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CRM Vendors Say Hello to the New iPhone
Apple's 3G update to its popular handheld has early support from big names in the industry, but little meat so far.
Posted Jul 10, 2008
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Months of waiting by impatient tech addicts will come to a head on Friday, when the Apple iPhone 3G -- offering greater speed and higher-bandwidth data access than the version that debuted a year ago -- becomes generally available. But business application vendors are getting a jump-start on the rush, with such notables as Oracle and Salesforce.com posting downloadable utilities on the iPhone App Store, available as of today. Though no exact figures are yet available, Oracle Business Indicators and Salesforce Mobile are already climbing the charts for business-application downloads.

The new version of the iPhone software, made extensible by Apple's release of a software development kit earlier this year, is far more enterprise-compatible than the first, with corporate-strength email capabilities that are on par with those available in the market-leading BlackBerry platform and other Windows-compatible handhelds. Of the more than 500 iPhone-native applications made available at the App Store's launch, only a handful are designed for enterprise use. But accentuating the early download success of these applications is the fact that Apple had imposed a gag order on developers, preventing them from advertising or otherwise disclosing what would be available until noon Eastern time today.  

Oracle Business Indicators builds upon Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition Plus (OBIEE) and Fusion middleware to provide a mobile interface for critical business information. Chief financial officers can view the latest company financial trends; sales managers can be alerted to sales performance and customer satisfaction issues; and commodity managers can quickly assess the viability of a supplier, all from the iPhone, according to Oracle. The Indicators application can be downloaded free of charge for users with either an existing OBIEE license for on-premise use or an existing subscription for on-demand use.

It is the first in a series of applications Oracle promises to deliver to the iPhone platform, to be followed by CRM applications in the near future, says Lenley Hensarling, group vice president of Oracle Application Development, in an interview with CRM magazine. These will include a mobile sales assistant, a set of sales productivity apps, and the recently announced Sales Prospector, though no prices or dates have yet been set.  

Salesforce.com announced after the gag lifted that its Salesforce CRM applications and the company's Force.com platform are available on Apple's App Store as Salesforce Mobile for iPhone. As with Oracle’s announcement, existing Salesforce Unlimited Edition customers can download Salesforce Mobile for free.

Salesforce Mobile for iPhone integrates with the iPhone's native functions such as email, phone, and maps, allowing users to:

  • navigate customer records such as accounts, contacts and opportunities;
  • initiate phone calls and emails from within Salesforce CRM; and
  • query the Salesforce CRM application for desired customer information, which is then sent to their iPhone.

Salesforce Mobile for iPhone will also enable new and existing native Force.com applications to be quickly revamped for use on the iPhone. According to Salesforce.com, the Force.com platform currently comprises more than 72,000 such applications.

Both companies are targeting the user most likely to be mobile -- the salesperson. While the iPhone functionality will be useful to any traveling or remote worker, the emphasis in today’s announcements is sales visibility. "Getting a foot in the door" -- the traditional door-to-door salesman trope -- also applies to the rapidity of deployment and the no-cost approach. This is especially the case with Oracle Business Indicators, which is essentially a read-only application; actual user interactivity will come with the planned subsequent releases. "Today’s application is information-only," Hensarling says. "This is a new distribution model for us, and new territory."

The iPhone is actually familiar territory for some CRM vendors, notably NetSuite, which has offered its users full access via the iPhone's Safari Web browser since the massively popular handheld was launched in June 2007. Through the iPhone's browser, NetSuite offers users the ability to do more than merely access existing information, as this first round of iPhone apps seems limited to; users of NetSuite's SuitePhone interface can create new orders, new contacts, and new opportunities, and can also access all product pricing and customer information. (A NetSuite spokesperson confirmed that the vendor did not have an iPhone-native application available for download as of today, but did not immediately respond to questions about whether the company intended to build one in the future.)

As the demand among iPhone-using CRM professionals heats up, the competition among CRM vendors to accommodate that demand will surely lead to further application development. Mobile users may benefit from the added value -- assuming the iPhone-native apps are robust enough to provide some -- but whether those applications can add revenue for the vendors -- or whether they'll remain free downloads for existing customers -- remains an unanswered question.

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