What the iPhone 4S means for ECRM

By Dan Elam posted 10-05-2011 15:15


By now you have heard that Apple announced their iPhone 4S that includes new cloud support in the form of iOS 5.  While some were hoping for a proper iPhone 5, the new phone – and especially the new software – represents some critical technology that ECM and records managers must address.

Plenty of people want a  “fanboi” vs. “fandroid” discussion, but that isn’t particularly relevant here.  Android continues to do very well with consumers and outsells Apple on a platform basis, but a relatively small percentage of people use the advanced features:  most Android customers just want a smartphone and the operating system comes with it.  Device fragmentation with Android also makes it very difficult to write apps that run on every device and support for multiple devices is hard because each handset manufacturer has to update the base Google Android code to each new release.  And since that costs money, few do for older devices that have been replaced with new versions.  Worse, manufacturers often add their own “features” to differentiate themselves from the other Android phones.  As a practical matter, only the iPhone and Blackberry have enough consistency across the platform to be attractive for the enterprise.  With RIM falling fast with their Blackberry and Apple doing very well with their iPad, the Apple ecosystem is where most IT and RM professionals need to focus.  (While Apple is making huge inroads into the enterprise, they are still at risk of duplicating their PC strategy by not competing on the low end consumer market with Android.  Android may still ultimately win because of the consumer side, but for now, Apple is the immediate challenge.  You can worry about Android if it survives the patent litigation and starts become a corporate standard.)

Before we get into specs and ECRM implications, let’s talk about what the new iPhone didn’t include:


Bigger Screen

Android devices come in all shapes and sizes, but the iPhone and iPad both have just one screen size and, not coincidentally, the iPhone screen resolution is double between their older and newer phones.  Some wanted a larger 4” or larger screen.  Steve Jobs himself was passionate that a “phone” was better in the smaller form factor.  Jobs may miss the point that many people use their phones more as “mini tablets” than phones today, but it was unlikely that they would move from their current size just as a matter of form (which Apple does better than anyone).  The real issue is how it would have affected software developers having to support more options.  Today, a developer knows there is a very limited number of screen resolutions to support and they can build a single application to support them.  If Apple made the screen bigger it would have either added pixels – forcing software vendors to write and support new versions – or it would have lowered the resolution from Apple’s famed “retina display” specifications.  Apple wasn’t going to do either.  Some will be disappointed, but it does keep the ecosystem simple and it is hard to argue when Apple still has the highest screen resolution on the market.


True 4G Support

A lot of people wanted a real 4G phone but that wasn’t going to happen.  Today’s 4G chip sets consume an enormous amount of power and are bigger.  So the phone would have to get larger (like the HTC Thunderbolt).  Apple has been adamant about battery life and the 4G technology just isn’t there yet.  New chips from Qualcomm are supposed to be available next year so look for that to change.  The bigger issue is that the current chips cost about $30 more (so 5% of the total cost), but 4G support is only available in a handful of cities today.  So iPhone customers in 90%+ of the country would have had to pay extra to serve what is a very small fraction of the market.  However, Apple did double the download speeds so many users will get speeds that look like 4G. 


NFC (Near Field Communications)

This is the digital wallet technology.  NFC adds about $20 to the cost of the phone and allows people to pay for things using their phone instead of a credit card.  A few other phones include the chips, but almost no one uses it because the infrastructure isn’t there.  This is a chicken-and-egg problem where retails have to buy NFC kiosks but they won’t until the phones have NFC chips.  Apple must have decided not to drive prices up until the major players work out how to pay for the infrastructure.


So what did the iPhone 4S bring to the table?  Four big things:  faster processor, better camera, Siri artificial intelligence, and iOS 5 with cloud support.  The iPhone 4S is an evolutionary product in terms of hardware, but the software is something else entirely.  No surprise since Apple has always aimed to not compete on hardware specs, but instead to focus on the overall user experience.  Let’s look at each.


Faster Processor

Yawn.  Twice as fast as the old one but with 7x faster graphics performance.  It is the same chip as the iPad 2.  No big deal and only a marginal difference, if any, to competitors.  But Apple specializes in power-sipping designs and the result is that they get about 20% longer battery life despite keeping the batteries the same while making it faster.  The faster processor does let them do some intelligent things like analyze cell signals to switch between the two internal antennas.  It also lets them make the camera faster and support Siri.


