Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
Last week's Switched On discussed the iPhone's controversial software-based keyboard in the context of its phone, media playback and Web-surfing features in which text entry plays only a walk-on role. (Note how no one seems to be bemoaning the iPhone's lack of handwriting recognition.) But email is another important part of the Internet experience. And while here, too, time reading generally outweighs time writing, email is one of the most compelling justifications for a good keyboard on a mobile phone.
It's no accident that RIM's Blackberry was one of the earliest phones to have a thumb-typable keyboard. Indeed, Blackberry supported such a keyboard even before it supported phone calls (and even on the Blackberry's predecessor, the RIM 950 "interactive messenger"), operating on a two-way paging network. If it's consistent with its desktop cousin, the iPhone's version of Safari actually does a good job of Outlook Web Access.
However, the iPhone is not optimized for the level of Microsoft Outlook synchronization that the Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices are. If you need your phone to be your lifeline to your business communication and you work for a company where IT appropriately protects the Exchange server like The Lost Ark, you will have bigger problems using your iPhone for searchable offline email than its keyboard until Apple support Exchange ActiveSync as other Microsoft competitors Palm and Nokia have.