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Choosing the right smartphone for your business

Nearly a new year and maybe time for a bit of new technology with which sole traders like me can spruce up their business. The choice is bewildering to the newbie so here’s a bit of a tour of the main ‘flavours’ – by which I mean operating systems or the software that enables you to operate the phone.

Apple iPhone

This is for people who want to be seen with an iPhone – and don’t mind paying for the privilege. Regardless of the contract this isn’t going to be your cheapest option but it’s nicely designed, a pleasure to use and now built for use in the cloud. It syncs well with Google Apps and this can bring all of your Apple kit into union, with all diary entries appearing simultaneously on all machines.

It’s also a very good ‘social’ phone – not social as in social media, which all smartphones will handle very nicely, but it handles video conferencing, music, the video playback is good for younger people (we fortysomethings prefer a bigger screen). IPhone has the largest market of apps if you need to configure your phone to your own specification.

Recommended if: You want an easy to use smartphone, which you can all but build to your own spec.

Not recommended if: You haven’t bought into the “do everything Apple’s way” ethos. Also if you don’t want to be forced to buy a case so that you don’t cut out calls by daring to hold the phone wrongly – seriously, this is a known fault with the iPhone 4.

BlackBerry

The original portable emailer is still around in several guises. Look at the Torch for a serious competitor to the iPhone. A solid keyboard makes text entry easy but the leisure features like music and video are well catered for with direct links into Amazon’s music libraries for downloads. Syncs well with Google Docs although needs an extra app to do this with complete efficiency.

If the social stuff is less important to you then the Bold is a good business model with fewer bells and whistles but a nice at-a-glance daily agenda. All BlackBerrys will sync well with a BlackBerry Playbook tablet.

Unfortunately the market is buying fewer BlackBerrys so you’d have to be aware of this before buying; this has led to odd gaps like the fact there’s no Skype app available for a BlackBerry, which is a pain because the hardware should make this easy. Worse still is the news that the next generation of BlackBerrys, based on the new version of the operating system, has been delayed and now won’t be emerging in Q1 of 2012.

Recommended if: You want an easy smartphone mostly for emailing but one which does everything else including satnav.

Not recommended if: You want a wide range of apps – including Skype, which is a glaring omission. And NO ANGRY BIRDS.

Android

The greatest proportion of the smart phone market buys Android phones from various manufacturers, with Samsung and HTC among the most popular. The software comes from Google and it has a completely open marketplace – so whereas Apple will have approved all of the apps you can fit onto an iPhone, Google hasn’t done the same for its software. It’s just a difference in philosophy – Google understands “marketplace” to include an element of openness.

These phones are as functional but never quite as elegant as their Apple competitors. Longer term they’re almost certain to stay in the number one slot in the market simply because Google allows loads of companies to make them whereas Apple is the only iPhone maker just as RIM is the only BlackBerry maker. If Google’s takeover of Motorola is approved then other manufacturers may be a little less quick to make more Android phones.

Recommended if: You want a safe option shared by millions of others, and all the functions you’ll get from an iPhone – often earlier than the Apple community.

Not recommended if: You like an elegant-looking phone, or don’t like companies putting their own overlay over a basic operating system. HTC’s version of the software is slightly different from that of Samsung – and when I played with a Sony Ericsson that was tweaked to work better with Facebook, Twitter et al it was so complicated it made my teeth itch.

Windows Phone

Microsoft has been making software for phones and hand-helds for a while but this is only now taking root in the market. It has announced a major tie-in with Nokia, whose own operating system is effectively on its knees.

It’s a little early to say just how this one will develop; certainly Microsoft has played the long game quite convincingly before, and basing its computer software and phone software on the same look and feel so that everything looks as though it’s laid out in “slates” is a good marketing strategy.

Recommended if: You’re a Windows user and want the same manufacturer to supply your phone software for complete compatibility.

Not recommended if: You don’t want to be the first in the class taking a risk with what to all intents and purposes is a new operating system.

Others

There are a handful of other operating systems to look out for. Nokia is still selling phones based on its Symbian operating system, which aren’t as easy to use as anything else on the market. Nokia denies it’s going to kill Symbian off, but its tie-up with Microsoft on Windows Phone has certainly set people wondering. Nokia also announced a more basic smartphone operating system called Meego during the year; by the time it announced it the company had already made most of the developers redundant. It’s difficult to imagine Nokia’s own software being around for long.

