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Opinion: IT wishes for Apple’s iPhone event

With Apple’s planned iPhone SDK and enterprise announcements less than 24 hours away, it’s time to focus on potential IT developments coming out of Thursday’s press briefing. While there’s been plenty of focus on the promised Software Development Kit likely to get unveiled, few have really focused on the second-half of Apple’s planned agenda, the part that promises to delve into “some exciting new enterprise features.”

Take Macworld’s wish-list for iPhone apps—it’s a fine list, but it lacks a certain… je ne sais quoi that IT administrators find irresistible. So I thought I’d add my own two cents worth on what I, as an IT administrator would like to see coming out of Cupertino Thursday and who I think will provide it. No, I don’t think I’ll get all of them. But I’ll take batting .500 with a smile.

1. Full APIs for Mail, Calendaring, and Notes on the iPhone

While everyone has been up in arms about Exchange clients, et al., I don’t necessarily think separate clients are the answer. Instead, what I’d like to see are APIs for the components that make up what we think of as “groupware”. So rather than creating a separate groupware client, a developer can take the existing functionality, and extend it so that, for example, Mail can have a new account type for Exchange, Notes, Groupwise, whatever. I’d like to see the same for Calendar and Notes. I deal with various groupware implementations that have their own applications, and honestly, it’s a pain, because then I have to bounce back and forth between the groupware client and my other email accounts. Having the access to extend the use of the existing application set would end up being a more useful solution.

Who will provide this: Apple

2. Remote Calendar/Note access

I want to see the iPhone have the ability to access remote calendar servers, such as, oh, iCal server, and maybe even sync up notes with some other remote server that supports such things. This may seem to be a duplicate of No. 1, but it’s not. Full API access for the iPhone calendar will be a little useless if you can’t easily couple it to an external server. If the only support Apple provides is for CalDAV servers, that’s fine. CalDAV is an open standard, it should be relatively easy to write server-level plugins that translate between CalDAV and Exchange/Notes/Groupwise/etc. This option would allow you to add iPhones into your existing infrastructure without having to write any client code at all. APIs for this feature would be even better, allowing on-device connectors for non-Apple groupware servers.

Who will provide this: Apple

3. Better device-level security

Right now, the only thing between a stranger and your iPhone is the rather limited security provided by an all-numerical PIN. Big Enterprise needs aside, that’s not great. Even in the SMB market, there’s a growing awareness of the need for things like full-disk encryption and two-factor authentication. I would love to see Apple take the lead here, and provide not only support for full-device data encryption, but also support for two-factor authentication. I don’t expect Apple to do 100 percent of this work, but writing the code for the device encryption and providing APIs for external authentication would be a good thing. Obviously, along with this, I’d like to see support for Kerberos, since it’s a critical part of Apple’s desktop security implementation.

Who will provide this: Apple and third parties

4. Remote device wipe

In this case, I’m talking about the specific ability for an administrator to remotely wipe an iPhone or iPhones. This is one of the major features of products like Goodlink, and Microsoft’s own Exchange ActiveSync Over The Air, (OTA) synchronization for mobile devices. In cases where a business falls under regulations like SOX, HIPAA, GLBA and others, this ability is pretty much a hard requirement. If there’s no remote wipe on a device, then that device cannot be used by a business.

Who will provide this: Apple

5. Wireless/Bluetooth synching

I’m surprised this hasn’t happened yet. The fact that I have to use USB to sync my iPhone to my Mac is not just annoying, it’s silly. NI can do this with a Palm hanheld or a Windows Mobile device, but not an iPhone?

Who will provide this: Apple

6. Remote administration/provisioning

I want Apple to provide at least Apple Remote Desktop integration for the iPhones, but I also want some API love here so that third parties can create their own hooks for things like Casper, LANRev, LANDesk, and so on. A limited SNMP implementation would be handy too, even if it was just for sending traps in case something went wrong. The provisioning portion is not so much for the cell phone aspects, but for setting up things like e-mail, calendaring, and browsers. It would also allow for things like locking out the ability to install custom or “unapproved” applications on company-issued devices. Allowing the iPhone to “plug in” to Open Directory would be a big help here.

Who will provide this: Apple and third parties

7. A “LoJack” feature

So someone steals an iPhone or an iPod Touch, but the person who owned it is from a company too small to invest in remote administrator software. Being able to report that loss to Apple, or a third party, and using cell tower info to locate that device would offer peace of mind. Heck, it would be kind of handy even with remote wipe. Just because the data’s gone doesn’t mean you don’t want to inform the thief that such behavior is not approved of. An API here would be handy for users who have a need to not tell the outside world that they lost their phone.

Who will provide this: Apple and third parties

8. True GPS features and APIs

Yes, I know this means a new iPhone model. I can live with that. I work for a company with a lot of traveling sales people. Things like GPS are not frivolous toys when you support someone who’s always traveling. (I really doubt this will happen tomorrow, but it’s worth a shot.)

Who will provide this: Apple

9. Phone APIs

I’m not talking about VoIP here, but more like support for call logging, for dialing your phone by clicking on a phone number in a desktop application or from an AppleScript, sending SMS messages on the iPhone from a desktop application, and so forth.

Who will provide this: Apple

10. Tethering

I want to be able to use my iPhone as a modem for when I need to get my MacBook on the Internet and the Wi-Fi options stink.

Who will provide this: Apple

There, a nice list hat covers the needs and wants of most IT administrators. Wonder how right I’ll be?

[John C. Welch is a Unix/Open Systems Administrator for Kansas City Life Insurance and a long-time Mac IT pundit.]

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