RealTime IT News

Apple's iPhone Headed For Enterprise

CUPERTINO, Calif. -- Apple mapped out ambitious plans for the iPhone at an event here focused on the company's enterprise plans and support for independent developers via a software development kit (SDK).

Heading the list of enterprise-friendly features is support for Microsoft's Exchange server. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) announced it is working with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to build support for Exchange directly into the iPhone to satisfy the needs of business users, who want to be able to receive their corporate e-mail, contacts and calendar information from company servers, and IT departments who want to be able to manage it.

Apple said it will be supporting Microsoft's ActiveSync protocol so the iPhone will work directly with corporate Exchange servers rather than what it said is the more complicated extra layer of communicating with a remote network operation centers (NOC)s , which devices like RIM's BlackBerry rely upon. "That's a more complex scenario that takes money and support and adds risk and reliability from time to time as we know," said Apple's vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, in an apparent reference to a recent RIM outage that lasted three hours.

Gartner analyst Van Baker said the support for ActiveSync and Exchange, the SDK and tools Apple is planning to make available to IT managers to help them better manage iPhones on the network, sets up Apple for more corporate sales. "And let's face it, the code base coming from the Mac is pretty impressive. It's a robust developer platform," Baker told InternetNews.com.

"I don't think anyone has fundamentally redefined the UI on mobile devices more than Apple," he added. "A lot of the other phone manufacturers know how to tie features to buttons, but Apple's redefined development from hardware to software. That's disruptive."

Jobs ceded most of the speaking time here at the company's headquarters to other Apple executives and independent software developers, including Salesforce.com, which showed versions of their applications tailored to run on the iPhone.

"If they know how to use an iPhone, they'll know how to use Salesforce," said Chuck Dietrich, vice president of Salesforce.com's (NYSE:CRM) mobile division. "We're bringing over 63,000 platform applications to the iPhone."

The handful of developers doing brief demos each said they only had two weeks to work with the SDK and were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to use. Electronics Arts and Sega showed off some eye-catching games that took advantage of the iPhone's built-in accelerometer which lets you navigate by simply moving the iPhone up, down, left and right, rather than having to rely on a joystick or controller.

An enterprise-ready iPhone?

Schiller said that, while the iPhone is "an amazing device," there have been a lot of things "holding it back from being huge in the enterprise." He then ticked off a series of features that enterprise companies felt would make the iPhone more appealing to big companies. Apple plans to deliver all of these features in the software update due out in June.

Heading the list is "great e-mail integration" with push e-mail from servers. Similarly, he said enterprise customers want calendar and contact information pushed out to their devices, a standard feature of RIM's BlackBerry devices. IT departments will also be able to use Exchange Server to remotely wipe the iPhone clean or inoperable should it be lost or stolen. Rounding out the list, the iPhone will provide access to global address lists, built in support for Cisco's IPSec (network security), VPN and certificates.

The finished iPhone SDK isn't out yet. Today, Apple released a beta version of the iPhone SDK, with the full version and commercial availability of applications built using these new tools, slated for June. A new Apple App Store will be launched online this June as the exclusive way for developers to distribute applications built using the SDK. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the App Store would insure Apple has a measure of quality control and security over what applications get distributed. He claimed the goal isn't to make money for Apple but to sell more iPhones.

"This is the best deal going for distributing mobile applications," said Jobs.

The deal is that developers get to keep 70 percent of whatever they want to charge for their applications, while Apple keeps the remaining 30 percent for hosting, marketing and distribution. The developer doesn't have to pay for credit card or other transaction fees. If they want to offer applications for free, there's no charge. Jobs said this is the best way even the largest developer could hope to reach every iPhone user. New applications and categories will be featured much as music titles are on Apple's iTunes store.

Jobs said Apple will only restrict distribution of certain applications like pornography and any "malicious" programs that spread viruses or malware. A few other categories he didn't mention but that were shown on the screen were "bandwidth hogs" and "Unforeseen." Jobs also said Apple will be able to track anyone that distributes malicious software allowing the company to "turn off the spigot" and distribution. "We can track who did it and tell their parents," joked Jobs.

He also said Apple had other security controls in mind that it doesn't want to detail for now.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the announcement by venture capitalist John Doerr that his company (Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers) was launching a $100 million fund for iPhone developers to create new products for the device. In keeping with Apple's nomenclature, the fund is called the iFund.

"A $100 million is some serious change," said Baker.

As for reaching more corporate clients, Schiller said Apple continues to rely on distribution partner AT&T. "AT&T is already doing a lot of corporate sales for us today," Schiller told InternetNews.com.