iPhone, as Business Tool, Feels the Heat

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Huddle up, planet small business: Here's how to play the iPhone 4 fiasco.

Talk about a case study for how not take a punch: Late last week, otherwise-invulnerable marketing powerhouse Apple ( AAPL) essentially threw itself on the mat over a technical glitch in its latest smartphone, the iPhone 4. Earlier in the week, device analyst Consumer Reports declined to recommend the phone due to an antenna snafu: Hold the phone just so, and you can't make calls. That's not gonna work.

But rather than pull the by-now-standard techno mea culpa, issue an apology, fix the problem and move on, Apple CEO Steve Jobs doubled down. He proceeded to rant on everything from confused media coverage to strange conversations with engineers and a new "bumper" case that supposedly addresses the problem.

And suddenly the world's greatest communicator wasn't so great a communicator anymore. If my weekend spent answering iPhone small-business tech questions is any indication, there are lots of confused real and potential Apple equipment owners out there.

To calm everyone down, here is what a small-business person needs to know:

Is the iPhone 4 a small-business dud? I often find that covering Apple is like chatting with a fembot of "Austin Powers" fame -- attractive enough, but lethal if crossed. But even I have to admit the iPhone 4 is a wonderful device. Fast processors, best-in-category screen, the ability to multitask and access to the Apple App Store make this a heck of business-productivity tool for the Apple-inclined. Really for the Mac set, antenna issues aside, the phone has no equal.

Did Consumer Reports screw up? Taking nothing away from CR, which is really is the Vatican of technology reviewers, testing cell phones is essentially impossible. We all have firsthand data on the factors that crap up phone service: Hand placement is one of 'em, as is where you are, what the weather is and how many other people are using the network. So while Consumer Reports has, without question, collected legitimate data that confirm the iPhone 4 can struggle to connect to the cell network, that's not saying you will have trouble connecting the iPhone 4 to the network. There are just too many variables to make those generalizations across all users.

So what to do? I realize we all have better things to do in our lives and businesses than test our cell phones. But market freedom has a price: It really is up to you, or somebody you hire, to see if not only iPhone, but any phone, can work for you and your business. So you must test drive your phone where and how you might use it for the 15-day grace period when you buy. If it does not work, take it back. If it does, deploy it. It's that simple.

Bottom line: The iPhone is not the only smartphone anymore.As great as the iPhone is, it is nowhere near the only smartphone with real small-business game. The Sprint ( S) HTC EVO and Motorola ( MOT) DroidX from Verizon ( VZ) compete feature-for-feature with the iPhone and in many ways offer unique options. So don't worry if, in your testing, the iPhone does not measure up -- even at all. Try the other two. And you should find a phone that works for you.

The bottom line here is that there is no reason to compromise on business smartphones even just a bit, considering how crowded and well-developed the market is.

-- Reported by Jonathan Blum in New York.

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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on Fox News and The WB.

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