Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Three reasons PMs need an iPhone


iPhoneRarely do I make specific product recommendations at Lead on Purpose. However, five weeks ago I purchased an iPhone 3GS (granted, I’m not an early adopter) and the experience has been phenomenal. In only a few short weeks I have come to depend on its functionality for my work in product management and product marketing. I have come up with the following three key functionalities that make the iPhone imperative to the work product managers and product-marketing managers do every day:

  1. Camera: PMs often have ‘white-board’ conversations with development and other groups where they map out requirements and other valuable information. Being able to quickly snap photos and easily put them in your deliverables is incredibly valuable.
  2. Apps: The iPhone has many applications, which are valuable for two reasons: a) Many companies are looking at producing mobile applications. The iPhone platform is the best for mobile applications. You need an iPhone to look at existing (potentially competitive) apps so you can better understand your market(s) and write effective requirements that will move your product line in that direction. b) There are many applications that will help you do your job more effectively. Several come with the iPhone and many others are available.
  3. Voice memos: Customer visits are an important aspect of the job. One of the frustrating aspects for me over the years has been trying to take adequate notes during the visits while still paying attention and asking meaningful questions. With the Voice memos feature you can record the conversation and then go back to the conversation and round out your notes. I used this feature twice today and am absolutely hooked.

I realize there are other valuable devices that can be used in place of an iPhone. I know of several PM groups that have acquired a digital camera, and voice recording devices are not uncommon. However, to have all this functionality in one device is absolutely worth it.

Bonus: Ok, there are several other not-necessarily-for-work reasons to get your iPhone:

  • The Internet access is phenomenal
  • Email synch works flawlessly (both to corp email and Gmail)
  • The text (SMS) messaging app on the iPhone is the best (i.e. easiest) I’ve used
  • The Maps app comes in handy when traveling
  • Oh, did I mention it has an iPod built in?
  • UPDATE: The iPhone has a phone! I know, I’ve had many people tell me that the phone part of an iPhone is weak at best, but for me (in my short five weeks), it’s worked well. I’ve had roughly three dropped calls out of hundreds I’ve made so far. Finding the person I want to call is much easier than any phone I’ve used, and the voicemail interface is slick.

The Product Management Perspective: The iPhone is a serious device that will help you do your job more effectively. If you get pushback from your boss, feel free to quote me or you can tell him/her to contact me directly and I’ll be happy to plead your case.

9 thoughts on “Three reasons PMs need an iPhone

  1. For national pride I am still a Blackberry guy. 😉

  2. The iPhone’s camera isn’t really up to the task as a whiteboard stenographer, at least compared to the camera on something like the Nokia n97. It’s relatively low-resolution, the optics are weak, the lens placement seems optimized for unintended close examination of your finger, and the UI (tap the glass in the right place) makes it hard to get a stable shot. On top of that, if you mail a picture the iPhone will helpfully shrink it to 800×600, so if you want the full-resolution version you need to use the wire or use a third-party application (e.g. Evernote).

    The other points are all good, but if the main reason you’re buying an iPhone is for its camera you could do a lot better.

  3. Faisal, I have been impressed with the camera on my 3GS. I import the photos into iPhoto and get a resolution of 2048 x 1536, they are very clear and work well for my purposes. I have not used the n97, so it may very well have a superior camera. For me it’s all about the whole package. -Michael

  4. Only 3 dropped calls in 5 weeks? Is that acceptable? I haven’t had 3 dropped calls in 3 years on my Blackberry.

    I think most PMs might rate a reliable network higher on the priority list than the iPod functionality. As long as the IPhone is hindered by the AT&T network, it will continue to be a gadget that “by the way” is also a phone.

    The iPhone is popular for teenagers and casual phone users. For businesses (that includes PMs), get a Blackberry.

  5. Scott, thanks for the comment (and sorry for the delay in responding; been on vacation). I agree that a reliable network rates high on anyone’s list, especially PM’s. In the past I’ve been on Sprint and Verizon and found them comparable to AT&T. They all have their baggage in my experience.

    Neither the phone functionality nor the iPod is a reason why I recommend iPhones for PMs. The reasons are enumerated above. The ease of use of taking photos and recording voice memos are incredibly useful, as well as many of the iPhone apps. These tools make a PM’s work life much easier.

    The iPhone has moved well beyond the ‘gadget’ phase and is a serious platform many businesses are starting to use. Which brings me to the second part of No. 2 above: if your company is not considering creating an iPhone application, you should. As a platform the iPhone is growing rapidly. It doesn’t fit all product types and circumstances. However, if your applications make sense in the mobile world, you should absolutely be looking at the iPhone.

    I had a Blackberry (several versions) for more than five years and I loved it, especially after an eight-month interlude with a Windows Mobile app. However, now that I’ve used my iPhone for a few months I can’t see going back to the BB, at least not with the models and apps available today. It’s a good platform, just not as good.


  6. I switched from iPhone to the Palm Pre a few months back. Loving it. It really is an innovative UX. Also great capabilities like MMS for photos, and turn by turn driving directions with Sprint’s navigation app to help you arrive at customer meetings on time. Also comes with Google maps if you prefer that. And it has TV built in. Really does a nice job to seamlessly flow between work and personal applications.

    Apps are coming, surely but slowly, but all apps I’ve downloaded so far, I’m actually using.

    I’d suggest give the Pre a serious look.


  7. Al, thanks for the comment. I have not tried the Palm Pre; however, a colleague of mine has one and loves it. He says the OS “is a 1.0 version” but overall the experience is great. I will watch with great interest at its uptake, and the growth of applications.


  8. Michael – how did recording the convo on your phone go? Did you tell them you were recording? I really want to record my customer interviews (just did my first one in my new gig today), but I feel like it makes the other person uncomfortable. And keeping a secret that you’re doing it just seems unethical. Thoughts would be appreciated!

    And Al – really glad you posted about the Palm Pre. Like Stewart, I’m a devout BBerry user, but my original Pearl is on its last legs and its time for a new phone. The Pre looks great in theory, but glad to hear its great in practice too!

  9. Robin, I do tell them that I am recording the interview. I explain that I want to focus on listening to their answers and not on furiously taking notes.

    During the conversation I set the iPhone on the table in front of us. In my most recent interviews it did not have any noticeable affect on the conversation; the people I met with did not have a problem with it.

    As you say, you definitely have to be up front about and let them know you are recording. If you ever run into a customer who does not want to be recorded, respect their request and take notes as best you can.

    Thank you for your questions.

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