Skip the navigation

iPhones trickle into the enterprise

Consumers may be snatching up iPhones, but many IT executives are holding off, weighing murky issues like support, TCO and even durability.

By David Haskin
June 2, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - It might not be long before you see District of Columbia police officers reaching into their pockets and pulling out iPhones -- in the line of duty. The city is field-testing Apple Inc.'s phone and is considering distributing the devices to as many as 1,000 employees, including police officers.

"We're a big proponent of this technology," says Vivek Kundra, the district's chief technology officer. "One of my mantras is to introduce more consumer technology into the enterprise."

Vivek Kundra, District of Columbia
Vivek Kundra

One reason for Kundra's enthusiasm is that, one year after its ballyhooed introduction, Apple is increasingly pointing its iPhone toward businesses. Apple's iPhone 2.0 firmware, due late this month, will support Microsoft Exchange Server, Cisco's IPsec-based VPN client, WPA2 Wi-Fi security and other enterprise-friendly technologies. (The iPhone 2.0 beta gets hands-on test at major financial firm.

"It's clear they're aiming at the enterprise," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at JupiterResearch LLC and a Computerworld columnist. "You don't build in Exchange support for consumers."

In addition to the new features, Apple released a software development kit (SDK) in April that enables developers to create their own applications for the iPhone, whether they are iPhone-ready versions of existing enterprise apps or entirely new ones. Virtually any application that works on other devices will soon work on the iPhone. Some commercial software vendors, including SAP AG, have also said that they intend to build iPhone versions of some of their key applications.

"This could lead to sales of tens of millions more iPhones for Apple," says Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney. "Even if IT shops don't proactively solicit adoption, users will force them to take a look at it."

Gartner recently endorsed limited adoption of iPhone 2.0 by large organizations because of the device's new capabilities. However, Gartner's recommendation and the enthusiasm of IT executives such as Kundra won't necessarily translate into a groundswell of support for the iPhone in all companies.

"I have nothing against iPhone. It's great," says Manjit Singh, CIO at Chiquita Brands International Inc. "But we're a BlackBerry shop, and I don't think iPhone brings anything new to the table. It has a great user experience, but that's all."

While that type of sentiment is Apple's challenge, the rapidly growing consumer acceptance of the device is its advantage. Consumer adoption may well help accelerate acceptance of iPhone 2.0 in the enterprise, but not without IT managers giving close scrutiny to its capabilities, security, support, price and even durability.

App Complication

Proponents claim that the iPhone's exceptional user experience will encourage mobile employees to make the most of new and existing mobile enterprise apps.

"For any application to be effective, people have to use it," says Vinay Iyer, vice president of marketing for SAP CRM. And since mobile applications are usually designed to increase productivity, the expectation by some, like Iyer, is that the iPhone will encourage mobile workers to embrace mobile applications, which in turn will make them more productive.

"Most vendors, like SAP, are probably in the experimental phase," Iyer says. "We're committed to the device itself, but the question is, what can we build as a native application, how do we support it, and how do we roll it out? Until those are figured out, we can't commit to a product release. Still, we see iPhone as a huge opportunity."

Many commercial software vendors have been mum about iPhone development using the SDK. But some, like NetSuite Inc. and Zimbra Inc., have committed to creating Web-based applications for the iPhone, and it's not a stretch to assume that they and others will jump on the iPhone SDK bandwagon.



Our Commenting Policies
Consumerization of IT: Be in the know
consumer tech

Our new weekly Consumerization of IT newsletter covers a wide range of trends including BYOD, smartphones, tablets, MDM, cloud, social and what it all means for IT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!