The iPhone trickles into the enterprise

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It might not be long before you see District of Columbia police officers reaching into their pockets and pulling out iPhones—in the line of duty. The city is field-testing Apple’s phone and is considering distributing the devices to as many as 1,000 employees, including police officers.

“We’re a big proponent of this technology,” says Vivek Kundra, the district’s chief technology officer. “One of my mantras is to introduce more consumer technology into the enterprise.”

One reason for Kundra’s enthusiasm is that, one year after its ballyhooed introduction, Apple is increasingly pointing its iPhone toward businesses. Apple’s iPhone 2.0 firmware, due late this month, will support Microsoft Exchange Server, Cisco’s IPsec-based VPN client, WPA2 Wi-Fi security and other enterprise-friendly technologies. (See The iPhone 2.0 beta gets hands-on test at major financial firm.

“It’s clear they’re aiming at the enterprise,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at JupiterResearch and a Computerworld columnist. “You don’t build in Exchange support for consumers.”

In addition to the new features, Apple released a software development kit (SDK) in April that enables developers to create their own applications for the iPhone, whether they are iPhone-ready versions of existing enterprise apps or entirely new ones. Virtually any application that works on other devices will soon work on the iPhone. Some commercial software vendors, including SAP AG, have also said that they intend to build iPhone versions of some of their key applications.

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“This could lead to sales of tens of millions more iPhones for Apple,” says Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney. “Even if IT shops don’t proactively solicit adoption, users will force them to take a look at it.”

Gartner recently endorsed limited adoption of iPhone 2.0 by large organizations because of the device’s new capabilities. However, Gartner’s recommendation and the enthusiasm of IT executives such as Kundra won’t necessarily translate into a groundswell of support for the iPhone in all companies.

“I have nothing against iPhone. It’s great,” says Manjit Singh, CIO at Chiquita Brands International. “But we’re a BlackBerry shop, and I don’t think iPhone brings anything new to the table. It has a great user experience, but that’s all.”

More on the iPhone’s move into the enterprise

While that type of sentiment is Apple’s challenge, the rapidly growing consumer acceptance of the device is its advantage. Consumer adoption may well help accelerate acceptance of iPhone 2.0 in the enterprise, but not without IT managers giving close scrutiny to its capabilities, security, support, price and even durability.

App complication

Proponents claim that the iPhone’s exceptional user experience will encourage mobile employees to make the most of new and existing mobile enterprise apps.

“For any application to be effective, people have to use it,” says Vinay Iyer, vice president of marketing for SAP CRM. And since mobile applications are usually designed to increase productivity, the expectation by some, like Iyer, is that the iPhone will encourage mobile workers to embrace mobile applications, which in turn will make them more productive.

“Most vendors, like SAP, are probably in the experimental phase,” Iyer says. “We’re committed to the device itself, but the question is, what can we build as a native application, how do we support it, and how do we roll it out? Until those are figured out, we can’t commit to a product release. Still, we see iPhone as a huge opportunity.”

Many commercial software vendors have been mum about iPhone development using the SDK. But some, like NetSuite and Zimbra, have committed to creating Web-based applications for the iPhone, and it’s not a stretch to assume that they and others will jump on the iPhone SDK bandwagon.

Singh, however, isn’t impressed with the argument that the iPhone will lead to higher adoption of enterprise applications among mobile users. “It’s persuasive up to a point, but it isn’t enough for me to start looking at the iPhone,” he says.

Kundra says that ultimately, enterprises will invest in the iPhone only if their specific applications work well on the device.

“It may start in terms of people saying, ‘Hey, this is the latest, greatest technology.’ But that gets old very quickly,” he says. “In the long term, you use the device only if there’s value.”

For instance, one important iPhone application for the District of Columbia will be in-the-field video training, now available via sources such as YouTube. Kundra notes that the iPhone is far more adept at playing that type of media than other smart phones are.

Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, adds that the iPhone’s strong browsing capabilities will encourage enterprises to adopt the device for the same range of Web-based applications now available for laptop-toting road warriors.

“If enterprises decide there’s a real need for a wide-screen Web browsing device that’s used on the go by their employees, it really could be a game-changer,” Greengart says. “With most other business-class phones today, even ones with HTML browsers, Web browsing is only for informational purposes.”

Kundra also expects the device to be used for more meat-and-potatoes applications in the District of Columbia.

“Some applications will relate to public safety,” he says. “Police officers can run criminal records on the iPhone when they’re in the field. Also, a lightweight application would be good for [building] inspectors so they won’t need laptops or [Panasonic] Toughbooks when they’re at construction sites.”

On the other hand, Singh says Chiquita’s primary mobile application—e-mail—won’t benefit from being accessed on the iPhone

“I do see some applications [for the iPhone] for a segment of users,” he says. “You have salespeople on the road all the time who want to do something quick and dirty like add numbers to a spreadsheet. They’d be perfect candidates for iPhone because of its usability. But we don’t have enough of a penetration of mobile devices, and e-mail is still our primary application.”

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