The other place to watch is WebOS. Developed by Palm over a number of years, bought by Hewlett-Packard in 2010, HP shocked everybody by pulling out of the market earlier this year – then sacking the CEO that made the decision. In December the company turned WebOS into open source software so anyone can develop using it if they choose – which is a great way to develop apps but not so good if you want any significant market share.

Guy Clapperton is the British author of the books “This Is Social Media” and the forthcoming “This Is Social Commerce”. He has been a technology and business journalist since 1998 and is also a speaker and broadcaster who has addressed audiences in seven countries during 2011. Guy appears on the BBC’s News Channel regularly and writes for the Times, Guardian, Telegraph and other national newspapers in the UK.

 

Read more about Business, Mobile

 

20 comments

Chris
30 December 2011 #

Worst phone comparison article I’ve ever read. Has lots of valid points, but also a few which are just weird opinionated statements.

You open with “This is for people who want to be seen with an iPhone – and don’t mind paying for the privilege. “? What crap.

“Unfortunately the market is buying fewer BlackBerrys so you’d have to be aware of this before buying; this has led to odd gaps like the fact there’s no Skype app available for a BlackBerry, which is a pain because the hardware should make this easy. ” Pure opinion.

“You want a safe option shared by millions of others, and all the functions you’ll get from an iPhone – often earlier than the Apple community.” Really?

CJ
30 December 2011 #

Cr@p review. You say it is a review for businesses but then don’t touch on business needs (angry birds seriously). And the death grip isn’t an issue on the latest iPhone

Spooc
30 December 2011 #

Seriously Xero folks, this is not a business review, it is not informative or useful, it is an advertisement for sound editorial … on your part. Please don’t waste your Cred and our time with totally boneheaded ill informed off topic commentary.
Spooc

Karl
30 December 2011 #

I have to concur; this is very much below par, and I’m surprised it’s on Xero’s blog at all – the quality is very much less than other entries.

“This is for people who want to be seen with an iPhone – and don’t mind paying for the privilege”

Expensive, yes? Worth it? Depends on requirements.

Since this is about business smartphones, take a look at building bespoke apps for all sorts of functionality – iOS is significantly easier and quicker to do this than any other mobile platform.

“You want a safe option shared by millions of others”

The author intimates that wanting an iPhone due to its popularity is faux, yet having an Android is ok for the same reason?

There’s too much poor material to cover; reading the article for most will make it obvious that this article is seriously wanting.

Anthony
30 December 2011 #

I agree with the comments above. Not a great review, very superficial and many statements just to draw comments.

Blackberry is going down fast with most companies I see switching away from them. They missed the smartphone race by a few years and are paying dearly for it now.

Windows Phone 7 has very little market share, this may grow when Windows 8 arrives, but with little developer support at the moment isn’t going anywhere fast.

The only two competing smartphones at this stage are iPhone and Android phones. In Australia it is all iPhone, simple, easy and secure (a bit like Xero really). Android has got hardly any traction in the business space.

There is also a one perspective missed. A dumb phone and iPad combo. I am seeing alot of business owners using this. Fast, realiable easy calls on the dumb phone, iPad for apps and everything else.

Anton Gerner
30 December 2011 #

Awful post.
All I have to say is: Xero, please remove it!

Accountancy
30 December 2011 #

I used to be a big fun of BB, but they are out now… Apps are the soul?

Guy Clapperton
31 December 2011 #

First, thanks to everyone for taking the trouble to respond. My brief was to explain what was on the Smartphone market to anyone who didn’t have one, and I was aware of the amount of sole traders like me who find them useful and fall into Xero’s customer base. It does seem that most if not all of the respondents are more experienced in smartphones than that target market.

Specific responses on the points people make – and you’re entitled to them – incliude:

1. Chris: You criticise the entry for opinions. A blog entry is supposed to have opinionated statements. Perhaps you’re in a market in which there is no price premium for Apple products – it’s certainly not “crap” where I am in the UK.

Yes, it is an opinion that the absence of certain key apps are damaging BB – check Accountancy’s comment, please don’t suggest it’s just me.

In terms of Apple users getting certain functions after the rest, Android users had a front facing camera, 5 megapixel cameras and several now have NFC before the Apple community – in fact smartphone users overall had their smartphones and a music phone before the Apple community. So yes, really – these are facts – “really”, as you put it.

