Gartner raises iPhone rating based on 2.0 software

Enterprises might need to hire Mac developers, offer Mac training, analyst firm says

Gartner Inc. today upgraded its assessment of the iPhone based on the business-focused improvements in the 2.0 version to be launched in June, and it predicted IT groups will get a flood of requests for iPhone support from users.

With iPhone 2.0, "Apple corrects the basic omissions of the first iPhone release, noted by Gartner early on, and [iPhone] becomes attractive to enterprises," the analyst firm said in a six-page research note.

Still, Gartner analysts urged caution to IT managers who might be forced by hordes of users to support the device. "Be cautious about generic access to back-end systems via VPN and the untested security model of a product that is new to market," the report said.

Principal author Ken Dulaney said the improvements in the upcoming version "will open a huge volume of business users" for Apple Inc. Still, he said, the iPhone won't be ready for broad application development because IT shops have little experience with the iPhone and with the modified version of the OS X operating system that it runs on, Dulaney said in an e-mail.

IT managers' comfort level over iPhone support will depend on Apple's response to security concerns that Gartner analysts and others have raised, as well as what kinds of third-party security products are produced based on the iPhone software development kit (SDK) between now and the June release, Dulaney added.

In the report, Gartner briefly mentioned a range of ways IT shops can prepare for iPhone development and support, including hiring developers familiar with mobile OS X and even acquiring Macintosh computers and training for those developers.

The 2.0 firmware allows an enterprise to develop local code and applications, enabling the iPhone -- "to a limited degree" -- to match up with its main smart phone competitors, such as Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry, and models that use the Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60 operating system, the Gartner report said.

Gartner noted that iPhone 2.0's support for Exchange ActiveSync will affect more than 70% of the enterprise e-mail market, but it added that it expects that IBM in the next six months will offer a Lotus Notes Traveler version that can be used with the iPhone. IBM has not commented on that possibility, however.

The report also noted that while Cisco Systems Inc.'s IPSec VPN capability in 2.0 is a plus, the IPSec VPNs from competitors will connect with only basic interoperability and without value-added features.

One potential danger for large companies is that the proposed AppStore for application distribution to the device and Apple's iTunes music store "will not sit well with enterprises" because of their consumer focus and because both will be difficult for IT to disconnect from the iPhone, Gartner noted. The report said that Apple plans to adapt iTunes and AppStore to business needs, "possibly eliminating them."

Apple could not be reached to comment.

Gartner's upgrade in its iPhone rating is based on its three-tier support-based mobile device rating system. The most time- and resource-consuming level of IT support for a device is called "concierge" support, which is the rating Gartner gave the first iPhone version released last June. The main reasons for that rating were the iPhone's lack of direct support for an enterprise-class e-mail system and an overall lack of security. The level is called "concierge" because IT shops must devote extraordinary attention to users of devices in that category, much as a concierge in a hotel would provide.

Today's report raised the Gartner recommendation to a middle tier called "appliance" support, which means iPhone can be used for e-mail, voice and browsing as well as to run a restricted group third-party applications. An appliance level of support means the iPhone meets requirements now being met by the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60.

Gartner did not give its top support rating, called "platform," to the iPhone because of several factors. Gartner's reasons included the fact that Apple has provided no alternative supplier for its hardware, making developers totally dependent on Apple, unlike the Windows Mobile platform. In addition, standard management tools used on other devices cannot be used on the iPhone and the device's security for enterprise applications is "untested."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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