Think business doesn't care about the iPhone? Think again.

Hot on the heels of the startling revelation that iPhone users are browsing more webpages than Windows Mobile, Symbian, Blackberry and Palm users combined, some major enterprise players are lining up behind the hit Apple device.

These aren't no-name makers either. SAP, the worlds largest Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software company announced on Tuesday that not only would they be releasing their industry leading software on the iPhone, but they would be releasing it on the iPhone AHEAD of Blackberry and Windows Mobile Devices. Why?

"The iPhone has become such a popular thing," said Bob Stutz, a SAP senior vice president who is responsible for developing customer relationship management software. "Everybody wants the ease of use of the iPhone."

The first generation of the iPhone software will load business contacts, information on sales prospects and account data onto the device, Stutz said.

Stutz said SAP decided to introduce the iPhone software ahead of programs for other devices at the request of its sales people, saying they prefer using iPhones to the other devices.

Programs for the Blackberry and other devices will ship a few weeks after the initial launch of SAP CRM 2007.

Also, Apple is a big SAP client with over 200 seats in use in Cupertino. That certainly helps to get a SAP client on the iPhone

It isn't just SAP that is gushing over the iPhone. Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM leader Salesforce.com has also been touting its iPhone friendlieness since the day it was released. As a bonus over regular browsers, the iPhone's software also turns phone numbers into clickable call links - a productivity boon for mobile salespeople.

Oracle startup Netsuite was one of the first enterprise applications out the door for the iPhone. But it isn't really fair to say that Netsuite designed their portal for iPhone. In the words of CEO Zach Nelson:

[The iPhone went on sale Friday, June 29, at 6 p.m. The next morning Nelson said he logged into NetSuite's user group site, and learned that new iPhone owners were already using them to access NetSuite.] I looked at our user group and said, I can't believe it works perfectly. We hadn't told them about [NetSuite's plans for the iPhone], and we thought, all of that Safari work is going to pay off. It had been hard to get [iPhone] test products from Apple, but we assumed we had a future with it.

Apple's big challenge in penetrating the business market is there was no app-running business on Apple. With a Web-based app like NetSuite, suddenly they have an app that can run an entire business on either the Mac or the iPhone. Personally, I think the combo of NetSuite and Mac is the way for Apple to gain resurgence in the business market. Now you have the most advanced app in business running not only on Firefox, but natively on Safari. You'll see some interesting things from us and Apple around that in near future.

Zimbra, an up and coming Microsoft Exchange competitor, also touts it ability to run on iPhone:

Even Microsoft Enterprise software like Exchange and Sharepoint 2007 works reasonably well on the iPhone. Some features obviously won't function without a dedicated application like Sharepoint Designer building. However most functions that can be performed on a browser can be done on the iPhone. You can even set up Exchange as an IMAP client on mobile mail.app and sync calendars and contacts from your desktop applications.

The Wall Street Journal, when reporting on iPhone's recent marketshare numbers, believes it can be a valuable tool for the enterprise. And everyone knows that Walt Mossberg has been gushing over it for months.

So, why are business bringing their applications to the iPhone? After all, they certainly haven't been going out of their way to put their products to work natively on Macintosh.

  • iPhone applications are just web pages that have to be formated for the relatively tiny 320x480 screen. There is a helpful SDK and the process is fairly straightforward as long as the current applications have a web-based front end and don't take advantage of ActiveX, Flash or Java.
  • Anything "-iPhone" is a free bit of PR. If it is easy to build, why not get it out there?
  • The typical iPhone user is an affluent, technology savvy professional. This is a market that software companies need to cover.
  • iPhones and iPods are rapidly gaining marketshare and are becoming high-profile gadgets for more and more executives, managers and certainly mid-level employees.
  • As we know from this week's Net Applications figures, people are using their iPhone browsers; it isn't simply a feature that goes to waste, like in many other handhelds. Better to give employees something valuable to surf.
So if you are on the fence on whether to build your applications for the iPhone, you might want to eschew the naysayers and err on the side of the iPhone Revolution.

Update: Jim Finkle and Scott Hillis seem to feel the same way. They came out with their piece 8 hours after this was posted. Yeah, I know.

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