2. CJ, I’ve mentioned interoperability and I’ve put the absence of key apps forward as an issue. Yes there was a flip mention of Angry Birds but in the space of 700 words I stand by the piece as an intro to the pros and cons of which smartphone is which overall. The iPhone 4S has no death grip it’s true (although if you’d check the support groups before posting you’ll find some people claim they still have issues) – but Apple and the carriers are still actively marketing the 4, which certainly does, so the comment needs to be in a current article.

3. Spooc, once again I would point out that this was intended as an introduction to people who have no Smartphone and are considering using one, wanting to know what’s out there. I’d welcome comments on what you think should have gone in.

4. Karl, thanks for the comments on app building. It is of course even easier with Android and you don’t have to get another company’s approval to put it in the marketplace; this in turn makes it worth mentioning the increased security risk in Android-hosted malware (I’m off for Christmas but will dig out figures, there have been significant per centages of Android apps carrying malware).

Again I had a limited space to introduce all smartphones; even as a satisfied iPhone user myself I couldn’t omit a mention of the cost. And yes, of course the value “depends on requirements” but then this is a truism – getting value from anything depends on the requirements so I’m not clear on the point you’re making.

5. Anthony, thanks. BlackBerry is still very popular in territories including parts of Asia, and although it’s suffering (and the delay to BB 10 won’t help) it’s still got a significant user base in Europe. This blog goes out internationally and for that reason I elected to include all smartphones. I made the mistake as a young journalist of underestimating Microsoft’s ambition in the networked operating system market when Novell appeared to own it; Windows NT demolished Novell eventually. With a new alliance with Nokia (again, it’s easy get too Westernised in your view of Nokia’s falling share and write it off) I wasn’t prepared to write off Windows Phone 8 either. Thanks for the Australian perspective. The dumb phone/iPhone combo hasn’t had much traction I’ve seen where I am – thanks for raising it.

6. Anton, a Happy New Year to you, too, and Accountancy, thanks for commenting – I do agree apps are vital, whether some other readers elect to dismiss this as “pure opinion” or not.

Thanks again for all your comments. It’s pretty clear that so far everyone putting finger to keyboard is an experienced smartphone user, which wasn’t the target market for the brief – perspectives from anyone who is in that catchment, positive or negative, would of course be more than welcome.

Tim
31 December 2011 #

I reckon you sell Windows Phone a bit short by calling it a risky operating system. Having used it for the last few months I find it to be nice, and also very stable, which is the opposite of what I would have expected from your description.

If you want to describe some actual cons of the platform, they might be: less apps overall than IOS/Android (only 50,000), and lagging slightly on the search bells and whistles, like voice and visual search, compared to the IOS Android respectively.

@simongarlick
3 January 2012 #

Gosh. I actually thought this was an Onion-style parody article, then I realised the author was serious.

The parent article was just rubbish. Uninformed technically-ignorant rubbish.

JC
4 January 2012 #

Agree with that it is a bit of a disappointing blog.

I would take a wild stab in the dark and make the assumption that *everybody* who reads Xero’s blog, (or uses Xero for that matter) already has a smart phone of some kind (please anybody correct me if I’m wrong) and has formed their own opinion on which one they prefer – talk about misjudging your target market.

This piece seems more suited to a Sunday tabloid IT section, or some newsletter produced one of the tired Xero competitors.

Also, there still isn’t a native Xero app for Android (although it’s on the way) which isn’t mentioned in the piece…

Perhaps a more useful and relevant article would have been “Top 10 business apps for sole traders” for each different smart phone…

Guy
4 January 2012 #

Thanks again for all the feedback. JC, all I’d point out is that the article was commissioned by Xero and submitted to the company before going onto the blog. As I’ve already made clear it is indeed aimed at first time smartphone buyers (I don’t think any have commented here, everyone who’s taken the time is clearly wide of that market), and the brief was to offer an outline of which OS was which.

I don’t have the figures on Xero’s users and their smartphones but I’d certainly trust the company to know whether or not all of its users have smartphones or not – wouldn’t you?

Top 10 apps is a good idea – thanks for that. Tim, thanks also for the notes on your Windows phone experience and Simon, thanks for commenting.

JC
4 January 2012 #

Hi Guy,

No, I think Xero got it wrong by commissioning this piece.

