Apple turns its back on mobile standards

The iPhone continues to go its own way when it comes to industry specs for remote management

Many companies may be willing to take a second or perhaps first look at Apple’s mobile wunderkind, the iPhone, now that it has access to a 3G network. A 3G version also extends the reach of the iPhone to more operators and geographies, say the experts.

However, David Ginsburg, a marketing executive at InnoPath wonders aloud whether Apple will have to move to a more standards-based way of doing things to appeal to that larger audience.

Ginsburg points to the specs offered by the OMA (Open Mobile Alliance), which has over 300 members from the mobile industry and which offers standards for remote configuration, push e-mail, and software updates.

"Apple will be addressing a market that may not be iTunes-savvy," chided Ginsburg.

iTunes savviness aside, there is no doubt that the iPhone creates a "buzz reaction" that affects even the largest enterprise vendors. Oracle, for example, announced a slew of dashboard and BI applications exclusively for the iPhone despite the fact that there are many other devices in the market that have a larger customer base.

Gerry Purdy, vice president and chief mobile analyst at Frost & Sullivan, says that for companies like Oracle, it is more than just buzz.

"Yes, you could say it is a buzz reaction, but it may also be a request from its field sales force that says we can get an incremental sales spurt that will increase our quarterly numbers," Purdy said.

Oracle mobile executive Lenley Hensarling, group vice president of Business Application Development, admits that the Apple way is a new distribution model.

"What we believe is that because the administration and access to enterprise content is managed in the usual fashion, the security level and access control remains at an enterprise level," said Hensarling.  

But marketing experts like Ginsburg believe that Apple will need to jump on board more standard-based ways of doing things that will run on multiple devices and networks in order to gain traction in a bigger market.

"I can envision an operator going to Apple and telling them they should deploy the OMA's Mobile Device Management standard. Apple could host the MDM solution on its own devices," said Ginsburg.

Call center executives certainly prefer that their customer service representatives have a standard way of touching devices, says Ginsburg, providing an example of where a standard may be necessary for enterprise adoption.

There is some truth to what Ginsburg recommends, says Purdy, but the fact is the mobile industry hasn’t matured to the point where only devices using standard specifications for IT management are adopted by operators or the enterprise. Witness Google's Android mobile platform as a singular example.

Oracle's Hensarling also sees the future filled with a number of mobile paradigms and platforms. He sees the iPhone as one of those compelling platforms with a powerful SDK and toolkit.

"It allowed us to be proactive, and Apple supports the right open standards [for Web services and SOA]."

What the industry first requires is simply good applications running on each distinct platform.

"Eventually we will move away from that," predicts Purdy, but in the meantime he says the vision of standards is nice, but the situation on the ground is that companies want to sell their products and have users rave about it, so standards get talked about, but companies look for ways to generate revenue.