After the iPhone

Apple's hot gadget inspires the competition

(FSB Online) -- Ever since its release last June, the iPhone has inspired lust in consumers and envy in competitors. But at least for now, business users would be smart to ignore the one-million-sold hype: Apple (Charts, Fortune 500)'s refusal to accommodate third party applications and AT&T (Charts, Fortune 500)'s sluggish EDGE network keep this gadget strictly in the realm of fun.

But the iPhone has well and truly shaken up the wireless communication market, and that's good news for small business owners. Suddenly every handset maker, cell phone operator and software company is tripping all over itself to offer iPhone-like integrated messaging, improved design and better productivity.


"It used to be that mobile business tools were pricey and required lots of hand holding and integration," says Mike Willsey, director of the enterprise strategic marketing segment at Verizon (Charts, Fortune 500) Wireless. "Not any more. With improved processing and networks there are off-the-shelf solutions that any business can use."

Many of these office productivity tools come standard in the latest batch of smart phones, PDA's and their operating systems - if you know where to look.

Be ready to hunt though: Some so-called smart phones aren't so small-business smart. For example, the Motorola Q ($179 with plan from Verizon Wireless) - while a perfectly good light-use personal communicator - is not up to intensive business e-mail and mobile Web browsing.

The limited keyboard and e-mail functions are my two major gripes. And the Blackberry Pearl ($99 with plan from AT&T) must have the most frustrating keyboard on the planet for my clunky fingers. Most business users, including me, are faithfully married to the traditional, larger Blackberry layout.

But some smart phones are ready for the small business limelight. I have been testing one such model, the Mogul - the latest Pocket PC from HTC ($299 with plan from Sprint (Charts, Fortune 500)).

This unit is almost an anti-iPhone: clunky, not much to look at and oh-so-hard to figure out. The screen is smallish and rather dim, particularly when you're outside. While the slide-away keyboard is among the largest for a handheld, the on-screen type is tiny.

Certain features require the use of several fingers from both hands plus (!) a small, fussy stylus. I find myself often holding the unit right next to my nose, hunched over like some digital gnome.

But once I got the hang of it, the Mogul simply rocked the house. It was one of the earliest smart phones to ship with Microsoft (Charts, Fortune 500) Windows' new Mobile 6.0 Professional operating system.

And if you're looking for a reason to upgrade to Vista on your computer, Mobile 6.0 is it. There were none of the synching headaches that I've experienced with almost every handheld I have used, including the iPhone.

The Mogul provides near-seamless integration between my entire Office suite of products and the handheld. I just had to remember to plug in the Mogul with any USB connector into my desk computer and my unit was both powered and synced automatically.

Though I must say, every few weeks some data did not sync properly and a complete re-sync was necessary. When that happened, many of my quick key and voice tags were lost, but nothing of real value.

Even better, the phone comes with mobile versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint built in. It's a great feature, but typing on the tiny computer is dicey. Stories written on the Mogul can come off as complete gibberish if I am not careful, although my editors accuse me of blaming the phone when my feeble typing is the real culprit.

Still, I have made deadlines while at the airport, at a birthday party and at an abandoned airfield. The thing is a lifesaver.

With a little hack this unit can be turned into a legitimate EV-D0 data modem that can power my laptop. That alone is worth the purchase price.

Here's the trick: Click on "Programs" to launch the list of the software installed on your unit. Find the program called "Internet Sharing" and launch it. You'll see two dialogue boxes. Set the PC connection box to "USB" and the network connection box to "Sprint PCS".

Click on the connect button on the lower left of the screen. Wait for "Status Information" in the top left of the screen to say "Check USB cable connection." Then plug your USB into your laptop. And you are all set.

You will have to wait a good three minutes or so for your laptop to figure out it is connected to the Web via the Mogul. And some older computers will need to have their network connections manually refreshed for the hack to work, but with a bit of tinkering you can log on while in your car or on the road, provided you're not at the wheel. If there is data coverage, you are connected.

Bottom line: When my Mogul tester goes back in a couple of weeks, I'm not sure what I am going to do without it.  Top of page

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