5 ways the iPhone 3G still lags in enterprise

Despite Apple's improvements, its iPhone 2.0 software remain less competent and less tested than its BlackBerry and Windows Mobile counterparts

The iPhone 3G may have a lock on the Sexiest Gadget Alive title for 2008, but in the frumpy and boring world of things that matter to enterprise IT managers, it's no pinup.

Despite Apple's improvements upon the previous iPhone, primarily through its licensing of Microsoft's ActiveSync technology, the 3G and its iPhone 2.0 software remain less competent and less tested than its BlackBerry and Windows Mobile counterparts.

[ For more on bringing the iPhone into the office, read "How to make the new iPhone work at work." ]

"From an IT support standpoint, you want a hardened device, something you can fire and forget," said Todd Christy, president and CTO of Pyxis Mobile, a smartphone application maker. "I think the iPhone is cool, but it isn't there from an enterprise standpoint."

"It's a great product but has a ways to go," said a senior IT official at a large U.S. business who, after evaluating the iPhone 3G, chose not to deploy it, citing weaknesses in configuring, securing and supporting the iPhone up to enterprise standards.

"A year after Apple comes out with a consumer device, these kinds of enterprise things are not going to happen magically," said the official, who declined to be identified.

So on exactly what tracks does the iPhone still lag?

1) Manageability and security

When it comes to employees' smartphones, IT managers may seem like the worst kind of control freak. And for good reason -- nothing is as easily lost or stolen as a smartphone, along with its corporate data.

RIM's ability to ease IT managers' worries has been key to the BlackBerry's success. It introduced device management software, BlackBerry Enterprise Server, at the same time it launched the device itself back in 1999. Today BES, as it is affectionately called, lets IT managers enforce more than 200 security and other IT policies, as well as create their own.

Microsoft is attempting to challenge BES' dominance. Earlier this year, it released System Center Mobile Device Manager. SCMDM, as it is often abbreviated, gives IT managers 125 built-in policies for managing Windows Mobile 6.1 phones, as well as the ability to create their own.

SCMDM's biggest strength may be its integration with the popular Active Directory technology, which lets IT managers reuse their carefully tweaked set of employee privileges and access rights with little extra work.

Jonas Gyllensvaan, CEO of mobile management software vendor Conceivium Inc., expects SCMDM to "make big inroads by the end of the year."

For IT managers not on SCMDM, their experience remains firmly in the second tier, with 45 policies available to them via Microsoft Exchange 2007 SP1's ActiveSync. Policies include numerous ways to manage passwords, control whether phones and storage cards must be encrypted, and turn on or off the phone's camera, consumer e-mail account, or text messaging.

"That's still very robust, and a lot more than what the average IT person in the mid-market or enterprise needs," said Scott Gode, vice-president of marketing and product management for Azaleos, a provider of outsourced Exchange server management.

The iPhone 3G uses the same ActiveSync technology in Exchange 2007 SP1, but experts place the iPhone in a third tier. "The Windows Mobile implementation of ActiveSync is, from an IT admin point of view, far superior," said Ahmed Datoo, vice-president of product marketing for mobile software maker Zenprise Inc.

Why? Because many ActiveSync features are missing. Those features include the ability to limit users from downloading some or all third-party software, the ability to turn off expensive international data roaming, and the ability to natively encrypt data on the iPhone or its storage card.

The lack of native encryption is the iPhone's "one failing," said Glenn Edens, an independent mobile consultant, who is otherwise bullish on the iPhone 3G. "Remote wipe helps but is not good enough."

Without encryption, the District of Columbia, which is testing the iPhone 3G now, would only deploy the iPhone 3G by keeping key applications and data off the device, said Vivek Kundra, CTO of the governmental body.

At least one ISV, SplashData, has already come up with a third-party encryption app. But as David Gewirtz, an e-mail security expert, put it, "everybody prefers stuff from the manufacturer."

The dearth of built-in management features is in contrast with the iPhone's many built-in consumer features, such as its 2-megapixel camera, its music and video player and fast Web browser. These all create more potential security and compliance problems and ways for the device to be misused.

For instance, employees goofing off by downloading TV programs from iTunes can "interfere with other users trying to run critical applications across the same wireless LAN network," said David Messina, vice-president of marketing for network management software maker, Xangati Inc. "Think about environments like hospitals, where WLANs are critical to patient care."

For sure, Apple won't stand still. But for now, its enterprise manageability is "enough for it to gain a beachhead, but not enough long-term for Apple to get the market share it wants," Gode said.

2) Network and deployment

The iPhone has one advantage over RIM: All messages and updates are routed directly from server to smartphone and vice-versa.

Syncing with a BlackBerry, meanwhile, requires updates to be sent to RIM's Canadian network operations center, outside of a corporate firewall. That NOC has been prone to failure in the past year, frustrating BlackBerry users.

So score one for the iPhone -- and Windows Mobile, for that matter -- versus RIM. However, application and patch deployment is another matter.

