May 18, 2009, 10:13 AM — When EA Tiger Woods PGA Tour teed off on the iPhone last month, the business world must have let out a collective giggle. Finally, an iPhone app for the business executive. All joking aside, the iPhone's lack of business apps has been an Achille's heel for the popular consumer device.
Yet times are changing.
Apple's App Store boasts a billion downloads, but only a handful of those are business apps. Only one out of four iPhone owners has downloaded a business app, according to a March survey by Compete.com, a Web analytics firm. Of the approximately 1,600 business apps available in the App Store, the most popular ones are mere voice recorders.
That's not to say killer business apps for the iPhone don't exist. Indeed, their numbers are growing, their functions becoming more critical to business. Oracle iPhone apps, for instance, let users tap into Oracle's business suite, as does Salesforce Mobile. In late March, Citrix Systems delivered Citrix Receiver Lite that enables Windows apps and documents to be accessed on the iPhone.
And last week OpenAir delivered OpenAir Mobile for the iPhone, which lets consultants and other professionals track billable hours and expenses. It took OpenAir some 380 hours to develop OpenAir Mobile for the iPhone, according to OpenAir.
Perhaps the iPhone's best business app is its Web browser, second to none in the mobile world, which renders pages from SaaS vendors far better than BlackBerry and Palm devices. In fact, that's why some small companies, such as retailer Circle of Friends, choose iPhone. Circle of Friends recently outfitted its sales folks with iPhones to tap into online business apps and data from NetSuite.
"Before, on Palm, you literally could not access NetSuite," says Brian Keare, CFO of Circle of Friends, which sells baby bath products. "The pages are just too big. They crash the browsers."
Like many vendors, OpenAir made the decision to develop a solution for the iPhone in part because of the growing number of customers that would use it. "We do not have an expected iPhone count, but currently we have 104 unique accounts already using it," says Morris Panner, adding that 126 of his customers use OpenAir's BlackBerry thin client, which was brought to market a few years ago.
Tom Battelle, president of Kono Consulting, has been waiting for OpenAir's iPhone client for a while. Kono helps bring Microsoft ERP applications to small and mid-sized businesses, and more than half of his firm's consultants carry iPhones in the field.
Now, Kono consultants can track all their billable hours on the iPhone while at multiple client sites in throughout the day, rather than wait until the end of the day or the next morning to plug in data, Battelle says. The hours for each client are inputted directly into OpenAir's backend system.
"We've been in touch with OpenAir for a year asking for it," Battelle says. "In my immediate business network, iPhones are pervasive."