Lotus Notes users get limited access over iPhone

Continuing questions about security on Apple’s iPhone has made IBM cautious about the way it will let users of the popular handset connect to their Lotus Notes-based applications.

The company has released what it calls an ultralight version of its iNotes Web client that iPhone users can use to view their Notes e-mail, calendar and contacts. However, it will be limited access.

They will not be able to mark up e-mail, create calendars or check other Notes’ users availability for meetings through Lotus Sametime, as owners of Windows Mobile-based smartphones can with recently-introduced Notes Traveler client. IBM has decided not to port Traveler to iPhone yet, so will limit Lotus Notes users to using the iPhone’s Safari browser.

When a person using an iPhone browser attempts to log into Notes, a Lotus Domino server using version 8.0.2 of the software – released in August – detects the source and automatically delivers the iNotes ultralight client to the handset.

The reason, explained Shawne Robinson, mobile and wireless product manager for Lotus software, is that there are still concerns about the security of data being downloaded to an iPhone. By using the browser, data isn’t downloaded.

Putting Notes Traveler on an iPhone was “frankly, unable to meet our (security) standards,” Robinson said in an interview. “In order not to come forward with a sub-standard solution, we felt it appropriate to begin with browser access first.”

iPhone users who insist on downloading data can use Lotus’ virtual private network solution called Lotus Mobile Connect, which offers an encrypted connection to Notes. However, it is an extra cost application that doesn’t come with Domino.

While Notes users will be denied a number of features from their iPhone, Robinson emphasized that they will get an iPhone-like interface to Notes, with touch-icons to their inbox, contacts and calendar.

Mark Tauschek, an industry analyst with Info-Tech Research of London, Ont., says IBM’s concern is likely that data can’t be encrypted on an iPhone. “It’s the one thing (Apple) will have do to next” if it wants to ensure absolute security on the handset, he said. He’s hasn’t heard, though, that Apple wants to add it. A call to Apple for comment was not returned by press time.

Still, Tauschek said, Apple improved security significantly over the summer when it released version 2.0 of the handset’s software. That included giving managers of Microsoft Exchange e-mail server the ability to force all handset users attempting to access their Outlook mail to use a PIN number through ActiveSync. In the iPhone’s case, failure to use a PIN means the phone remains locked.

In another security improvement, should an iPhone be stolen the user can command a remote wipe of the phone’s data.

Before these and other changes in version 2.0, Info-Tech made it clear that the iPhone was not recommended for enterprise use, Tauschek said. Now, the firm says it can be used by businesses.

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