IPhone 3G: Still Not Ready for the Enterprise

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2) Network and Deployment

The iPhone has one advantage over RIM: All messages and updates are routed directly from server to smartphone and vice-versa.

Syncing with a BlackBerry, meanwhile, requires updates to be sent to RIM's Canadian network operations center, outside of a corporate firewall. That NOC has been prone to failure in the past year, frustrating BlackBerry users.

So score one for the iPhone -- and Windows Mobile, for that matter -- versus RIM. However, application and patch deployment is another matter.

Most consumers will add applications to their iPhone via the iTunes client, which connects to the Web-based AppStore controlled by Apple.

That setup is unacceptable to most companies, who generally prefer a larger degree of control over what, which and how applications are added to employee smartphones.

There are two alternatives, one existing now and one slated for the future. The first is enabling the setup of an'ad hoc' restricted list of iPhone users who are allowed to download a given app via AppStore. Ad hoc distribution is available today, though there are many reports of problems. Moreover, it doesn't scale past 100 users, making it suitable only for smaller firms or workgroups.

The other is letting companies essentially run their own mini-version of AppStore on their own servers so they can oversee which apps are served up to the copies of iTunes running on employees' PCs. Employees connecting their iPhones via cable to their desktop or laptop computer then automatically receive applications uploaded to their devices.

There are several problems. For productivity reasons, many companies don't want to allow employees to install iTunes on their work PCs. Moreover, relying on employees to sync their iPhone with their PC is slower and less reliable than directly pushing out apps, updates or patches wirelessly, which both BlackBerry and Windows Mobile allow.

Finally, Apple hasn't said when enterprise deployment will be available. Some observers don't think it will arrive until the middle of next year.

Rob Woodbridge, CEO of Rove Mobile, a maker of systems management software for smartphones, thinks Apple at that time needs to bring out a full-fledged solution along the lines of BES or Microsoft's SCMDM, one that enables IT folk to install more policies and apps wirelessly.

"That's what they need to do if they really want to sell into the enterprise," he said.

3) Technical Support

Big companies are used to getting the white-glove treatment for the big bucks they spend. Is Apple, which has little enterprise presence, up to providing that? What about AT&T?

Not according to the unnamed IT official, who said multiple, escalating levels of support -- widely available for BlackBerry and Windows Mobile users -- didn't appear to be an option today.

"Would we even have an Apple account management team to support us? Probably not," the official said.

Others, such as Ahmed Datoo, vice-president of product marketing for mobile software maker Zenprise Inc., say reports of'bricked' iPhone 3Gs and unavailable MobileMe services earlier this month don't build confidence, either.

As a result, says Xangati's Messina, companies wanting to deploy iPhones on a wide scale need to resign themselves to beefing up their own in-house support.

"The iPhone is going to be a mobile enterprise device in the same vein as a laptop. If there are issues with it, the help desk is going to have to be involved," Messina said.

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