Apple iPhone Is Rising High in the Enterprise

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-01-26

Apple doubled in the first quarter the number of iPhones it sold in the first quarter from a year ago, shipping 8.3 million units of the world's most popular smartphone and pushing the company to its $3.38 billion profit.

But don't think those devices all went to teenagers and soccer moms. Yes, the success of the iPhone extends to the enterprise.  

Apple COO Tim Cook said on the Q1 earnings call Jan. 25 that business use of the iPhone doubled since the release of the faster iPhone 3GS last summer. Cook said roughly 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies are testing or using iPhones as their corporate communications device, thanks largely to support for Microsoft Exchange.

"Those are some pretty staggering numbers when you think that the time frame we've been in the business is only two and half years," Cook said.

Maybe, but the iPhone still has miles to go to catch Research In Motion's BlackBerry, whose keyboard-laden devices with secure virtual hooks into the enterprise through the vaunted BlackBerry Enterprise Server have made RIM the darling in enterprise mobility for giants such as IBM.

IBM just augmented its partnership with RIM. One year after RIM created a new BlackBerry client for IBM's Lotus Sametime instant messaging application, RIM said it would sell BlackBerry Client for IBM Lotus Quickr and a new version of the BlackBerry Client for IBM Lotus Connections.

Those are the kinds of contracts that could serve the iPhone well in the corporate sector, and indeed IBM also just launched a Lotus Notes Traveler Companion plug-in to let iPhone users read their encrypted Lotus Notes e-mail.

Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler said in an April 2009 research note that some business workers prefer the iPhone to a BlackBerry because document viewing, WebEx presentations and Internet access are better on the iPhone.

"As developers build new applications for SharePoint access, data analysis, multiway conferencing and training, the work force can leave their laptops at work," Schadler noted.

"In this era of Technology Populism, where consumer IT is often better than enterprise IT, it sometimes just makes sense to give employees the freedom to choose the tools they want," he added. "If an iPhone makes an employee happy, then supporting it will deliver collateral benefits of a happier work force and a new line of communication between IT and employees."

Tempering the heady talk of iPhone's betrothal to the enterprise is a report from independent industry analyst Jack Gold.

The analyst wrote in a Jan. 13 research note that many enterprise users are getting pushback from IT departments that are restricting and preventing the use of iPhones. However, security, manageability and cost aren't necessarily always the sticking points.

"Few IT groups will offer to support a new device (iPhone in this case, but any new device like Android or netbooks) without a significant amount of pressure being exerted from its end-user community. And, as was the case with BlackBerry in the early days of its adoption, if the end users can find a way around the restrictions limiting the use of the technology, they will. So one of the key issues for broader iPhone adoption is: Will the end users find a way to circumvent the IT infrastructure and use the device anyway?"

Gold believes the market is a full year away from fully sanctioned deployments in most enterprises, and once that happens, RIM's BlackBerry devices may see a slow decline.

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