iPhone in the enterprise? Don’t go there

For months, it was a hotly debated rumour. Then it was a widely anticipated future launch. Then, in January 2007 at Macworld Expo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the wraps off the iPhone, now arguably the company’s flagship product.

In a little over two months, Apple sold one million of the smart phones, despite the fact that they were available only in one country, the U.S., and from one carrier, AT&T. With that phenomenal demand, research firm Gartner Inc. says Apple could become one of the Top 5 smart phone suppliers by the end of this year.

Gartner distinguished analyst Ken Dulaney says that from a business perspective, the iPhone is emblematic of the consumerization of IT, and may drive a renewed interest from the enterprise.

But there will be challenges integrating the iPhone with the enterprise. While it’s still unavailable in Canada to date, Rogers Wireless is slated to market them, though on no firm timeline. Companies here can start to look at how – and if – they will accommodate the iPhone and the generations of phones from other companies that will follow Apple’s lead.

For now, Dulaney’s saying: Don’t go there.

“It does not meet minimum security requirements for our client base,” Dulaney says. “Because you don’t have access to the development tools, no one independently can check the security of the device.”

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CIO.com’s Al Sacco provides 10 reasons to keep the iPhone out of the enterprise.

The fact that enterprises can’t install third-party software on it makes it a bad fit, he says. It’s that ability that allows companies to enforce policies on their handhelds like forcing password changes or strong passwords, or wiping the device if it’s lost, Dulaney says. “None of those can be implemented on iPhones because (Apple does) not permit the device to be open at this point,” he says.

“I believe it’ll take them about a year before they put these things into the environment, at which time I would change my recommendation to our client base to permit it in the enterprise, but only to a limited extent. The problem with it for applications is there is no other hardware supplier for the iPhone, and that would violate a basic principle of the enterprise (which says) they have to have backup vendors.”

Michelle Warren, a Toronto-based senior analyst with Info-Tech Research Group, says Apple’s consumer-focused practices aren’t always enterprise friendly.

“IT departments have to be responsive to the business managers and what they want to do,” Warren says. “But when it comes to IT security and corporate security, the IT manager has to reign a little bit there in order to provide a secure environment for the enterprise.”

And Apple’s habit of announcing new products on a few days’ notice won’t play in the enterprise. “They will not tell you anything about what they’re doing,” Dulaney says. “Enterprises can’t be told the day before that they’ve got to do something. They need months to plan application migrations and so forth.

“Apple is probably looking at it this way: Why screw around with the enterprise, which is about five per cent of the volume of cell phones? Those are devices that are purchased for employees for use in the enterprise, or somehow permitted to connect to enterprise systems … I think the fact that we told our clients to stay away for now doesn’t bother them too much.”

Companies including Sybase have announced they’ll be supporting the iPhone on their systems. “We’ve been critical of those announcements, not because the vendors are just doing it to get publicity, but because they cannot implement the security policies they have for all the other devices they support,” Dulaney says.

But Warren says vendors should accommodate iPhone use. “Companies like Cisco are going to have to be responsive to the iPhone,” she says, noting that Cisco VPN gateways support the product. “Sales and marketing executives definitely want to bring it into the enterprise.”

Warren says the iPhone would work better in a smaller enterprise, with fewer layers of IT complexity. And it’s still expensive for across-the-board adoption in a large company.

“The iPhone is still pretty expensive from a pricing standpoint, individual costing, so I’m not sure that we’ll see corporations adopting them,” she says. “Unless it’s a company like an advertising firm or a graphics firm, something where they’re a little bit showy, they’ve got to project a certain image to their clients. An iPhone might work in those situations.”

Warren and Dulaney do agree, though, that if the iPhone supported Microsoft Exchange, that would change the equation.

“The biggest single event that could happen is Apple saying they would support Microsoft Exchange,” Dulaney says.

“That would make a huge difference,” says Warren. “Right now, Exchange users tend to move toward the Windows Mobile devices.” (At press time, neither Apple Canada nor Apple in the U.S. had returned phone calls regarding supporting Exchange.)

Dulaney expects Apple might make an Exchange support announcement by the end of the year. Of course, in Canada, we’re not guaranteed to see the iPhone on the market by the end of the year. (Rogers Wireless refused to discuss this, as it is a corporate policy not to comment on products Rogers doesn’t sell.) Warren says we can expect comparable products, though, on the Windows Mobile and RIM platforms before 2009.

“We’re going to see a lot of touchscreen products throughout 2008,” she says. “We’re going to start to see in Canada data rates starting to decline, which we started to see in November of 2007 with Bell and the HTC Touch product.

“By the end of the year, if the iPhone’s not here, we’re going to see comparable products. Perhaps not the same wow factor, because Apple does seem to own that part of the market. But we will see comparable products coming out, my guess is on the Blackberry OS as well as on Windows Mobile. Definitely Windows Mobile; too many products are hanging around Asia with a touchscreen.”