Apple is readying significant enhancements to the software in its iPhone handset for later this year. The company takes cues from both the business and consumer worlds, finally letting third-party developers in on the action to bring games, utilities, and other apps to the phone.
These impending changes promise to radically transform the daily experience for iPhone users. Based on what we've seen of Apple's Microsoft Exchange integration and our first-hand look at the new development kit, here's what you can expect to see when the upgrade becomes available in June.
Down to Business
Within a few minutes after the initial wave of iPhone hysteria ran its course, business users began debating whether the iPhone was really ready to take on the corporate enterprise. The general consensus: it wasn't, owing to incomplete networking and security tools, and an inability to support the nearly ubiquitous Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol that keeps handsets connected to the central server. But the phone's widespread appeal kept interest alive in the business world, and Apple has responded by building Exchange ActiveSync directly into the phone, and revamping the iPhone's native e-mail and calendar apps. In addition, the company has added Cisco IPsec VPN support.
What does all this mean to you? If you're an IT professional, it could mean a lot. (At present, IT types are ambivalent about whether to trust the iPhone on their networks.) But even if you're not a network admin, or your company doesn't want to support iPhones, the update could still make your iPhone more functional at work: It makes it easy to configure your own corporate e-mail.
Apple recently demonstrated the phone's upcoming Exchange ActiveSync features, and even in its beta form the software looks simple enough for moderately savvy end users to set up without necessarily needing to call up their company's IT department. Like existing iPhones, the updated devices will display a selection of e-mail services to choose from. If a user selects Microsoft Exchange from that list--as opposed to, say, Gmail or Yahoo--the interface will present a standard Exchange settings menu.
From there, all you'd have to do is copy your login info and settings from your desktop or laptop's Outlook preferences and you'd be ready to receive push e-mail from the server, schedule and accept meetings, and browse the company's shared contact list as you would from the computer at your desk.
The basic Exchange features will be accessible to pretty much anybody with access to an Exchange server. However, some advanced features, such as the ability to remotely wipe the company's data off a misplaced handset or to use VPN, would clearly require your IT department's involvement.
VPN is particularly noteworthy: If your job involves a lot of work from the road, using sales leads, templates, or other data stored on a corporate server, you need VPN access. With Cisco IPsec VPN on the iPhone, getting to that data could prove a whole lot easier.
Currently, the iPhone's L2TP and PPTP VPN software requires users to get a lot of hands-on assistance from their corporate help desk to get a remote connection to their company's network (that is, if they're willing and able to do so). The popular Cisco VPN software should streamline VPN connections, requiring little more than a passcode from the end user once the device is configured. Setting up your VPN connection with IPsec will still require some help from your IT person, but it will make their job a lot easier.