Most consumers will add applications to their iPhone via the iTunes client, which connects to the Web-based AppStore controlled by Apple.

That setup is unacceptable to most companies, who generally prefer a larger degree of control over what, which and how applications are added to employee smartphones.

There are two alternatives , one existing now and one slated for the future. The first is enabling the setup of an'ad hoc' restricted list of iPhone users who are allowed to download a given app via AppStore. Ad hoc distribution is available today, though there are many reports of problems. Moreover, it doesn't scale past 100 users, making it suitable only for smaller firms or workgroups.

The other is letting companies essentially run their own mini-version of AppStore on their own servers so they can oversee which apps are served up to the copies of iTunes running on employees' PCs. Employees connecting their iPhones via cable to their desktop or laptop computer then automatically receive applications uploaded to their devices.

There are several problems. For productivity reasons, many companies don't want to allow employees to install iTunes on their work PCs. Moreover, relying on employees to sync their iPhone with their PC is slower and less reliable than directly pushing out apps, updates or patches wirelessly, which both BlackBerry and Windows Mobile allow.

Finally, Apple hasn't said when enterprise deployment will be available. Some observers don't think it will arrive until the middle of next year.

Rob Woodbridge, CEO of Rove Mobile, a maker of systems management software for smartphones, thinks Apple at that time needs to bring out a full-fledged solution along the lines of BES or Microsoft's SCMDM, one that enables IT folk to install more policies and apps wirelessly.

"That's what they need to do if they really want to sell into the enterprise," he said.

3) Technical support

Big companies are used to getting the white-glove treatment for the big bucks they spend. Is Apple, which has little enterprise presence, up to providing that? What about AT&T?

Not according to the unnamed IT official, who said multiple, escalating levels of support -- widely available for BlackBerry and Windows Mobile users -- didn't appear to be an option today.

"Would we even have an Apple account management team to support us? Probably not," the official said.

Others, such as Ahmed Datoo, vice-president of product marketing for mobile software maker Zenprise, say reports of'bricked' iPhone 3Gs and unavailable MobileMe services earlier this month don't build confidence, either.

As a result, says Xangati's Messina, companies wanting to deploy iPhones on a wide scale need to resign themselves to beefing up their own in-house support.

"The iPhone is going to be a mobile enterprise device in the same vein as a laptop. If there are issues with it, the help desk is going to have to be involved," Messina said.

4) Application ecosystem

Having 500 applications available at the iPhone 3G's launch was impressive. And no doubt that number will grow, fast. But the fact remains that there more than 18,000 applications available for Windows Mobile at public Web storefronts such as Handango.com.

And while the BlackBerry platform remains difficult for developers, there are still nearly 4,000 BlackBerry apps at Handango.com, along with thousands more custom business apps.

Of course, many business apps have already been ported over to the Web. For these, no porting is needed -- iPhone users can simply fire up Safari. But many applications still run better as clients. And some of those ISVs, such as Rove Mobile, say they are in no hurry to port their products over to the iPhone.

5) Cost and carrier choice

The iPhone 3G may only cost $199, but its true cost over the life of a typical two-year contract with AT&T is at least $2,000 (including voice plan, unlimited data plan and $5/month for 200 text messages). Pricey for a consumer toy, but comparable to a BlackBerry or Windows Mobile smartphone.

Rather, the true cost for an enterprise switching to the iPhone comes from the substantial investments in money, time and personnel those firms have already made in BlackBerry devices, multi-year contracts, BES servers, and the like.

And there is the matter of Apple's preference to sign a single carrier in each market for the iPhone, in contrast to the multi-carrier availability of BlackBerries and Windows Mobile phones. The District of Columbia's Kundra says the biggest hurdle to deploying the iPhone widely is AT&T's spotty geographical coverage.

Their surveys said...

Only 1 out of 25 senior wireless executives queried by Immobile.org for a poll earlier this month expect both corporate IT admins and employees to embrace the iPhone. Three out of four expect the iPhone to make few inroads and for Research In Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry, to maintain or strengthen its lead.

Another survey, by investment bank Goldman Sachs, found that 17 percent of 100 Fortune 1000 CIOs polled plan to buy an iPhone, though the Wall Street Journal, which reported the survey, opined that the figure "strikes us as pretty high." The survey also did not ask those CIOs how many iPhones they plan to buy -- a key point.

"I think companies will start to put the iPhone on their approved list, but I don't see many making it their standard-issue device," said Gyllensvaan.

The lust created by the iPhone 3G could even help end up helping its competitors. Rove's Woodbridge thinks that IT managers may try to steer employees demanding an iPhone 3G to sexed-up BlackBerries such as the upcoming Bold and Thunder models, or to touchscreen-based Windows Mobile phones such as the HTC Touch Diamond.

Computerworld is an InfoWorld affiliate.

This story, "5 ways the iPhone 3G still lags in enterprise" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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