First look: iPhone OS 3.0 is better for business, but IT won't be satisfied

The hype over the new iPhone 3.0 OS has matched Apple's previous frenzied heights. We've all been guilty of getting excited over a new version that added long-desired capabilities such as copy and paste and content searching, but now that the new OS is real (it became available yesterday), does it live up to our hopes and dreams?

For the most part.

I downloaded the new iPhone OS onto my first-generation iPod Touch, after paying the $10 upgrade fee. The installation was easy. And after about 10 minutes, when the new OS was installed and my iPod Touch was updated, I eagerly took my device out of its dock.

[ See who wins InfoWorld's mobile deathmatch: iPhone versus BlackBerry. | Tom Yager explores: Should you upgrade to iPhone OS 3.0 or get an iPhone 3G S instead? ]

And waited. And waited. It was excruciatingly slow, even for simple tasks such as switching from the home page to the setup app. Everything -- mail, calendar, App Store, iTunes, you name it -- simply lags for sometimes several seconds after you click the Home button or tap an option or swipe the screen. (And, yes, I even powered down to see if "rebooting" would clear the system. It didn't.) I began to think that Apple had taken a page out of Microsoft's book: Make sure a new OS at least neutralizes any faster hardware. (InfoWorld is testing iPhone OS 3.0 on a variety of iPod Touches and iPhones, so I'll update this article as those results come in.)

My anguish was acute, especially because you can't really reverse an OS upgrade on an iPhone. But over the course of a couple of hours, my iPod Touch got faster, getting close to its old speeds. (I strongly suspect the slowdown was caused by the Spotlight search feature indexing all the content on my device.) I don't like the slight lag that still exists, but my fear that I was stuck with a mud machine has faded.

What business users will love
Assuming that such slowdowns are short-lived for everyone else as well, does the iPhone OS 3.0 bring significant advantage to business users? Back in November 2008, I found that the iPhone OS 2.2 didn't really overcome the limitations that frustrated me -- some of which have been fixed in the iPhone OS 3.0.

Let's start with the big one: copy and paste. It's easy. Double-tap on text and the nearest word is highlighted, and a menu with Select and Select All appears. If you choose Select, two drag bars appear, one on either side. Drag either bar to expand the selection. When done, click Cut or Copy in the menu above your selection. (Cut appears only if you can actually edit the content, such as in an e-mail you are writing, as opposed to one you are reading.) Go to any other app with content, and double-click where you want to paste the text or graphic, then click the Paste menu that appears. If you are in read-only text, no Paste menu appears. It works exactly as you would expect.

For graphics and for protected text on the Web, copy and paste work a little differently: Tap and hold on the item you want to copy or cut, and it becomes highlighted (on a Web page, a paragraph or div may be highlighted). Tap Copy from the menu that appears. Some items open additional menus, such as Save Image or, for a hyperlinked item, Open in New Window. The iPhone OS makes the device act more like a computer in these basic content operations.

The other big change is the inclusion of Spotlight, Apple's search technology for on-device content. Its location is nonintuitive -- you swipe to the left of the Home page to open the Spotlight page -- but once you know where it is, it's easy to get to and use. Enter your search term, and all content on your device that contains the search term is listed. Click an item and the appropriate app opens up with the content in question. Easy. And you can also search your mail separately with the new search window when looking at your inbox or any folder in it -- just be sure to scroll up past the top of the window to make it visible. There's also a preference setting to determine exactly what is searched, and what is not. If you use Exchange 2007, Spotlight can search the server's folders as well.

Many people wanted the iPhone OS to support Mail, Messaging, Notes, and Safari in landscape mode, which it now does. And the touch keyboard also works in landscape mode, making its buttons bigger and easier to press. It works perfectly well, but note that the landscape mode screen depth leaves little room for seeing what you are typing, so you may let more mistakes go unnoticed. Or you may make fewer mistakes in the first place.

Mail and calendar capabilities are nicely, but not fully, improved. You can now respond to Exchange invitations from your device -- and invite others -- but only if you use Exchange. The iPhone still cannot open .ics invitations that come from or into non-Exchange e-mail accounts. Sorry, but we don't live in an Exchange-only world, so even if your workplace uses Exchange, many business colleagues will use something else.