I stand by my comment that the people who are excited enough about the potential of Xero to be subscribed to their RSS feed would have the smart phone issue covered. That’s my criticism.

I am willing to stand corrected by any readers who found this blog helpful…

I look forward to your top 10 post!

thanks
JC

Guy
4 January 2012 #

Thanks JC. I suppose some of it comes to the issue of whether this article was commissioned exclusively with the RSS subscribers in mind – in which case you probably have a point – or also with the casual Internet browser, the potential customer scanning Xero’s website and blog, at the forefront. That’s going to be an important constituent for Xero as well bu the technical knowledge/skill set is going to be very different.

Kelvin Hartnall
5 January 2012 #

I agree with JC that Xero is taking this blog in the wrong direction by commissioning generic articles. I’d like to redirect my comment away from this specific article and towards Xero. I think that by adding generic content to this blog about social media, smart-phone choices, e-books, etc… dilutes the value of the blog. As people have already noted, there are already lots of blogs, magazines, books, etc… that cover these topics really well.

What I would like to see Xero do is to refocus the blog onto all the exciting things happening with Xero, their partners, their add-ons, the cloud-accounting marketplace, as well as their competitors. There is enough occurring in the world of Xero and cloud accounting in general to have a really useful focused blog. For example, I’ve noticed that there are a number of new interesting add-ons for Xero but there hasn’t been any discussion about them on this blog. And it would be useful to have overview articles about what to consider when choosing other services that integrate with Xero. For example, what should a Xero user consider when they want to integrate a CRM product with Xero? I would also like to see more blog entries used for gathering information about product design. For example: “We’ll be adding a quote system to Xero shortly. How would you like this to work and are there any important features that you would like us to incorporate?”

To recap, I think there are a lot of Xero related topics that could become useful blog entry articles. And there is no reason that these couldn’t be commissioned. I think that these would add a lot more value than generic IT business pieces that dilute the value of the blog.

JF
5 January 2012 #

I agree that this was a strange choice of topic. I am an avid Xero user but I’m afraid to say that I would never go to Xero for research/advice on anything outside of the service you are providing. There are plenty other dedicated channels for such things. No offence. Diverting from your core activity (and spending the quantity of time to write and respond as above) starts to give the impression that the company is not focusing its efforts on delivering best service, product and value for money.

As an aside, if you want my extra two pennies, I think posting lengthy (multiple) responses to readers views sails far too close to the wind of arguing with your customers. Why risk that? Best left alone. Listen to the responses and just accept them for what they are. Even if you disagree with them.

Spooc
5 January 2012 #

Guy, when one writes more in defense of their position than one wrote in their original article, it is time to stop digging.

I for one would not feel the need for this reply except that you have challenged me to do so. It is not a discussion group, or a debating chamber. While your article IMHO is atrocious rubbish, poorly written and without decent editorial, regardless of who you targeted at, my challenge is more to Xero; they missed the mark by commissioning this article without tying it to some relevance to Xero itself.

For example, which phones work best with Xero and why? What’s next from Xero mobile and which phones will be supported. What the costs of running Xero on a phone versus computer .. etc.

Peter Preston
6 January 2012 #

Guy,

i’ll bet you are glad to have been commissioned for this piece but I guess that your experience of writing for a tech audience has inured you to the vapid responses of people who dont even have the decency to write under their own name or outline why their opinion has any validity at all before attacking an opinion piece.

I think you may have insulted many of them by suggesting that choosing to use an iPhone as a business tool is more about image than function – the growth of dumb phone is may be driven by the iPhones capability as a phone ( it’s great at everything that it claims to do, except the phone function which has long been an issue – a phone that takes 4 major releases to actually work as a phone, really???)

Hearing about what xero will be doing next would be great. In addition, whilst I like to think that I know everything and have an opinion to match I have the ability to choose whether I read ‘general’ articles that aren’t of interest… keep publishing them, general articles can give specific information to the less knowledgable and act as a lead to further learning from t’interweb

Brig
15 January 2012 #

Thanks for the blog post. I agree with the hang-up issue with the iPhone 4, and find it annoying that some files just won’t open or play. While it has a nice, clear screen, next time I’ll probably try an Android phone.

Wulfy
18 January 2012 #

No nice looking Android phones? Again, personal opinion, but the HTC Desire looks pretty sweet to me. And makes calls. And isn’t part of Apple’s bid to make the whole world do or think like they do…!

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