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The iPhone 3G as a Business Tool – Part 2

As I mentioned last time, I’ve had my iPhone 3G since iPhone 3G day, 11-Jul-08, almost two months. Before then, I put my hands on the iPhone at an AT&T store, but never truly spent any time with it. The iPhone 3G was released with a number of different Enterprise ready intentions, including 3G and Exchange support, among others. Is it ready for power users and road warriors alike?

Last time I talked about what I thought were OS related issues.  Some people commented back and didn’t exactly see things as I did; and that’s cool. Its one of the things that makes Gear Diary a really cool place to write and visit – all of the differing opinions and ideas. Keep those comments coming!

If you remember, I said that I was going to tackle the following areas:

  • Operating System
  • Calendar
  • Mail
  • Tasks

Today, I’m going to dive in and tackle some of the issues that I see with calendaring and iCal on the iPhone, as it relates to Exchange and Lotus Notes.  I know, I know… NOTES?!?  Please…

IMG_0003
Is it just me, or is this screen a little cramped?

As I said, my current employer uses Notes.  My last employer used Notes.  I haven’t seen or used Notes since 1998, and the last 2 jobs were both Notes shops.  <throws hands in the air> Whaddya gonna do..?

…But I digress… The point is, not everyone uses Exchange (do they Chris G.??), and an even fewer amount of companies use Domino; but as many people will agree, Exchange has a considerable installation footprint in the Enterprise.  That’s THE reason why Apple included Exchange support in the iPhone. They want to play in that market. However, in order to be able to play there, the iPhone is going to have to have specific capabilities and Exchange-based features.  Let’s see how it does…

Calendar

Creating Meeting Invitations on the Device
As a power user or road warrior, I don’t always have access to my PC or laptop. I don’t want to HAVE to carry one with me all the time, either. Having the iPhone 3G (or any PDA/Smartphone, really) with me, should be enough; and is with other devices with other operating systems and tools.

I live and die at the office by my calendar. If your meeting isn’t on my calendar (for whatever reason), its very likely, I won’t be there.

IMG_0004

Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed I can create appointments (calendar events for myself) on my iPhone 3G, but I can’t create meeting requests, even if I know an e-mail address or have intended recipients in my Address Book.

Right now, the iPhone simply doesn’t support it. This is going to have to change, as hallway meetings and chance discussions happen and too frequently spark formal meetings. As it stands, this requires me to manage my calendar in two places.

IMG_0005
Notice: the iPhone knows the difference between an Invitation and an Appointment…

First and foremost, the company I work for only (officially) supports Blackberry’s (or BB Connect, IF you can get it to work with your WM Device) as a PDA. The CIO wants an iPhone, and he has the IT Director trying to figure out how to get all of the device’s PIM components to sync OTA with Domino.  He’s going to have an interesting time.  Mail isn’t a problem.  We can get mail to sync via POP3 if needed. The problem is Contacts and Calendar.  Since the iPhone doesn’t support Domino at ALL, I’m not certain how he will address this. When they finally come to a decision either way, I’ll let everyone know what they did.

However, that still doesn’t resolve the issue that currently exists with meeting requests on the iPhone. It simply can’t create a meeting request. If I can’t create an invitation on my iPhone, I’m going to have trouble using it to continue to manage my calendar at the office. I’m left creating meeting requests in Notes (to get the people I need at the office at the meeting), and then again in Outlook or on my iPhone (so that it syncs with my device).

Consumers don’t (necessarily) need to create invitations (though I’m certain that some casual Smartphones users do…). Enterprise users do, though. Right now, regardless of what mail server you use, Exchange, Domino, or some other, this is a huge hole.

Viewing Free/Busy Time and the GAL
Oh, and by the way, when I create invitations on the device, I REALLY need to be hooked to the GAL (Global Address List) and be able to view Free/Busy Time. Without this, how in the world am I going to be able to schedule a meeting with someone at the office, who is NOT in my Contacts list, knowing they will accept it? Again, this is a huge hole, and something that, for business customers, regardless of mail server, must be addressed.

Outlook Calendar 1

The screen shot above is from my Exchange Server. NORMALLY, people in the GAL have their free/busy time updated; but that’s something that you have to enable at the Server level.  I know at one time, that was enabled for this Server, but it looks like its been turned off.

The screen shot below is from my Notes client at the office.  The scheduler is a bit different than that in Exchange/Outlook, but its similar enough to see the point.  I can’t do something like this on the iPhone at the current time.