You can now sync both Exchange wirelessly and your personal calendars via iTunes, so you don't have to put your personal business on the company's servers to make it accessible to your iPhone, as had been true previously. There's also more control over what calendars you're viewing, so you can mix or separate work and personal business very easily.

Beyond these big-ticket items are a host of small improvements, particularly around Mail. For example, you can now set preferences to load or not load remote images in e-mails, to require or not require confirmation before deleting messages, and determine how far back you sync calendar entries.

There's a bit more customization available as well. You can now set what a double-click of the Home button does: go to Home screen, open a Spotlight search, or open the iTunes (iPod) app.

What business users will find lacking still
Apple's gone a long way to addressing business users' needs in the newest iPhone OS. But big gaps remain.

For example, you can't set out-of-office notifications from the iPhone, despite the tighter integration with Exchange 2007. And you can't synchronize tasks or manage folders. And you can't move calendar entries from one calendar to another once you've saved them.

But what really pains me is that I still can't open zipped file attachments, even though they contain files the iPhone can display, such as Word files and PDFs. I'm not at all a fan of the BlackBerry, but this is one thing it does very well that the iPhone OS has no excuse for not doing.

A year ago, when iPhone OS 2.0 came out, I listed 13 things that Apple still needed to fix. I'm happy to say that iPhone 3.0 fixes about half of them: copy and paste, voice dialing, synchronization of notes, simultaneous support of Exchange and local calendars, support for a plug-in microphone (Skype over Wi-Fi here I come!), and the ability to support additional formats such as PNG and RTF.

But I'm also sorry to say that several key needs from that year-old list of 13 items remain unfulfilled:

    • The ability to save attachments.
    • On-device encryption.
    • The ability to add a physical keyboard.
    • The ability to comment on PDFs files.
    • Native support for GroupWise and Lotus Notes (since neither Novell nor IBM seems to be serious about stepping up, or perhaps because Apple has been getting in their way as part of its Exchange 2007 lovefest with Microsoft).
    • Easier e-mail account switching.
    • Support for .ics calendar invitations.

Why IT still won't be convinced
BlackBerry users and compliance-fearing IT pros love to complain about the iPhone's lack of security features, despite its VPN, WPA-2, and passcode support. If you manage the iPhone through profiles -- something you can install using authenticated enrollment -- you get the controls you'd expect over passcode length, use of letters and not just numerals, unacceptable patterns, and password lifetimes. (You set these up in the Apple iPhone Configuration Utility, then distribute via e-mail, a Web site, or a USB connection.)

Perhaps iPhone OS 3.0's new security capabilities will break down some of the IT resistance, such as the ability to set the iPhone to wipe out its data after 10 failed attempts to enter the passcode. The installed policy profiles can now be encrypted and require an administrative password to be changed or disabled.

Also in the security camp is support for Exchange ActiveSync client certificate-based authentication and Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP). The Exchange ActiveSync policies supported include disabling the camera and initiating a remote wipe. Finally, if you let your users sync via iTunes (iTunes is required only for the initial setup), you can set iTunes to keep all backed-up data encrypted.

But a big IT issue remains: You can't easily manage iPhones through a central console wirelessly, even though you can do some management (profiles and remote wipe) via e-mail, the Web, and/or Exchange 2007. IT pros rightfully complain that Apple essentially forces them to use a local PC as a management workstation and physically connect users' iPhones to it. (So much for managing the iPhone via remote help desks, whether in India or Indiana.)

I also don't see device-based encryption available outside of the configuration profiles, despite it being mentioned in Apple's presentation at WWDC 2009 two weeks ago. But I guess that takes care of -- in a silly way -- IT pros' complaints that Apple had no way to log the encryption so if a device was lost or stolen, they could avoid publicizing the incident per the breach-notification laws in most states.

All in all, the iPhone OS 3.0 is a good step forward for Apple. But the company seems to still be holding back on several key areas, especially those that would remove the "iPhones aren't as compliance-friendly as BlackBerry" argument that keeps many a would-be iPhone user a Blackberry user.

This story, "First look: iPhone OS 3.0 is better for business, but IT won't be satisfied" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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