iPhone SDK exceeds developer expectations

Apple also bolsters the iPhone's enterprise chops with ActiveSync, remote data wiping and better VPN support

Apple's iPhone SDK offers far more than many developers expected, according to developers that InfoWorld spoke with after the long-awaited SDK unveiled today. "It looks like this is what everybody wanted," said Tony Meadow, principal at Bear River Associates, a mobile application development vendor. "Apple is doing it the right way."

Forrester Research analyst Simon Yates, concurred, saying that the Apple SDK should please three core constituencies: Developers, enterprise IT and consumers.

"This is direct competition for RIM BlackBerry, and it gives Apple access to millions of Exchange and Outlook users, said Yates.

"This is a giant step toward the business market," concurred Rado Kotorov, technical director of strategic product management at business intelligence vendor Information Builders.

[ Get the whole scoop on the iPhone SDK, how to make the iPhone fit in the enterprise, and the latest security issues that the popular smartphone raises in InfoWorld's special report. ]

Developers get a solid database and a familiar API tool set
What pleased Meadow and other developers was a set of functionality that will let them write native iPhone applications through access to the iPhone APIs.

In addition, Meadow thought Apple hit the right note by offering SQL Lite as the built-in database layer. SQL Lite, an open-source database, is widely used by the mobile developer community and runs well on small devices. "It will make it easy to store data," he said.

Cocoa Touch, the built-in set of APIs that re-creates the Cocoa tool set used to handle the user-interface-generated events in Mac OS X is targeted at the iPhone's and iPod Touch's unique touchscreen as well as their gesture-based UI. "It's an elegant way to deal with the interface paradigm," said Meadow.

IT gets better, more secure connections
Also garnering praise from mobile industry watchers is the planned inclusion of Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, the technology required to synchronize mail, calendar, and other data directly with Microsoft Exchange rather than use third-party gateways or synchronization services. Apple licensed the technology from Microsoft and will include it in the iPhone 2.0 software planned for release this June. (All the additional features described here will be released with that software update, Apple said.)

The iPhone also will gain remote wipe and lock and on-device data encryption, two features that caused much IT criticism. Plus, Apple will enhance the VPN capabilities it added to the iPhone in late 2007, adding support for Cisco IPsec and two-factor authentication, certificates, and identities. Information Builders' Kotorov said he was particularly enthusiastic about iPhone's deepened support for VPNs. Apple will also provide a way for IT to enforce security policies on the iPhone, though the mechanism was not described at the Apple press conference.

Users get push messaging and desktop equivalency
The licensing of ActiveSync benefits not just IT but users in Microsoft Exchange-based environments. They not only can access the same calendar, contacts, e-mail, and other data as they can from their desktop, but they also gain push e-mail. In push e-mail, the iPhone gets a new message almost as soon as it is sent -- a feature beloved by users of the BlackBerry, which pioneered the concept. Previously, the iPhone had to poll the server periodically, typically at 15-minute intervals, so unless users manually polled the server, an urgent message might not be seen for some time.

Still, IT won't be completely happy
As welcome as the SDK and enhanced business-oriented features are, people still have more they want Apple to offer.

A common request is availability from more than one carrier. Currently, the iPhone only works on the AT&T network. "Companies don't want a single carrier for voice and data," said Forrester's Yates.

Second, the iPhone isn't supported by management tools like LanDesk and lacks a consistent set of management tools like those from Credant Technologies and LanDesk, which support BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Palm OS devices. This means that IT has to manage the iPhone separately from other devices as well as separately from PCs. "What [Apple] needs to do is natively integrate into management tools that companies already use for their other mobile devices," Yates said.

Perhaps worse, the iPhone requires IT and developers to push applications to users through the Apple iPhone store. Apple says it is doing so in a way that will be IT-friendly, though it did not specify any details: "We're working on a model for enterprises for them to distribute applications to their end-users, specifically with a program for them to target their end-users. We have a model we're building for that," said Phil Schiller, a product marketing exec at Apple.

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