Lab test: Apple gets iPhone 3G right for business
An abundance of new features carries iPhone 3G and iPhone 2.0 into the enterprise
For professional users, the sticky wicket is cellular data's horrible latency. During my speed tests, I measured 3G network latency at between 270 and an astonishing 1,100 milliseconds. You'll notice that some pages render faster than others, and that Web sites with lots of little AJAX image buttons can load slowly the first time. Apple's marketing of iPhone as a cellular browser should be taken with a bit of salt. Test Web applications carefully before deployment, and be sure to test the iPhone 3G in an area served only by EDGE. (If you're in EDGE territory, you may be better off with an original iPhone upgraded to the 2.0 software, since you'll pay $10 less per month to AT&T.)
I am very impressed with Apple's radiolocation. It contracted Skyhook for the original iPhone, and I never gave that solution its due. To oversimplify, Skyhook war-drives around and captures signatures of surrounding Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Phones without GPS can mark their location by matching the radio signature where you're standing with Skyhook's database. In city limits, Google Maps can do a surprisingly good job of finding you without GPS.
Of course, iPhone 3G adds GPS, and the result is a three-radio location scheme called A-GPS. Apple pulls in Skyhook Wi-Fi and cell tower signatures, overlaps GPS data, and decides which of these sources is most trustworthy before passing your location to Google Maps, your browser, or a custom application. It's brilliant.
Not of one cloth
In most regards, comparing iPhone to QWERTY devices built for professionals is not an overlapping-feature-set affair. There is a lot of give and take, good news and bad news, for each device. For example, BlackBerry is the crown prince of push messaging, working just like a pager. iPhone can't live up to BlackBerry's definition of "push," measured in milliseconds, but BlackBerry is lousy at dealing with big messages and rich attachments. Apple's push strategy for iPhone users not running Exchange Server is still feeling its way, but Apple's got the rich-attachment thing down cold.
RIM is working on rich attachments, just like Apple's working on push, but if you had to choose a device based on present features (and that's how it works), you'd have to decide whether you want the first fragment of your e-mail message instantly or it's worth a potential 15-minute wait to read a rich attachment. I can come up with a nearly endless list of trade-offs.
Another excellent give and take example is found in the browser: Apple wins hands down for readability and controls, but iPhone lacks, and likely will always lack, Java and Flash. On the other hand, no mobile device can touch iPhone for AJAX content. iPhone was made for AJAX, and the Safari browser evolves faster than others.
Who comes out on top? It likely depends on whether you're dependent on existing Java MIDP software. If you have the option of fresh development, the iPhone SDK might have an answer, or it might not. I can't say, because the iPhone SDK is under complete non-disclosure. I was quoted in the public portion of the Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, so I'll stretch my neck out and tell you that there isn't a better mobile development platform, toolset, or documentation set than iPhone's. It's foolish of Apple to keep people from writing about it.
[For more on the shortcomings of Apple's iPhone developers program, read "Apple's iPhone contracts leave developers speechless."]