cent Nokia E71s and 20 per cent iPhones, according to Tame. His personal choice is the Nokia E71, which he calls "bulletproof" and is his personal device, not just his workhorse. Jetstar's CFO and the head of airports also use the Nokia, but the commercial directors and the CEO have opted for the iPhone, Tame says.

The organisation had previously been running the Windows Mobile-based iMate, but had encountered issues with reliability, Tame says. There are still some of the devices floating around, which have been passed on by executives to middle management, but there are no significant pockets of any other phone, he says, despite the fact that he has tried to keep device choice open as long as it is priced fairly and is easy to operate.

Telecommunications carrier PacNet is the exception to the iPhone rule, according to CEO Bill Barney, who says that its corporate fleet is purely BlackBerry, although people do carry around other devices for personal use. The company has used HTC for three years, but recently switched, Barney says. Roaming is easier using the BlackBerry when compared to the HTC device, but the HTC devices have synchronisation problems and data transmission issues.

Barney confesses himself to be a fully converted BlackBerry fan since the switch from HTC. None of the executives mention the Omnia and none have seen any Androids appearing in the organisation as work phones, despite the original furore around the device.

This could change, with Vodafone and 3 about to release the next-generation Android phone from HTC, the Magic, adding to Optus' release of the first-generation HTC Dream.

Yet Gartner research director Robin Simpson doesn't think so. The analyst believes Android will suffer the same problems that Windows Mobile did. Windows Mobile, Gartner believes, relies on individual device manufacturers to make the package work and be attractive, which often they fail to do. Instead they achieve an effect that is "a little bit old-fashioned", to Simpson's mind. The Android devices Simpson has seen so far also haven't been particularly sexy, he says.

I'm a geek so I like gadgets. The iPhone's too common

iiNet CTO Greg Bader

Another problem is that manufacturers try to add features to make a phone based on a common operating system different, which makes it a nightmare for applications developers and enterprise IT teams who don't want to have to think about patching many different versions of the same thing. Novosel doesn't think Android will take off just yet, but for different reasons. Android is still on first generation devices, Novosel says. When the next generations come around, people will start to be more interested, he believes.

As for device manufacturers in general, Gartner's Simpson believes the smaller ones will really struggle over the next few years, while larger ones like Nokia have to make sure it is easy to do business tasks such as synchronise email and then style their devices like designers, not engineers.

Novosel points out Nokia's attempts to make it possible for a lot more of its phones to easily set up mail. This could aid the brand in the business market, but he believes it is too early to call. He also believes that there will definitely be room for other smartphone manufacturers to grow in the market.

Novosel believes that the BlackBerry will continue to do "extremely well" as the company is devoting a lot of attention to research and development. Gartner's Simpson agrees that it will carry on with its performance, saying that harder economic times will bring people to buy brands they trust, such as the BlackBerry.

It seems the corporate world's affair with the BlackBerry is not quite at an end.

What smartphone do you prefer? Take our poll or post your comments below this article. Click to the next page to see our reviews round-up of the smartphone market.

Take a look at what is on offer in the marketplace today.

BlackBerry Bold 9000(Credit: BlackBerry)

BlackBerry Bold 9000
Everything we've loved about BlackBerrys of old is present in the Bold (yes, including Brickbreaker), plus there's a couple of new tricks tossed in for good measure. The handset looks fantastic, though we could stand for it to be a tad slimmer, and some of BlackBerry's software needs further revision to make it as easy to use as the competition.

Editors' rating 8.5

Apple iPhone 3G
(Credit: Apple)

Apple iPhone 3G
Despite all the hype about Apple's telephonic prodigy, the iPhone 3G actually stacks up poorly against the competition in terms of features and price. However, Apple's winning UI, overflowing apps store and sharp style still make the iPhone 3G a great offering.

Editors' rating 7.0

Palm Treo Pro
(Credit: Palm)

Palm Treo Pro
If you like the iPhone look but lament its lack of a QWERTY keyboard, the Palm Treo Pro might be the phone for you. A fully featured business phone with excellent performance; it unfortunately suffers from poor battery life.

Editors' rating 7.8

Nokia E63
(Credit: Nokia)

Nokia E63
Continuing the tradition of the E71, the Nokia E63 is the cheapest smartphone on the market. This solid Nokia includes most of the features of your average smartphone, at about half the price. But if you're after a fancy phone, look elsewhere.

Editors' rating 8.0

HTC Dream(Credit: HTC)

HTC Dream
Google's Android is awesome, but the Dream needs work. Parts of this handset are superb, but its lacklustre design and poor battery life hold it back significantly.

Editors' rating 7.0

Samsung INNOV8 (i8510)(Credit: Samsung)

Samsung INNOV8 (i8510)
The Samsung INNOV8 (i8510) remains the most fully featured smartphone on the market. You just won't find a phone with more bells and whistles. Standout features include an 8-megapixel camera and 16GB of internal storage, all at a reasonable price.

Editors' rating 8.8

Nokia E71(Credit: Nokia)

Nokia E71
With its combination of excellent features and performance, matched with sleek design and its affordable price tag, Nokia's E71 manages to outshine recently released smartphones as our business phone of choice.

Editors' rating 9.5

LG Prada KF900(Credit: LG)

LG Prada KF900
The LG Prada is proof positive that the touchscreen experience in mobile devices has improved in the past two years. The Prada is one of the most responsive and intuitive touchscreen experiences we've had so far in 2009; the menus are clear and easy to understand, and the transition between menus and apps is seamless. The AU$999 price tag may have some shoppers baulking, but if you're offered the Prada on a decent phone plan we can happily recommend it.

Editors' rating 8.6

Samsung UltraTouch (S8300)(Credit: Samsung)

Samsung UltraTouch (S8300)
The UltraTouch will get lost in the mix a bit: it's not a smartphone, but it costs as much as one; it looks like a business phone, but it lacks the business usability; plus it doesn't have an excellent touchscreen, which it really needs to be because there's not much else for it to hang its hat on.

Editors' rating 6.5

HP iPAQ Voice Messenger(Credit: HP)

HP iPAQ Voice Messenger
The iPAQ Voice Messenger is at best, mediocre. There's nothing here that HTC, BlackBerry or Apple don't already do better, and unless your company already has a great HP contract, it's hard to recommend.

Editors' rating 6.0