Ask any BlackBerry-toting exec whether theyre going to buy the new iPhone, and theyll ask you a question right back: Will my IT staff be able to support it?
Corporate users have become accustomed to high-tech smart phones that allow remote messaging, scheduling, group calendar functions and more. But analysts said there are at least three main hurdles for the iPhone in a corporate environment.
“The number one problem with the iPhone is that enterprise users want to push e-mail,” said Jack E. Gold, principal analyst at technology advising firm J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Mass.
Many large corporations have standardized on using BlackBerry e-mail servers and remote devices from Research in Motion or on Motorolas Good Technology Group, both of which provide “push” email—think of all those executives scrambling to grab their buzzing BlackBerrys.
“The BlackBerry became the corporate standard,” agreed Charles Golvin, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. He said this happened largely with RIMs release of its Enterprise Server product, which enabled IT departments to do large-scale deployments of push e-mail systems. The iPhone will support the IMAP and POP3 e-mail standards, but neither of these interface with existing push e-mail systems.
“This changed the selling model,” Golvin said, “making it an IT department buy” rather than a personal one.
Golvin noted that this is a one-two punch against widespread corporate iPhone adoption. Not only do many companies have heavy and broad investments in RIMs server and device products, but Apple has no similar package.
Corporations also widely use Microsofts Outlook and Exchange products, which work with dedicated clients not only for e-mail (including the push kind) but also for scheduling.
And this is where Gold sees a second hurdle. “If an executive brings in an iPhone, how well does Outlook sync work?” he asked. “Its not easy, as Nokia and others know.”
One alternative to the push e-mails is OWA (Outlook Web Access), which offers e-mail through a Web browser interface. Apple has stated that the iPhone will include a full-featured version of its standards-compliant Safari browser.
Though OWA does work on Mac browsers such as Safari, Camino and Firefox (and there have been unconfirmed reports of using OWA on Safari on an iPhone), Microsoft has kept in reserve “Premium” features for Internet Explorer users, relegating other browsers to a “Light” feature set.
What non-Internet Explorer users will not be able to use with OWA include task modules, searching for mail items, reminders, HTML message composing, a weekly calendar view, conversation view, spell-check and other features.
Though offering OWA could allow remote e-mail access (with limited messaging and calendaring features), this could still demand some work to set up. OWA is enabled by default in Exchange 2000 and later, but https support, which allows OWA outside a corporate firewall, requires Microsofts IIS (Internet Information Services) to be set up with certificates to do SSL.
But, said Gold, “OWA is not sufficient.” He noted that users will need immediate, and off-line, access to contacts, schedules and e-mail. If an executive is traveling to a meeting and is out of network coverage, he still needs to know where he needs to be and when, Gold said.
“Apple believes, rightly of wrongly, that people will be happy with just using online information,” he said.
The iPhone and Security
And there is Golds third hurdle. He pointed out that security is a big, and growing, issue in corporations, and the iPhone, as far as anyone knows, does not offer strong enough protection.
“Many enterprises are looking at security management” for mobile devices, he said. “They have to be able to manage and secure, or lock the phone, or encrypt data.”
This is not as much of an issue with the iPhone, he admitted, as data will only be accessible with network access.
It is currently unknown whether iPhone users will be able to access remote systems via the secure and encrypted SSH (Secure Shell) protocol. However, developer Marc Ressl has posted a “very buggy” version of a Web-based shell application for the iPhone, WebShell.
However, Ressl wrote, “For remote access, it is strongly recommended to use https SSL/TLS. It is simple to configure if you use the Apache Web server.”
Craig Mathias, a principal at the Farpoint Group of analysts in Ashland, Mass., agreed that the iPhone could be a “big security hole” for companies if the devices get lost or stolen. Though the iPhone will not, as far as anyone knows, store documents and schedules on it, it will, like all modern cell phones, have a contact list and, perhaps, access to Web-based applications.
But for Mathias, the iPhones focus on Web-based information is not a negative aspect. “I like the idea of the iPhone a lot. Im a Web services guy. Its the wave of the future,” he said.
“After all, the whole model of a smart phone doesnt work very well without the network coverage youd need for Web applications,” he said, adding that if a user is out of network range, he or she couldnt make a call no matter how “smart” the phone.
Still, Mathias said, “I dont think the iPhone is going to be on an IT-sanctioned list right away.”
Mathias also said he thinks the lack of Exchange or other push mail support will be a negative in the corporate world. “But Im willing to bet that fairly quickly someone will come up with a product to integrate the iPhone,” he said.
Does Apple Even Care?
Though executives and IT managers may be concerned about how the iPhone might be accepted in a corporate environment, the analysts said that corporate acceptance is not, and never has been, Apples intention.
“The iPhone is not being promoted to prosumer users,” Golvin said.
More specifically, it is not designed to compete with the BlackBerry or Palms Treo lines. “Thats not their target segment. Theyre going after well-heeled consumers,” he said.
Similarly, Gold said, “The iPhone is not targeted at enterprise—its very much for the consumer space.”
Still, Gold said, “there will be spillover.” Adoption, he said, will depend on who in the enterprise buys an iPhone, and whether that iPhone user is high up enough to demand that the phone gets tech support.
That is how Golvin sees iPhones cropping up in corporate environments. “Executives will infect the enterprise. Thats how the BlackBerry got started,” he said.