New iPhone Business Apps: Designing for Usefulness

Various vendors are designing business apps for the iPhone, but not all of them agree that it's worth it

When Apple launched its new App Store earlier this year, the assumption was that scads of businesses would develop applications for their iPhone-toting customers. Although there are more than 60 apps in the App Store's Business category, virtually no big-name companies have bothered to cough up one of their own. Since Apple plans to make at least 40 million iPhones in the next year, many of which will no doubt end up being used in the workplace, what's the holdup?

Nick Halsey, vice president of marketing at business intelligence (BI) vendor Jaspersoft, says it's simply not worth the bother. "Our business users are using Safari to deliver JasperReports to them on their iPhone. While the effort to write the 100 lines of Java code to build an iPhone app is minimal, it's just not needed."

Halsey says Jaspersoft would be willing to create an iPhone app in response to customer demand, but there hasn't actually been any yet. However, he says it's likely that someone from within the user community will choose to make and submit an app on his own "as a fun project."

Chuck Dietrich, VP of Salesforce Mobile, says his company, Salesforce.com, has a different take on the usefulness of iPhone apps. Realizing that mobile professionals won't want to take the time to haul out a laptop and boot it up simply to look up a customer's order history, Salesforce Mobile provides the same information-and more-with less hassle.

Before launching its app, the company prioritized feedback and ideas from the user community to develop one that includes more than 60 percent of the features customers want most. While users can still access client information via the iPhone's native browser, Salesforce Mobile is a targeted app designed specifically for the mobile professional. "[It] allows iPhone users to access Salesforce CRM applications and more than 70,000 Force.com custom applications right from their iPhone," says Dietrich.

Dietrich sees iPhone apps as part of the natural evolution of mobile devices in the workplace. "From a historic standpoint, the mobile revolution began in the '90s with the mass adoption of mobile phones as a primary means of communication. Soon, mobile e-mail became a way of life in the enterprise. As consumers and professionals became more familiar with mobile devices, and as mobile devices became more like mobile laptops, end users increasingly desired and expected to be able to do everything from the mobile devices that they could do from their desks."

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