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The iPhone as business tool? Not so fast

A design flaw is holding back the iPhone from being a serious data-entry platform.

At the Office 2.0 conference next week, I'll take a close look at the iPhone as a platform for business applications. The conference organizers are giving out iPhones to all paid attendees. So everybody will be asking the question: Is the iPhone ready for business?

iZoho: You can look, but you can't touch.

My preliminary finding: Not completely. And just for one little reason: The iPhone's onscreen keyboard cannot be called directly by a Web-based application. The keyboard pops up automatically whenever there's a form on the screen that needs keyboard input, which is fine--but if the user is running a Web application that uses a more sophisticated data-entry method, such as an Ajax-based online word processor or spreadsheet, the keyboard doesn't come up. Hard-coded applications like iPhone e-mail don't have this limitation. But there's as yet no easy way for developers to create true applications for the phone, only Web-based services. Developers could write their own onscreen keyboard utilities, but that's overkill, considering that the iPhone has one lurking just under the surface on every browser page.

This is why Zoho's (previous coverage) iPhone suite, iZoho, is pretty, but of only limited usefulness: It's read-only.

Anyone who knows of applications with workarounds, please post them here.