Five Best Business Smartphones

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Brigades of hard-charging office workers were the first to adopt the smartphone and help create the category. With their Palm (PALM) Treos and early BlackBerries from Research In Motion (RIMM), business users ushered in the era of mobile email. That technology soon evolved toward the mass market mobile Internet that today is led by Apple's (AAPL) iPhone and Google's (GOOG) Android devices.

During the rise, RIM built an empire on enterprise devices that has effectively locked other players outside of the corporate firewall.
Blackberry Storm2

But a new generation of phones, characteristically controlled by fingertip gestures on big touchscreens, is out to crush the BlackBerry.

Here's a look at the five top business phone makers and where they fit in the organizational chart.


RIM BlackBerry

RIM dominates the business market with its secure email and simplistic sync programs; its BlackBerry is a vital office tool. RIM, which operates its own efficient -- though not always stable -- network and has its own servers inside many companies' IT departments, will be tough to dislodge.

The opportunity

RIM has at least two BlackBerry phones in the works that are expected to arrive this year. One is a touchscreen device that promises to deliver the Web-friendly, gesture-controlled design that smartphone buyers have come to expect. If RIM is successful in approximating the iPhone or the Android feel, the BlackBerry will continue its winning streak.

The challenge

RIM's business market is a fat, lucrative target for any smartphone maker. RIM's email charms are still dazzling, but even suits want something beyond BrickBreaker to play with like cool apps and Facebook updates. RIM has lagged behind in the operating system race; it can't afford to miss the chance this year.

The bottom line

RIM has a direct, secure connection between the BlackBerry and the office network. It will take a major force to break that.

Apple iPhone

Three years ago, Apple struck a deal with Cisco ( CSCO) that promised to open the door for the iPhone into the business market. Cisco, which had rights to the iPhone name, allowed Apple to use it in exchange for installation of Cisco's network security software or VPN technology on all iPhones. But somehow, Apple's iPhone has largely failed to crack the enterprise market.

The opportunity

The office has always been Microsoft's ( MSFT) world, and Apple needs to learn to play along. The iPhone should follow some of the basic rules: Workers communicate through Microsoft Outlook email and they build virtual mountains of Word and Excel documents. Apple should hold its elegant nose and try narrowing the divide between the warring cultures.

The challenge

Apple might have something better, but to IT managers, "better" tranlsates to "different," which equals extra work and complications. This is why Apple isn't widely embraced by tech departments. Yuppies may love their iPhones, but network managers love BlackBerry Exchange Servers.

The bottom line

Apple's iPhone is all fun, but despite three years of trying, it isn't all business.

Palm Pre

Back in the day -- 2005, roughly -- the Palm Treo 650 was the sweetest smartphone of its time. Lost bearings and lack of innovation left Palm flat, allowing RIM to storm in and take control of enterprise. New management at Palm redesigned the business and the phones. But maybe that wasn't enough.

The opportunity

The Palm WebOS operating software is one of the new Web-oriented, touch-controlled operating systems that isn't Apple or Android. As such, Palm Pre is a viable alternative to the current crop of smartphones. And Palm is an old, familiar friend in IT circles. Oddly, Palm hasn't been emphasizing the business case for the Pre.

The challenge

Technologically, Palm is an easy fit with office networks. Financially, Palm's a risk. Analysts say Palm has enough cash to survive another year, at best. Few IT buyers relish the idea of building up support for a vendor that may not be around for long.

The bottom line

Palm has a big problem, but it's not the phone or the software.

Motorola Droid

Verizon ( VZ), Google and Motorola ( MOT) backed this phone and it hasn't been a disappointment. It also hasn't been a blockbuster success with consumers or business users.

The opportunity

Given the physical keypad and the big screen, the Droid is by far the most likely Android phone to succeed in business. Google and Motorola have installed the necessary office tools like Microsoft's ActiveSync to keep the Droid fresh with Outlook email and calendar updates.

The challenge

Android is an alien technology to office networks. Unlike BlackBerry or Palm, Android has not been around long enough to earn the trust of IT operators. This means users have to try and convince their tech staff to allow for a category called "unknown device" for most Microsoft Exchange servers. It's a safe bet that security-minded network pros are not going to open the doors to the unknown.

The bottom line

New versions of Microsoft Exchange may recognize Androids, thus putting the Droid on the same playing field as the iPhone and Palm. However, that field is still way beneath BlackBerry's league.

Microsoft Windows Phone 7

Speaking of leagues, Microsoft was once seen as the commissioner of making-the-mobile-office-happen. The very definition of early smartphones was the ability to run mobile versions of desktop applications like Microsoft Word and Outlook. But Microsoft's hefty mobile operating systems were chronically bogged down. The lousy performance made rivals like RIM seem nimble. The opportunity

Having blown it so badly in mobile to date, it's almost miraculous that Microsoft isn't out of the game yet. At this point, the company has -- arguably -- one last shot to make it in smartphones with its upcoming Windows Phone 7. And as luck has it, the business market might be one of the ripest opportunities for Microsoft. Most offices are wired with Microsoft Exchange and thereby prewired for Microsoft ActiveSync mobile device connections. A flip of the switch and Microsoft-powered smartphones are good to go.

The challenge

Mention Windows Mobile to any would-be smartphone buyer, and you will probably get a sourface. No wonder Microsoft ended that sad chapter by changing the name of the new operating system to Windows Phone 7. If only winning customers back could be as easy! Microsoft needs hardware players like HTC and Motorola to put the WP7 system on sleek new touchscreen phones. And those phones need to perform as well, or better, than the iPhone and Androids. Not willing to leave too much to others, as we exclusively reported, Microsoft has teamed with Asus to make its own WP7 phone.

The bottom line

"It's Microsoft's prize for the taking," one IT network manager said. "If they mess it up, they only have themselves to blame."

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York

RELATED STORIES



Follow our tech coverage on Twitter and become a fan of TheStreet.com on Facebook.

More from Technology

PayPal Wants to Consolidate the World of Rewards Points

PayPal Wants to Consolidate the World of Rewards Points

Tesla Just Hit a Pair of Big Milestones for the Model 3

Tesla Just Hit a Pair of Big Milestones for the Model 3

Is Apple Botching Its Autonomous Driving Opportunity?

Is Apple Botching Its Autonomous Driving Opportunity?

Apple Teams With Volkswagen for Autonomous Driving Gig

Apple Teams With Volkswagen for Autonomous Driving Gig

60 Seconds: What the Heck is GDPR?

60 Seconds: What the Heck is GDPR?