Yes, Virginia, the iPhone is ready for the enterprise.
Just barely, that is, as there’s still room for improvement on everything from application support to security to calendar access. Yet Apple’s latest handset is now viewed as a legitimate enterprise mobile device, according to a new Gartner report.
“It’s acceptable for enterprise use if the security it provides is the same as other handsets in play,” Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner (NYSE: IT), told InternetNews.com. “You’re only as secure as the lowest denominator,” the analyst added.
The iPhone features a complex password system for Microsoft Exchange users and a “wipe” feature that clears the phone’s contents when a password is violated. Neither security aspect was provided on the initial firmware, according to Gartner.
The research assessment comes as iPhone users are increasingly pushing the device through back doors to use as a workplace smartphone, since IT teams have been reluctant to formally adopt the popular handset due to what has been viewed as weak security mechanisms.
Apple’s second handset, which debuted in July, supports a small set of enterprise applications such as voice mail, personal information manager, Web browsing and e-mail.
“There’s much more granularity with these apps, as the e-mail is richer and it now permits background processing,” said Dulaney, noting users now have some options when it comes to deleting e-mail, for example. Messages can be removed locally or remotely, and the background processing allows for greater customized security settings.
“The iPhone reacts the same as a Windows Mobile device, forcing the use of a complex password and clearing the device contents when the password policy is violated,” states the report.
Still, some big enterprise-level functionality gaps remain when compared with Research In Motion’s BlackBerry, the enterprise smartphone leader.
It may not be sexy, but battery life is much more critical in a work environment than in consumer use. While the iPhone 3G has a better battery life, it’s still weak, according to Gartner.
The ability to edit mail attachments, which is typically an enterprise requirement, is nonexistent. While the iPhone renders common formats with ease, the files must be downloaded before they are read. In comparison a BlackBerry lets users get a quick view before download activity. The calendar functionality is also a bit quirky as Gartner reported many all-day appointments can go missing or displayed wrong.
While e-mail deletion options have been expanded, it’s nowhere near the options a BlackBerry provides, as users can delete by date, for example. Gartner also said the iPhone’s bandwidth is lacking when it comes to using e-mail over a network, and there is still no cut and paste functionality — another useful feature in e-mail communications.
But then again, Dulaney said, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) isn’t looking to push the BlackBerry out of the enterprise just as RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) isn’t looking to become the de facto consumer handset device.
“Neither wants to go there, as it’s too much work and not enough payoff,” he explained. “Apple will make its millions in the consumer space, while RIM will make its money in the enterprise,” Dulaney said.
Gartner recommends enterprises assess the iPhone’s trade-offs in hardware design and device functionality, and security and management requirements before adopting it as an enterprise device.
“The firmware now meets criteria, but there is still a big difference between the BlackBerry and the iPhone,” said Dulaney, describing the two handsets as “apples and blackberries.”