Analysts: iPhone announcements answer corporate complaints

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There can be no doubt that with the release of the iPhone SDK and announcement of new Enterprise iPhone features on Thursday, Apple has thrown down the gauntlet to BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion (RIM). And analysts hailed Apple’s moves as exceeding their expectations and addressing the major needs of the corporate market.

When the iPhone was first introduced, it was targeted squarely at the consumer market. But business users want to use cool gadgets too — and corporate IT staffs generated long lists of reasons why the iPhone wouldn’t work in their businesses.

But with Thursday’s announcement, much of that criticism has evaporated. The iPhone 2.0 software due in June will feature push-based e-mail, calendar info and contact management; additional support for Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) including Cisco IPsec; and two-factor authentication, certificates and identities.

Apple also promises “enterprise-class” Wi-Fi with WPA2/802.1x support and tools to enforce security policies as critical. What’s more, IT managers are also looking to help deploy iPhones, set them up automatically, and, perhaps most importantly, wipe the devices when necessary.

“It’s very exciting,” said Avi Greengart, Research Director for Current Analysis. “Apple has gone beyond the corporate complaints and is targeting the enterprise.”

iPhone 2.0 “contains all the different elements that were lacking in the Phone as an enterprise device,” said Chris Silva, Forrester Research Analyst for Enterprise Mobile Infrastructure.

But while analysts credit Apple for scoring with its announcements on Thursday, they caution that RIM can’t be counted out.

Apple is “certainly aiming at the same space, but RIM has plenty of ammunition of its own,” said Greengart. He pointed out every BlackBerry has a physical keyboard, which will appeal more than the iPhone’s virtual keyboard to some users. In addition, he said, RIM’s longtime focus on the enterprise market and the strength of its brand in that market gives the BlackBerry-maker a big head start.

“If you’re an IT manager and you’re distributing devices, do you want to distribute something that was originally a media device or a device that is for push email?” said Greengart. “RIM’s brand is synonymous with corporate email. That doesn’t take away from Apple’s announcement, but RIM doesn’t think they are dead.”

Though Greengart anticipates a strong fight from RIM, he suggested that Palm is potentially due for a world of hurt after having being at the top of the mobile heap for years.

“This is seriously troubling for Palm,” said Greengart. “They were already under pressure from the iPhone, but that has been amped up tremendously now. Palm’s hope was to take its developer community and move them to a mobile Linux community. Now Apple comes out with a clear and strong SDK message, backed by the iFund — that is a strong competitive challenge to Palm.”

One of Apple’s Thursday announcements was that third-party developers must sell all their products via Apple’s own App Store. But analysts don’t see Apple’s monopoly on iPhone software sales as a roadblock to success.

“There are pros and cons to any distribution scenario,” said Greengart. “We’ll see how they implement that, but they do seem consolatory and open.”

Forrester’s Silva agrees. “My impression is that it’s not necessarily restrictive,” he said. “We’ve seen folks go through a much more difficult process just to jailbreak their phones to load applications on them.”

While there is no way to tell just how successful the iPhone will be in the enterprise market, after Thursday nobody is betting against Apple.

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