Notes Schedule

For users like me, being able to do this on the device in some way, needs to happen.  Again, I’m not always at my desk, don’t always have immediate access to a desktop system that I can log into to create the meeting, etc.  What’s the point to having Exchange support if that support is missing key elements like this?

Categories vs. Multiple Calendars
I admit that this is a personal preference more than anything.  I really like an integrated calendar where I can see everything all in one place.  While I appreciate the ability to have more than one calendar here, but I’d like the ability to filter on categories rather than have things in different calendars. If need be, I can display just a specific category in my calendar and get the same thing as a separate calendar, BUT with the ability to have all of my events in a single calendar.

Outlook Calendar 2

The biggest problem I have with individual calendars is that I don’t have a way, on the iPhone at least that I know of, to lay one over the other so I can see my whole picture for the week or month.  Problem is, that at some point, if you have a calendar like mine, then things get too crowded at times.  That’s where category filters come in handy. 

If I can see events for work, along with just the personal events I want to see at any given moment on a single calendar so I know where all of my free time is going, then it helps me plan my time better…and let’s face it, calendaring is all about planning.

Accepting Invitations on the Device
Ok… this should be a no brainer. Unfortunately, it isn’t.  Personally, I think this is one of the biggest cluster bumps in Apple’s Exchange integration, but again, this is just me.  You may feel differently; and if you do, I’d appreciate hearing why in the Comments section, below.

There’s a disconnect between my iPhone, iCal and Exchange Server. When I receive an invitation/meeting request on my WM device, it shows up in Inbox. When I respond to it from Inbox, it disappears, creates the appropriate calendar item in my calendar (depending on my response) and gives me the opportunity to send a response back to the meeting organizer. Fairly seamless and logical, wouldn’t you think?

 

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Invitation Notice Displays upon Arrival Note the red notification ball on Calendar
IMG_0010  
The button on the far right is the Invitation Inbox. Note the red notification ball  

When I receive and try to respond to an invitation on my iPhone, I wind up with problems.  The invitation shows up in my Exchange synced inbox (so yes, there is a mail item in my inbox) AND one in iCal on the device as an invitation, effectively splitting the object into two pieces.

 

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An invitation (first note) in my Mail inbox The same invitation in my Invitation Inbox

When I open the item in my inbox, Mail treats it like any other piece of mail. It’s just text with a couple attachments that you can’t do anything with. However, iCal tosses it into the invitation inbox. When I open it up there, I can respond to it; but the original message, again, the mail object, still remains in my inbox. If I open it up and respond to it on the desktop for any reason, I get a duplicate event in iCal. I may or may not get a duplicate event in Outlook (but I will get a dup on the device).

However Apple decides to respond to this, Apple needs to realize that they NEED to respond. Sending the invitation to iCal is fine, if and only if the object disappears from Mail after the iPhone puts it there. The device must also create some kind of response mail to the meeting chair and allow you to add a personal note before sending it out.

Again, this is a huge hole. I’ve got multiple instances of the same event on my calendar. I’ve got to remember to ignore my iCal inbox on my iPhone. Responding to invitations from my iPhone just creates problems right now.

In my opinion, Calendar on the iPhone is about 1/2 baked right now. The casual, home user side is solid.  The business side isn’t quite there yet. 

In order to get around the Notes/Domino sync issues, I’ve got Notes forwarding everything to my Exchange account.  After mail is received there, things get goofy.  In order to get around the object split problem, I have to go into Outlook or OWA, open the meeting request in my inbox and accept it there. Then it will prompt me to send or not send the response, add the item to my calendar, and interestingly enough, delete the object from my Invitation Inbox on my iPhone.  The iPhone syncs it all without issues, but only after the items are where they are supposed to be. 

Admittedly, I don’t sync to any other calendar, so I can’t say how this will or will not work with, say Google Calendar.  I don’t know of many companies that use GMail or Google Calendar in the Enterprise, although I am certain there are some smaller companies that do.

Do you sync with Exchange?  Have you noticed these problems?  If you have, how are you getting past them?  I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts in the Discussion area, so again, please keep your comments coming.

Next week, I’m going to wrap things up with commentary on Mail and Tasks.  I also have a couple of ideas that might resolve these problems, if Apple will go for it.  Stick around, folks… It only gets interesting from here!

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