Notes e-mail may come to the iPhone

Lotus Notes developers are using the iPhone SDK; meanwhile, users have other options

Whether the next generation of the iPhone will eventually support a second enterprise-class e-mail application to Microsoft Exchange -- namely Lotus Notes -- remains a mystery.

IBM spokesman Mike Azzi, in a phone interview yesterday, said IBM Lotus Notes developers will be working on a Notes e-mail application for iPhone 2.0, but he did not elaborate and could not be reached for further comment.

Apple Inc. officials would not comment on Notes for the iPhone either, but they released a statement saying that 100,000 developers had downloaded the beta software developer's kit (SDK) for the iPhone in the first four days since its release. Several developers are named, but there is no mention of Lotus Notes.

Presumably, Lotus Notes developers would build a Notes e-mail application for the next-generation iPhone by using Apple's SDK announced last week and would distribute it over Apple's new AppStore. AppStore allows developers to wirelessly deliver their applications to iPhone and iPod Touch users. Apple plans to allow developers to charge whatever they want and to allow the developers to keep 70% of the revenues, while Apple keeps the other 30% to cover the cost of running AppStore.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs last week set limits on general categories of applications the company will not allow to be distributed via AppStore, such as pornography, but he did not say anything about competing tools to native applications, such as Notes competing with Exchange. Presumably, Apple could have an exclusive agreement with Exchange, but it has not said whether that is the case. Apple uses AT&T Inc.'s EDGE (enhanced data rate for GSM evolution) network exclusively as its cellular carrier on the iPhone, showing there is a precedent for such action.

The iPhone 2.0 software, now in beta, includes Exchange e-mail capability to answer user demand for an enterprise-class e-mail service. It is also bolstered with added security capabilities. Notes, the second largest enterprise e-mail application, was suggested as a possibility for the iPhone in reports that circulated in January.

There are 140 million Lotus Notes and Domino users worldwide, according to IBM. At Lotusphere earlier this year, IBM said it would support the Apple iPhone by introducing Lotus Domino Web Access 8.5 in the second half of 2008 to provide browser-based access to a user's Domino mail and personal information manager data, a spokeswoman noted today. While Domino Web Access is related, it is not the same as Lotus Notes access from an iPhone. The spokeswoman did not have further information on plans for Notes on the iPhone.

Other ways to get Notes on your iPhone

In the meantime, there are ways to get Notes e-mail on an iPhone. MartinScott Consulting LLC's WirelessMail software immediately forwards a copy of e-mail landing in your Notes in-box to Gmail or Yahoo Mail, which the iPhone can download, according to Jamie Magee, a partner at the McLean, Va.-based company.

"This is a true 'push' model like with your BlackBerry," he said. "Our software preserves all of the header information such as sender, distribution list, etc., and doesn't make the e-mail look like a forwarded one."

WirelessMail' software starts at a one-time $59 per user, with an optional 25% annual maintenance and support fee, though volume discounts are available. It is used by more than 10,000 users at about 1,000 organizations, Magee said.

Because WirelessMail is a server-side system that does not run on the handheld device, it could support connectivity to the iPhone at its launch last June, despite Apple's reluctance to open up the platform to independent software vendors or provide an SDK at the time.

Its iPhone customers "are growing very fast, faster than we thought," he said.

WirelessMail uses the popular SMTP protocol to pass messages transparently onto Gmail and Yahoo Mail. It avoids Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), which Magee said is unpopular with most Domino administrators due to complexity and potential security risks.

Magee was open about some of WirelessMail's shortcomings. The software does not sync other Notes data, such as address book, to-do lists or calendars, he said. On the latter, WirelessMail offers some work-arounds that let users effectively get at their appointment information, he said.

Nor does WirelessMail enable iPhone users to have the same e-mail folder structure as on their Notes client. It also can't encrypt and decrypt messages, a feature desired by some IT administrators, though Magee said the company is working on it.

Magee, a former IBM Lotus employee, said he's not worried now. IBM's plans remain "a little confusing, whether they're going to have full functionality or not, or if it's going to cost more," he said.

Another vendor that already offers Notes e-mail access on the iPhone is Visto Corp. The Redwood City, Calif.-based company debuted its Visto Mobile software last November. The software, which can also work with Exchange e-mail, starts at $10 per device per month.

Visto was able to offer iPhone wireless synchronization by using the smart phone's built-in IMAP features. Besides e-mail, it can also access a corporate directory to gather contact information. However, Visto does not offer any remote management features such as the ability to disable lost devices, nor does it wirelessly synchronize calendar, contacts or task data between server and iPhone.

True synchronization of Notes' contacts, calendar and tasks with the iPhone today appears to be a kludgey, wired-only process. For instance, Information Appliance Associates last month released its GoBetween for Lotus Notes software, which augments the existing two-step iSync process on Macs, said Tim Goggin, vice president of sales and marketing at the San Diego-based company.

In other words, new tasks or calendar entries entered into the iPhone must be synced with the Lotus Notes software on the Mac before they can be replicated on the Domino server, and vice versa, Goggin said. He said the company, better known for its PocketMac sync software, has no plans to add e-mail or wireless sync capabilities.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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