iPhone 5: Finally Ready for Business?

The new iPhone is thinner, lighter, and faster. But is it finally ready for mass adoption in the office?

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When does a consumer phone finally make a transition to the big leagues of corporate life?

For Apple, that’s the open question after it announced the iPhone 5 at an event in San Francisco Wednesday.

The new device–sporting a slim design that’s 18% thinner than the current model and with a fast A6 processor and a 4-inch screen–is brimming with business-centric features. Yet, for some companies, there’s still a question about whether the device can live in a world of data-compliance regulations, secure remote access, and well-toned corporate mail servers. As Inc.com recently discovered, the vast majority of companies still buy BlackBerry phones.

Data collected for Inc.com by Visage, a start-up that aggregates and analyzes enterprise mobility purchases, revealed that 63% of workers at more than 200 U.S. companies still use BlackBerry phones. Only 19% use Apple iPhones, and 8% use Android devices. These stats may change with the iPhone 5.

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The new model addresses one of the primary concerns with business users: speed of data access. Business users crave data speeds fast enough to keep up with our contact management systems and mobile accounting apps. Most important, the new model, which debuts on September 21, will finally support 4G LTE network access, which is available now in most major cities.

The new A6 processor should also speed up many business apps, but I’ll reserve judgment on that until I can do an actual app comparison between the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4S. Another important spec: As Apple makes the phone thinner, thanks to components that are smaller, the company is also able to use a bigger battery that should last about eight hours on a charge. That’s important for those who need to rely on email, text messaging, and the Web as part of the daily work routine. The new phone is 20% lighter than the iPhone 4S, and the extra screen size should help make map data a bit easier to see. (Improvements to satellite images will also help you find your way around town.)

As for the new operating system, called iOS6, you can expect a few changes to Siri, the voice activation system. You’ll be able to launch apps by voice, and there is an improved engine for finding nearby eateries, checking ratings, and making an OpenTable reservation. By the way, iPad owners, rejoice: Siri is finally coming to your favorite tablet as well, and also to the Apple iPod.

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A new set of earbuds, called the EarPods, should make phone calls a little easier and clearer for business purposes–and maybe even reduce some background noise in the process. The EarPods seem to fit more comfortably in the ear, which should also help with phone calls. I won’t know for sure until I test them out myself, of course.

There were precious few announcements related to corporate use, though. There wasn’t any news about an Apple push into business email with software meant to compete with Microsoft or RIM. There was no mention of any new security precautions. (On Android phones, there are multiple authentication methods you can use to help protect your business data if you lose your phone.) And iOS6 does not seem to include any new business apps or services to speak of, unless you count Siri. That means the faster speed and LTE access will have to be enough. Well, that and the fact that the iPhone is the darling among consumers. Whether the business world adopts it as a standard phone for employees or lets staff members “bring their own” is still undecided.

For the record, in an unscientific poll on the Inc.com home page, the iPhone was the clear winner, with 45% of readers reporting that their companies will use the iOS platform in 2013. Thirty-two percent of readers will be using Android devices, 13% Windows Phone 8, and only 9% BlackBerry.

The iPhone 5 will cost $199, $299, and $399 for the 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB models. You can preorder one beginning September 14 or buy one at a store near you on September 21.

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine and writes the Tech Trends column in every issue. He also writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com@jmbrandonbb

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