Competitors downplay iPhone's enterprise appeal

Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted from Network World. Visit Network World’s Web site for more wireless and mobile coverage.

Much of the talk at the CTIA wireless industry convention this week was about a company without a booth here— Apple —though the competition seems to have more grudging respect for the company than concern that its iPhone will erode their enterprise business. Wireless handset makers and mobile application providers at CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment 2007 agree that Apple’s iPhone smartphone does e-mail, Web browsing, media and voice exceptionally well, but they don’t think it will threaten their enterprise customer base.

The iPhone is geared largely toward consumers and has several marks against it that limit its appeal to enterprises. For one thing, its current closed platform won’t accommodate enterprise-specific applications. Also, IT departments can be reluctant to support yet another new kind of technology.

“IT in a large organization is a very tightly managed environment. The iPhone is a cool phone, but I don’t really envision the iPhone as the extension of the IT infrastructure,” said Mort Rosenthal, chairman and CEO of Enterprise Mobile, which manages businesses’ mobile technology (and exclusively supports the Windows Mobile platform from Microsoft). 

If an IT department is asked to support a new platform, it would need to develop expertise it doesn’t have, Rosenthal said. While the Windows Mobile advantage is its interoperability with Windows servers and desktop computers, “an iPhone is kind of an island.”

Still, the iPhone may find a way to seep into enterprises given that many workers use their personal phones for work and tech enthusiasts are clearly drawn to the device.

“Enterprises are always reluctant to support new platforms,” said Faraz Syed, founder of Mobile Complete, which tests mobile applications to run on different handsets, operating systems and networks. “But to the extent that their users already carry these phones and if their business managers can convince the IT teams … it’ll work.”

Apple crashed the CTIA party indirectly by disclosing, on the eve of the convention, that it has sold 1.4 million iPhones through Sept. 29, exceeding its expectations.

In fact, several of the 15,000 attendees at CTIA sported iPhones, including Gil Martinez and Nicole Amodeo, both of The Hyperfactory, a mobile Web advertising company.

“The iPhone is a good thing for mobile advertising,” Amodeo said, because its browser delivers the same image of the Web as seen on desktop or notebook computers, rather than the scaled down version configured for other smartphones. “I actually have the Web on my phone.”

Several of Hyperfactory’s 60 employees have iPhones and can use them to access its corporate network, and Apple provides a secure and stable platform, added Martinez, a vice president. He wishes though, that Apple would open up the iPhone, “so companies can start building applications around it.”

Failing that, about the only impact the iPhone may have on other handset makers is on industrial design, said Bill Hughes, principal wireless technology analyst at In-Stat, citing as an example the new BlackBerry Curve from RIM. 

Rival handset makers tip their hats to Apple’s design.

“They have nailed sexy,” said Rob Katcher, a product manager at Palm.  However, Palm sees its open platform, which supports third-party software applications on its smartphones, as an advantage over iPhone in the enterprise, Katcher said. One application, Epocrates, lets doctors compare how various drugs interact with each other before prescribing them for a patient.

Apple initially stated that it would only allow third-party applications to run on an iPhone through the Safari Web browser. Apple CEO Steve Jobs loosened restrictions further Oct. 17, saying that Apple would release a software development kit sometime in February for writing applications to run on the device, but questions remain about the details.

Other handset makers have already introduced new products in response to the iPhone, though still mostly targeted at consumers. Verizon Wireless unveiled Oct. 3 the LG Voyager, featuring a touchscreen interface similar to the iPhone’s, to run on Verizon’s network. The iPhone is available exclusively on AT&T’s network. And when Christy Wyatt, a Motorola vice president, was asked at CTIA when its iPhone catcher would hit the market, she said, “Watch this space.”

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