Over the past few years, smartphones have become a necessary tool for business. Work now travels with us wherever we go; with a smartphone the office is always at your fingertips.

These phones are becoming increasingly competitive in the features that they offer. So, when you’re selecting a smartphone to meet your business needs, you’ll need to consider which features matter most to you.

Consider the work you do everyday and how your phone will factor into that. Are you constantly taking calls and answering emails? Or do you need a device to view documents and surf the web? Compare the main features of the iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry platforms listed below to help you decide which smartphone is best for your business.

iPhone

iPhone

Email: iPhone’s email application is capable of handling multiple email addresses from multiple types of accounts: Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, and many other web-based email applications.

Browsing: Web browsing on an iPhone is, for the most part, fast and efficient. However, the Flash application is not supported on the iPhone. If you need to frequently access sites that use Flash, then iPhone isn’t the best choice for you.

Display: The retina display on the iPhone may be the best looking screen on the market, but it’s lagging behind in the screen size department. Many Android devices are coming out with much larger screen sizes.

Photo and video: With the release of the 4S, Apple has arguably put out the best point-and-shoot camera in a smartphone. An eight megapixel camera, along with high definition (HD) video recording capabilities, have brought the iPhone’s offering up to par with other phones on the market. But the addition of face detection and image stabilization, among other features, make it a market leader.

Video conferencing: If you want to use iPhone’s native FaceTime app, you’ll be limited to connecting through wifi with other Apple devices running FaceTime. However, you can download apps such as Skype for video conference calling over a 3G network, if needed.

Keyboards: You can’t get an iPhone with a physical keyboard, so if you need the tactile feel of a keyboard, this isn’t the phone for you. However, among on-screen keyboards, the iPhone is accurate and has a very good touch response.

Productivity: There is no shortage of applications you can download to help you get organized and productive. If you already use Outlook to keep your tasks organized at the office, you’ll appreciate the addition of the Reminders app in iOS5. Reminders will pull in all your tasks from Outlook, and you can add additional reminders to this app as well.

Voice recognition: The latest iPhone 4S has launched with Siri on board. This feature (presented by an automated female voice) will give you directions, text and email for you, do Google searches, and more. As a warning, if you’re outside the United States, some of Siri’s capabilities are currently limited. For example, you can’t ask it to give you directions if you’re using the phone in Canada.

Android

Android Enabled Smartphones

Email: If you’re an avid Gmail user, you’ll appreciate how Android automatically integrates all your email contacts into your device. Android users can also integrate email addresses from Microsoft Exchange.

Browsing: Most websites load easily on Android. If you need to access Flash enabled websites, make sure the device you choose is using a version of Android that is Flash compatible. Some earlier versions of the Android operating system were not.

Display: Android devices come in a variety of screen sizes and resolutions. Though you won’t get a retina display that’s as crisp as an iPhone, if you’re looking for lots of viewing room, many Android devices will easily fulfill that requirement.

Photo and video: Since there are so many manufacturers making a variety of Android smartphones, you can get just about any quality of camera in your device. If photo and video capabilities are important to you, you’ll need to do some research on all the different devices and make a choice that’s right for you.

Video conferencing: Further to the comment on photo and video for Android phones, the quality of video conferencing will depend on the type of phone you choose. Google Talk is Android’s native video conferencing and chat app, but depending on the device and version of Android you’re using, you many not have the video conferencing option available.

Keyboards: Android also offers a variety of keyboard options. You can use the on-screen keyboard, and you can also make typing even easier by installing the Swype functionality (which is an option on most Android phones). Swype allows you to literally swipe from letter to letter to form a word, instead of having to tap on each key. If you prefer a physical keyboard, many Android smartphones have that option as well.

Productivity: Many of Google’s productivity applications are compatible with Android devices. For example, the native Android calendar will sync with your Google calendar.

Voice recognition: Voice recognition is integrated throughout Android devices. Depending on the version of Android you’re using, you’ll find integrated voice recognition for search, text messaging, email, and more. In fact, you’ll find an option to enable voice recognition just about any time you use your keyboard.

BlackBerry

BlackBerry Smartphone

Email: BlackBerry maintained its “best-for-business” status for a long time — due to its security and support for Microsoft Exchange Server. But now that Android and iPhone support Exchange, the playing field has been leveled.

Browsing: With so many models of BlackBerry phones available, the ability to browse the web varies from device to device. Generally speaking, BlackBerry devices are not considered the best in the business for web browsing.

Display: Again, considering the number of devices BlackBerry puts out, the type and quality of screen display can vary a great deal. Many versions with physical keyboards have much smaller screens than those with on-screen keyboards.

Photo and video: BlackBerry devices aren’t known for stellar photo taking functionality. Although newer BlackBerry devices take a decent picture, the iPhone and some Android devices far surpass the BlackBerry in photo quality. If you need a smartphone that takes high quality pictures, BlackBerry may not be your best bet.

Video conferencing: A recently released BlackBerry Mobile Conferencing app allows for video conferencing on many newer BlackBerry devices. However, if you do a lot of business over Skype, that application is available with only a few mobile providers. Another drawback of video conferencing with BlackBerry is that there’s no front-facing camera, so you can be seen, but you may not see who you’re speaking with.

Keyboards: Like Android devices, you can have your preference of physical or on-screen keyboards. A little research may be necessary to decide which option feels best for you. Overall, the BlackBerry provides more keyboard options than the iPhone.

Productivity: With the latest BlackBerry smartphone, you can use Blackberry Bridge to view your calendar, and more, on BlackBerry’s “Playbook” tablet device. Similar to Android and iPhone, a number of apps are available for download to keep your business affairs organized.

Voice recognition: BlackBerry’s voice recognition abilities pale in comparison to the Android and iPhone. Most BlackBerry smartphones will easily allow you to dial numbers by voice from your contact list, but that’s about the extent of its native capabilities. You’ll have to download a voice recognition app if you want to do things like surf the web, update your social networks, or send a text with voice commands.

Which smartphone do you prefer for business — the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, or something else? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[Image credits: nrkbetaBeau GilesHillaryHonou]