Why has Gartner has declared Apple's infamous mobile gadget ready for corporate use?
It takes more than a big touch screen and slick interface to win over corporate users, but the Gartner analyst group says the iPhone's beauty is no longer just skin deep. A range of new upcoming features have seen Gartner put the iPhone on par with BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60 devices for basic corporate use by road warriors looking to stay in touch with the office.
Released in the US in June 2007, and later in Europe, the iPhone is primarily consumer-focused. It features a large 3.5 inch colour display and combines the features of a mobile phone and video iPod.
Unlike most smartphones, the iPhone is completely touch screen-driven and relies on an on-screen virtual keyboard. Apple is expected to released the iPhone in Australia within the next 12 months, perhaps a second generation 3G model offering faster internet access than the existing 2G iPhones.
Until now Garnter has only recommended organisations offer "concierge level" support status for the iPhone, basically meaning that IT departments should only support the iPhone for high flying corporate executives who can demand their phone of choice. So why has Gartner reevaluated its opinion of the iPhone?
Apple's mobile gadget has embraced the corporate world. Several key features in the iPhone's next firmware update, due mid-year, have led Gartner to upgrade its rating to "appliance-level'' support status - meaning IT departments should support iPhone users wanting basic features such as email and web browsing. It also permits the device to be used for other dedicated functions where the software is supplied by a third party, functionality is kept to a restricted set, the software supplier offers support for a backup platform and IT development resources are not needed to program custom code locally residing on the device.
With the iPhone's next firmware update, Apple has acknowledged Microsoft and Cisco's domination of the corporate space by licensing the Microsoft ActiveSync protocol suite and supporting Cisco's IPSEC virtual private networking (VPN) client software. These new features will let the iPhone synchronise data with corporate Microsoft Exchange email servers as well as create secure links into the office - two features which most businesses would consider essential for staff on the go.
Such changes will create a "more enterprise-friendly" iPhone, says Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney.
"In its initial release, the iPhone was, with few exceptions, an internet tablet with browser-based applications as its main offering, however, the release of firmware 2.0 changes that - enabling enterprises to develop local code and create applications that do not depend on network capabilities," Dulaney says.
"By licensing Exchange ActiveSync and exposing its basic security policies, enterprises can provide sufficient security for iPhone during Exchange personal information manager (PIM) and email use. This will open up a huge market for the iPhone, which previously had been stymied by a lack of basic business security and application functionality."
The new iPhone firmware update also introduces WPA2 wireless networking security, letting users connect to secure corporate WiFi networks when they're in the office.
Expansion of the iPhone into the enterprise could mean that Apple will become a "mainstream supplier of client platform development tools," according to the Gartner report, and that other Apple products could "begin to appeal to end users." In other words, Gartner believes iPhones in corporate-land could replicate the iPod's "halo effect" - driving sales of Apple desktop and notebook computers.
Even so, Gartner is yet to grant the iPhone "platform-level" support status, which would deem it ready for an enterprise-wide deployment.
"Management of the iPhone outside the Exchange e-mail/PIM application will require familiarity with new products such as Apple's iPhone Configuration Utility. And enterprises should thoroughly review the platform's management and security options to understand how they can control any consumer elements of the platform that may pose a risk," Dulaney says.