If you believe the Apple adverts on TV at the moment, the new iPhone is the perfect tool to run your business away from the office. One advert shows a business owner taking a credit card payment on their iPhone, then tracking when a parcel is delivered.
Which raises an interesting question… could you run your entire business from a smartphone?
It’s certainly easy to run a business from a laptop from anywhere in the world. So long as you have an internet connection you can operate the same as if you were in the office.
And the smartphone technology is certainly getting better every month, with Apple, BlackBerry, Palm and PDA manufacturers such as HTC locked in a battle to add new features and usability with every new release.
But would it work running your business from a mobile device all the time? Bytestart looks at the main issues to consider:
Email, phones and internet:
The mobile devices specialise in making these easy. Starting with the original BlackBerry designed for corporate execs to get their email on the move; accessing email, surfing the web and making calls is easy on all devices. In fact they beat laptops in this respect, as from a standing start they are quicker to get the device switched on and access the internet. Mobile surfing is no longer the hell it used to be thanks to faster mobile phone networks and mobile web browsers that optimise web pages. The iPhone in particular makes browsing the normal internet from a mobile device very easy. Of course, you still can’t beat the full screen experience you get on your laptop. Many web pages are hard to read on a small screen, meaning you have to scroll a lot. That could slow you down significantly.
It’s easy to access Word and Excel documents on BlackBerrys and PDAs, and there are apps for the iPhone that allow you to do it. You can also open documents using a web-based service such as Google Docs. But while it might be easy to open documents, editing them is another matter. You wouldn’t want to rely on a mobile device to do anything more than review and make alterations to a document. The thought of trying to type a long document on any mobile device – even one with a mini keyboard like a BlackBerry – is a nightmare. It would simply take too long compared to a laptop. Mobile devices are nowhere near good enough to create anything but very simple documents yet.
You should be able to print from all mobile devices either by connecting to a network and accessing a network printer (just as you would with a laptop), or by using Bluetooth. Unlike a laptop you cannot easily plug a USB memory stick into a mobile device, for example if you were asking a hotel reception to print documents for you.
Here’s an area where the iPhone shines brightly. It has thousands of applications in its Apps Store, many of them free. They are developed by external developers, meaning anyone can spot a gap in the market and attempt to fill it. Best of all, because Apple insists on certain standards, their apps just work. BlackBerry has App World which is its version of the store, albeit with far fewer apps. PDAs typically run on Windows Mobile software, meaning there is lots of software for them… but it can be hit and miss whether it works properly.
Mobile devices are probably no worse than laptops in this area. As with any mobile device, the more you use it and the more programs you have open, the faster your battery runs down. All mobile devices are easy to keep charged up if you are using them extensively during the day.
What if you lose it?
A nightmare for anyone who owns a mobile device. The key issue is loss of data. On your laptop, you need to either keep a copy of everything on an external hard disc or back up data using the internet. On mobile devices, they are easy to back up just by being plugged into a computer. Both BlackBerrys and iPhones can “synch” themselves wirelessly, meaning you don’t have to remember to plug them into a computer to copy your data. The iPhone has an additional trick when you lose it; you can trigger a message on the screen offering a reward for its safe return, and even remotely destroy data to stop thieves getting their hands on it.
Yes, theoretically you could run your entire business from a smartphone. It looks at the moment as if the iPhone would be a better model to go with, if only because the Apps Store makes it more likely that more business-specific applications will be created in the near future.
However, compared to running your business from a laptop, you will probably quickly find yourself deeply frustrated and getting annoyed with your smartphone. Typing is slow and painful, and while using the mobile internet and email is easier than it has ever been, it is still not as good as using a laptop.
Proper voice recognition could remove most of these issues in the future. When you can dictate documents or emails to your mobile device, the speed of working will increase and the need for a big laptop with a keyboard will vanish. But that’s not going to happen for a few years at least. We recommend you stick with your laptop for now.