Not There Yet: The iPhone Has Some Growing to Do

Apple's new 3G model still lags behind BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices for corporate IT apps.

This version of this story appeared in Computerworld's print edition

The iPhone 3G may have a lock on this year's Sexiest Gadget title. But in the pragmatic world of corporate IT, the flashy new handheld is no pinup.

That was the case when Apple Inc. introduced the iPhone 3G two months ago. And it's even more so now that IT managers, independent software vendors and analysts can actually get their hands on the device.

Apple has made improvements over the original iPhone, primarily through its licensing of Microsoft Corp.'s ActiveSync technology. But from a corporate IT standpoint, the 3G hardware and its companion iPhone 2.0 software remain less functional and mature than their BlackBerry and Windows Mobile counterparts.

"It's a great product, but it has a ways to go," said a senior IT official at a large U.S. company. The manager, who asked not to be identified, evaluated the iPhone 3G but decided not to deploy it, citing configuration and security weaknesses as well as shortcomings in tech support and even usability.

For example, basics such as the ability to quickly search e-mail and edit calendar entries are missing, the manager said, adding that IT concerns include the lack of native encryption capabilities and support for saving instant messages.

Manageability and security are two big areas where the iPhone still lags behind its more established rivals.

Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry Enterprise Server software supports centralized management and both AES and Triple DES encryption, and it provides more than 200 predefined policies for enforcing security and other IT settings.

Microsoft is trying to catch up to RIM with its System Center Mobile Device Manager tool, which includes 125 built-in policies for Windows Mobile 6.1 phones. A second-tier offering gives IT managers 45 preset policies as part of the ActiveSync implementation in Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 1.

IPhone 2.0 also uses Exchange ActiveSync, but many of the features supported by Microsoft aren't there, including the ability to natively encrypt data and to block users from downloading third-party software.

Vivek Kundra, the District of Columbia's chief technology officer, has bought 10 of the new iPhones for testing. The 3G could provide "the dream convergence we've waited for" in a handheld, he said.

But without native encryption, the device won't be used in public-safety or other critical applications, Kundra noted. And to avoid problems with the process of loading applications onto iPhones, he plans to store a variety of data on an intranet so users can access it via the device's browser.

App deployment is an issue because of the need to use iTunes and Apple's new App Store to add software to iPhones. IT managers can create lists of users who are allowed to download specific applications from the App Store, but that approach doesn't scale past 100 users.

Apple also plans to let companies set up mini App Stores on their own servers. But it hasn't said when, and that method would still require iTunes and rely on users to synchronize their iPhones with their PCs.

And although 500 third-party applications are now available for the iPhone, that is still far less than the 18,000 and 4,000 apps that can be had for Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices, respectively, at Web storefronts like Handango.com.

Lifetime Products Inc., which makes tables, chairs, sheds and other products, has 390 employees using Windows Mobile smart phones. The pressure to support iPhones is "always there," said CIO John Bowden. But Lifetime runs a Microsoft-based workflow application on its existing phones and is deploying the vendor's Dynamics CRM software for its sales staff.

Once end users understand the benefits they can get from such apps, Bowden said, "the allure of the iPhone fades very quickly."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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