Better Camera

Camera enthusiasts often get focused on megapixels but Apple changed that with the iPhone 4 camera which has now become the most popular camera on Flickr.  The reality is that megapixels don’t tell the story when it comes to noise, distortion, and light sensitivity.  With the iPhone 4, Apple created a very special processor that put the control electronics on the back of the chip instead of on the front next to the actual CMOS sensor that collects photons.  The result is a lot less interference from electrons and photons bouncing around and the ability to produce better pictures with less megapixels.  With many high end phones now moving to 8MP, Apple felt the pressure to match them, but still brought their new techniques to the new platform.  The optics are rumored to be made by Sony, but unconfirmed at this point.  The bottom line is that the iPhone 4S can take stunning pictures (and 1080p video) that is better than virtually any point-and-shoot camera on the market.  The camera is also a lot faster with sub-second response time for pictures.  Every insurance adjuster in the country might as well buy one now.


Siri Artificial Intelligence

Funded by DoD’s famed DARPA program, Siri was a company purchased by Apple that focused on conversational voice recognition.  Unlike traditional voice recognition, the Siri technology understands context and even conversations.  So you can speak into your phone and say “Make an appointment for 2:00 tomorrow”.  Siri not only understands the voice, but it goes to your calendar and can tell you if you are busy.  Normally, if your calendar was busy you could have to say the entire command phrase again but with a new time.  With Siri, when your phone says you are busy, all you have to say is “Make it 3:00” and Siri knows you are still talking about the appointment for tomorrow and moves it an hour later.  Siri is impressive in the demos and blows away anything else remotely available,  But the real question is whether users will use it.  Siri could end up like Apple’s FaceTime for video conferencing:  great in the commercials, but not something anyone really uses.  Still, the technology is so advanced and well-integrated (at least in the demos) that this is something that no one really knows what is going to happen.


IOS 5 with Cloud Support

Announced months ago, the latest version of the iPhone operating system brings a lot of new features (including many that Blackberry and Android have already had).  Notification support gets better.  A new messaging technology works similar to the Blackberry.  It also includes embedded Twitter support and many other miscellaneous features.  iOS 5 runs on both the iPhone and the iPad.

But the big thing from an ECRM perspective is cloud support.  With iOS 5, your apps, documents, pictures, videos, etc can all reside in the cloud.  Apple provides the cloud for free for content you have purchased through iTunes and the App Store and gives you 5GB free for your own content.  If you have a PC, Mac, or iPad, you can set up the cloud so that it automatically pushes the content from your iPhone to the other device.  So take a picture or buy a song on the iPhone and it automatically sends it to your iPad for example.  The catch is that new content like email, photos, etc. is only stored for 30 days in the cloud.

The new camera is advanced enough that it can actually replace some low end desktop scanners.  And document editing and capture continues to get better (but still not a replacement for a PC).  Records managers are going to have to contend with Apple making retention decisions for them (30 days) regardless of whether a legal hold is in place or the document isn’t scheduled for deletion.  Think SharePoint is hard to control?  This is going to be a nightmare as users mix their business and personal data in Apple’s cloud where it is definitely not under corporate control.

ECM software vendors also are going to need to rush to provide better support in this environment and using Apple’s iCloud as a delivery mechanism may make this easier from an infrastructure perspective because the server can talk to iCloud and Apple can figure out how to push content to the iPhone/iPad.  Enterprise mobile deployments can be simplified which is good since mobile applications are growing by upwards of 400% per year.  But the price is that your proprietary data may be pushed through an Apple service that no one really knows who sees or how it works.  Apple is a notoriously secret company and while they have been fairly proactive in protecting customer data (to the point where some magazine publishers refuse to work with them because Apple won’t release the customer information they get from traditional subscriptions), the reality is that Apple can still be heavy-handed and do what they want in most cases.

The Twitter integration and rumored forthcoming Facebook tools will have an impact on social media, but now isn’t the time to address those.


What Next?

Some were disappointed that Apple didn’t release an iPhone 5 with a new physical form-factor, but iOS 5 is a huge change that has wide ranging implications for ECM and RM disciplines.  Users are going to buy these devices and since iCloud is free, corporate and personal data is going to be stored and synchronized there.  In fact, since iOS 5 will run on the iPad as well as the iPhone, the implications for commercial and government customers could be even bigger than the broader market.  Every CIO and RM manager should have a meeting scheduled within the next 60 days in order to develop policies and examine infrastructure.  The longer you wait, the harder it is going to be to figure out what to do with these things.

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