How much work can you do on an iPhone?

The laptop-free promise of today’s next-gen mobile devices is put to the test. Can the iPhone 3G deliver?

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But the iPhone has an annoying omission: Once you enter a new calendar item, you can’t change what calendar it is assigned to. I repeatedly forgot my iPhone was set with my work calendar as the default, and I almost always forgot to set my home appointments calendar when entering information, so they would appear on my work calendar and stay there until I changed them on my Mac.

Worse, when you get an .ics calendar invitation attachment in an e-mail, you can’t click it or otherwise get it added to your calendar; I got several appointment requests I couldn’t act on. Even when I could see their times and dial-in numbers in the e-mails’ body or subject lines, the lack of cut and paste on the iPhone meant I couldn’t easily add them to my calendar -- I had to write them down and type them in to the calendar. That’s not exactly how it’s supposed to be. Plus, the other participants didn’t get an acknowledgment of my accepting or declining the invitation.

I had no issues using the iPhone’s address book. It’s easy to enter and edit contacts, as well as to scroll through and search them.

Documents and apps: An amazing array of options
Apple recently bragged about its 1 billionth app download to iPhone users. I can see why. I’ve installed more than 20, though I use maybe five with any regularity. Most are utilities, such as a currency converter, language translator, level, LinkedIn front end, front end, restaurant finder, and train schedule, plus several magazine and newspaper readers. They’re the kinds of apps that help you do day-to-day stuff, and most are really well executed. Although most iPhone apps are for fun and games, there are an increasing number of business apps, with the latest rage being several credit card processors.

The iPhone has no built-in text editor, so to edit documents, I used the $20 Quickoffice app. It has its own cut and paste (which the iPhone OS won’t get across apps until version 3.0 this summer), allowing me to perform basic edits. Plus, it retains revisions tracking in the original files when you save edited versions, though any changes you make in Quickoffice are not tracked as revisions.

[ Which iPhone apps are best for business? See the InfoWorld Test Center’s top iPhone app picks. ]

But because of Apple’s iPhone app restrictions, Quickoffice can’t open files in e-mail attachments. That means in practice you can’t work with documents you get on the road. Quickoffice has a very handy tool to let you exchange files between your iPhone and a Mac or PC over Wi-Fi, but of course if you have your computer to do that, you might as well use it to work on those files. At most, you can carry files with you in case you need to make changes, such as right after a client meeting when an idea is fresh in your head.

Although the iPhone screen can’t compete with a desktop monitor, its resolution, zoom, and scrolling make working with files plausible at a basic level or for emergencies. I still needed my laptop to do my everyday work.

We use Google Docs at the office for shared planners, calendars, and working proposals, so I tried accessing Google Docs as well. I could edit and add calendar entries, though it’s difficult to fit everything on the iPhone’s screen at a readable size. I could edit spreadsheet cells, but there are many confirmation steps Google requires of iPhone users. And forget about adding rows or columns; it’s technically possible, but you have no control of their location. You can’t edit text documents at all -- just view them.

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