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What's Apple's Enterprise iPhone Play?

Enterprise customers may not have long to wait to find out how the iPhone might be a better corporate citizen. An Apple spokesman told InternetNews.com the company has "some very exciting news for enterprise customers" it will reveal at a media event planned for March 6.

Applications that run on the iPhone via its Safari browser have flourished. But a software development kit (SDK), Apple had said it would deliver this month, would give developers more direct access to the architecture and features of the iPhone.

"A lot of executives have told their IT departments they want iPhones so it's crucial for Apple to come out with an SDK that will support that market," Gartner analyst Mike McGuire told InternetNews.com.

For weeks rumors have swirled that Apple may miss the February delivery date of the iPhone SDK. Today the company sent out a media advisory announcing an event March 6 at Apple headquarters. The Apple e-mail said the focus of the event would be the iPhone road map including the SDK, new enterprise features and a "Software Update."

[cob:Related_Articles]The Apple spokesperson declined to provide further details such as whether the February SDK delivery date would be met or would be unveiled at the March 6 event.

Analyst Maribel Lopez said there have been rumors Apple has held off releasing the SDK because it would reveal information about other mobile devices the company has planned that it's not ready to announce.

"When you think about form factors smaller than a tablet but bigger than iPhone, Apple could do some very interesting things there," Lopez, who heads Lopez Research in San Francisco, told InternetNews.com. "The MacBook Air is a classic example. I think of it more as an Internet device because it lacks the ports a full notebook PC has."

Another analyst, Roger Kay, said while Apple continues to be guarded, the fact it's apparently going to detail some of its future plans is a welcome change.

"The term 'roadmap' and Apple don't usually go together; that's something Intel and Microsoft do," said Kay, analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates.

"But now Apple is trying to get enterprise customers who need to plan and know what's coming. They may be considering iPhones, but first they want to know when or if they'll work with (Microsoft) Exchange or if they can use them with their Blackberry servers.

"Right now the iPhone is an unmanaged device," Kay continued, "so anything Apple can do to shed light on its plans would help it with corporate customers."

McGuire agreed. He said it's important for Apple to show it has serious enterprise developers for the iPhone and not just the consumer and Web 2.0 or social media applications that have dominated much of the third-party programs for the device to date.

Apple may also be using the media event in March to explain why it missed the February delivery date – if in fact it does. Kay said if Apple is adding new features that necessitate a delay of a few months that probably won't have a big impact. "A six month delay would be an issue, that'd be pretty bad."

Another iPhone-related announcement users are waiting for is the release of a 3G version of the device which would allow for faster Internet access. Last November, AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson let slip Apple plans to offer a 3G iPhone sometime in 2008. But no more specific timetable has been forthcoming from either Apple or AT&T.