IPhone 3G: Still Not Ready for the Enterprise

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The iPhone 3G may have a lock on the Sexiest Gadget Alive title for 2008, but in the frumpy and boring world of things that matter to enterprise IT managers, it's no pinup.

Despite Apple Inc.'s improvements upon the previous iPhone, primarily through its licensing of Microsoft Corp.'s ActiveSync technology, the 3G and its iPhone 2.0 software remain less competent and less tested than its BlackBerry and Windows Mobile counterparts.

"From an IT support standpoint, you want a hardened device, something you can fire and forget," said Todd Christy, president and CTO of Pyxis Mobile, a smartphone application maker. "I think the iPhone is cool, but it isn't there from an enterprise standpoint."

"It's a great product but has a ways to go," said a senior IT official at a large U.S. business who, after evaluating the iPhone 3G, chose not to deploy it, citing weaknesses in configuring, securing and supporting the iPhone up to enterprise standards.

"A year after Apple comes out with a consumer device, these kinds of enterprise things are not going to happen magically," said the official, who declined to be identified.

So on exactly what tracks does the iPhone still lag?

1) Manageability and Security

When it comes to employees' smartphones, IT managers may seem like the worst kind of control freak. And for good reason -- nothing is as easily lost or stolen as a smartphone, along with its corporate data.

RIM's ability to ease IT managers' worries has been key to the BlackBerry's success. It introduced device management software, BlackBerry Enterprise Server, at the same time it launched the device itself back in 1999. Today BES, as it is affectionately called, lets IT managers enforce more than 200 security and other IT policies, as well as create their own.

Microsoft is attempting to challenge BES' dominance. Earlier this year, it released System Center Mobile Device Manager. SCMDM, as it is often abbreviated, gives IT managers 125 built-in policies for managing Windows Mobile 6.1 phones, as well as the ability to create their own.

SCMDM's biggest strength may be its integration with the popular Active Directory technology, which lets IT managers reuse their carefully-tweaked set of employee privileges and access rights with little extra work.

Jonas Gyllensvaan, CEO of mobile management software vendor Conceivium Inc., expects SCMDM to "make big inroads by the end of the year."

For IT managers not on SCMDM, their experience remains firmly in the second tier, with 45 policies available to them via Microsoft Exchange 2007 SP1's ActiveSync. Policies include numerous ways to manage passwords, control whether phones and storage cards must be encrypted, and turn on or off the phone's camera, consumer e-mail account, or text messaging.

"That's still very robust, and a lot more than what the average IT person in the mid-market or enterprise needs," said Scott Gode, vice-president of marketing and product management for Azaleos Inc., a provider of outsourced Exchange server management.

The iPhone 3G uses the same ActiveSync technology in Exchange 2007 SP1, but experts place the iPhone in a third tier. "The Windows Mobile implementation of ActiveSync is, from an IT admin point of view, far superior," said Ahmed Datoo, vice-president of product marketing for mobile software maker Zenprise Inc.

Why? Because many ActiveSync features are missing. Those features include the ability to limit users from downloading some or all third-party software, the ability to turn off expensive international data roaming, and the ability to natively encrypt data on the iPhone or its storage card.

The lack of native encryption is the iPhone's "one failing," said Glenn Edens, an independent mobile consultant, who is otherwise bullish on the iPhone 3G. "Remote wipe helps but is not good enough."

Without encryption, the District of Columbia, which is testing the iPhone 3G now, would only deploy the iPhone 3G by keeping key applications and data off the device, said Vivek Kundra, CTO of the governmental body.

At least one ISV, SplashData, has already come up with a third-party encryption app. But as David Gewirtz, an e-mail security expert, put it, "everybody prefers stuff from the manufacturer."

The dearth of built-in management features is in contrast with the iPhone's many built-in consumer features, such as its 2-megapixel camera, its music and video player and fast Web browser. These all create more potential security and compliance problems and ways for the device to be misused.

For instance, employees goofing off by downloading TV programs from iTunes can "interfere with other users trying to run critical applications across the same wireless LAN network," said David Messina, vice-president of marketing for network management software maker, Xangati Inc. "Think about environments like hospitals, where WLANs are critical to patient care."

For sure, Apple won't stand still. But for now, its enterprise manageability is "enough for it to gain a beachhead, but not enough long-term for Apple to get the market share it wants," Gode said.

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