Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) claims this latest iPhone, due out July 11, is chock full of features enterprise customers have been asking for. Heading the list is support for Microsoft’s Exchange server and a remote “kill” feature, letting an IT manager wipe an iPhone clean once it’s reported lost or stolen.
In March when Apple unveiled the beta of its iPhone software development kit (SDK), the company emphasized it was adding features that enterprise customers said they valued the most. The aforementioned support for Exchange brings compatibility with corporate email systems (at least those running Exchange, but not others like Lotus Notes) and so-called “push” services for real time access to e-mail and calendar information, standard on devices like’s RIM’s BlackBerry line.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs played up corporate interest in the iPhone at the company’s developer conference earlier this month when he noted some 35 percent of Fortune 500 companies are already participating in the beta SDK program.
But some analysts are skeptical the iPhone will receive much of a warm welcome in the enterprise, at least from IT departments.
“Apple hasn’t been focused on the enterprise for at least 15 years,” said Jack Gold., President and Principal Analyst of J.Gold Associates. “Macs got in by default for the graphics department. Now, I’d venture to say if you asked a hundred executives, a high percentage would say they own iPods or equivalent devices, that they use while traveling. Companies are asking ‘What can we do to extend the usefulness of these devices?’
“One answer has been podcasts, but the problem is, Apple wants to control everything; it all has to go through the iTunes store. Now that model is being extended to the iPhone. If I’m an IT guy worried about security, I’m not sure I want to distribute applications that way,” Gold told InternetNews.com. “Apple hasn’t realized it’s not enough to offer good products, but to support the IT guys.”
Gold also said Apple’s frequent product updates, designed to stoke consumer interest in the latest technology, aren’t consistent with IT department’s expectations. “Large corporations expect that if they buy a thousand of a computer or mobile device, they want them all to be identical over two years,” he said. Companies like HP, for example, will guarantee the drivers and other components stay the same.”
He also noted the iPhone’s lack of encryption features common on other devices favored by IT for security purposes. While the ability to remotely wipe the iPhone’s data clean is worthwhile, the user might not realize the device is stolen or lost for days or longer before finally notifying IT. During that time, a thief might access valuable files and even turn off the iPhone’s radio, mitigating the kill feature.
Apple referred to the Web cast of Steve Job’s presentation at WWDC and material at its Web site about enterprise features coming for the iPhone, but otherwise declined to comment for this article.
Consumer tech as Trojan Horse
Cowen & Company tech analyst Arnie Berman agreed with Gold’s assessment that as Apple wins over more consumers, its products are making more corporate inroads. At a recent conference his company sponsored, Berman noted all four Chief Information Officers in a panel discussion said they owned Macs personally and replaced their BlackBerrys with iPhones.
“Will corporations purchase Macs and iPhones to hand out to employees?” Berman asked in last week’s issue of his Technology Focus newsletter. “We doubt it – as did our panelists. But will corporations support a wide array of employee-owned computers and mobile e-mail devices – including Macs and iPhones? We believe the answer will increasingly be ‘yes’.”
Berman went on to recommend IT departments be proactive in supporting the iPhone. “In the end, supporting alternatives to the BlackBerry is likely to be less distasteful to organizations than accepting the security risk associated with the inevitable workarounds people will employ to use the device they want,” he wrote.
The new 3G iPhone is officially slated for release July 11 along with the Apps Store, Apple’s online store for distribution of programs for the device. Additional security features for the iPhone are expected from such companies as Sybase (NYSE: SY) which has broad experience providing enterprise support for mobile devices.