ISVs seek to prove corporate iPhone doubters wrong

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Despite recent criticism from analysts that the iPhone is unsuitable for enterprise use, several third-party software companies are stepping up to plate in hopes to bring the handheld to corporations.

LiveTime Software, a provider of Web 2.0 service management and support software, has optimized its application specifically for the iPhone. CEO Darren Williams said that the iPhone’s landscape mode feature allows its customers to get a rich experience, that they wouldn’t find on the smaller screens featured in PDAs such as BlackBerry or Treo.

He said that the aesthetic advantages of the phone coupled with the ease of porting its application to the device, makes the iPhone a force to be reckoned with in the enterprise space.

“Despite what the analysts may think, our customers love the idea and we’ve had so many requests already, which is really why we’ve actually done this,” Williams said. “It’s a serious business tool and I’ve used it on the road every since I got it. We’ve even deployed a few in the company already and everybody’s just swearing by it, with a couple of people already throwing away their BlackBerrys.”

NetSuite, a business management solution provider, is also bringing its ERP and CRM software to the Apple device. SuitePhone will provide NetSuite capability to customers for use on the iPhone’s Safari browser.

“What makes the iPhone more interesting to us, as opposed to the other wireless devices, is that they usually have to be specially coded and are very limited in scope,” Malin Huffman, senior product manager at NetSuite, said. “With the iPhone and NetSuite, you get a full view of your business. You can look at your entire dashboard, entire reports, enter and order on the fly or charge somebody’s credit card; so it’s something that could be a real differentiator for prospects coming into NetSuite who have a lot of folks on the road a lot and out of the office.”

Another product, to be released by Visto later this year, will allow corporate iPhone users to experience secure mobile access to Microsoft Exchange.

The security concerns surrounding Exchange functionality has been one of the primary concerns of analysts that have cautioned against iPhone’s use in the enterprise sector.

Last month, a Gartner report on the iPhone warned IT departments should be wary of allowing employees to use the device because it does not contain the necessary functionality to comply with basic corporate security. Gartner also cited the lack of support from major business mobile e-mail solution providers, feature deficiencies such as the non-removable battery, the device’s high cost, as well as the company’s unproven record in the enterprise-class mobile device market, as negative factors for enterprises.

Rob Enderle, principle analyst at The Enderle Group, agreed with Gartner, saying that the lack of native support for e-mail systems as well as some security concerns, make it difficult to recommend for IT managers at this stage.

“It was primarily designed and positioned as an entertainment product, so the enterprise stuff just wasn’t built into it yet,” Enderle said.

“So it doesn’t have the connectivity stuff or the security stuff, but all of that will undoubtedly flow into the product over the next 12 months, because we know that typically a smart phone plan is not paid for by individuals but rather by the large companies.”

Shiv Bakhshi, director of mobility research at IDC, said that he cannot recommend the iPhone to enterprises for similar reasons, however, he feels the device’s future rests with Apple’s long-term strategies, as opposed to third-party software.

“It depends on Apple wants to do with it, because up to this point we haven’t seen any indication that it wants to position it as a business device,” Bakhshi said.

“And why should this be a surprise? God has not ordained that everybody should play in every market, right? The trouble is that everybody wants to look at this and say what it is not, rather than say what it is.”

Enderle said that one of the primary reasons that there is even a discussion about the iPhone in the enterprise is because people don’t want to carry two separate phones with them; one for work and one for home.

“They had to focus on one place to get the product to the market,” Enderle said. “If they tried to make it both a business product and a consumer product, hell, we may never have seen it because the changing requirements in both those markets would have kept this thing in development a lot longer.”

As to whether or not the iPhone, if focused on the enterprise space by Apple, will ever challenge RIM’s dominance of the sector, the two analysts disagreed.

“RIM has built an end-to-end solution that is secure, working and tested, so they have got to worry about,” Bakhshi said.

But Enderle, who has often been critical of Apple in the past, said the iPhone’s dominance in the enterprise IT space is imminent.

“Once they get this product cooked and we get to the third generation iPhone, which is due this time next year, RIM should be seriously concerned,” Enderle said.

“Palm bled a lot during the iPhone launch weekend, some of the other smart phone guys, including Motorola, are probably going to be hit even sooner. And while RIM has done a much better job at pushing design and focusing on its customer base, they’ve got about a year to get it right and really move the bar and step up to compete with Apple and its marketing engine.”

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