The Long Road to iPhone 5

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Apple made no mobile phones prior to 2007. Five years ago, the then-Apple Computer released the iPhone. Unlike the iPod release of 2001, there was some variety available in the initial product memory-specs. But it was still The iPhone--available first in the U.S. and locked for a single carrier.

The device was an instant status-symbol and media darling--Time Magazine called it the "Invention of the Year." People loved its form and function, if not the service of its anointed carrier in the U.S. Of course, modified versions of the phone, which could be used with different carriers, were traded across the world. Apple officially frowned on this practice, but the sales (estimated at half a million handsets in China alone) and brand-development probably didn't hurt.

Enterprises were slow to adopt policies aimed at the iPhone (and its later cousin, the iPad), but the BYOD-culture has forced CIOs to adapt. The communication power of these handhelds has changed culture, behavior and security-policies from SMEs to regulated banks.

Now What?

But the iPhone has fallen from grace. When it was a shiny new icon, there was no equivalent. Few craved a Motorola Razr in late-2007. And the release of the iPhone 4 in 2010 was a gestalt-shift. Since then?

In the mobile-space, it's "what have you done for me lately?" What Apple's done is release a marginally better unit: the 4S. Its "secret weapon," Siri--a voice-activated digital "assistant"--hasn't set the mobile world spinning. Instead, units from vendors like Samsung which, unlike Apple's, offer a variety of screen sizes, output-ports, replaceable batteries and memory-expansion slots, have become popular. Take a look around any MTR carriage.

Apple's business model, which includes the iPad tablet and its line of computing products, has made them the world's largest technology company. They've had other issues: lawsuits alleging copyright infringement, questionable working conditions at plants that manufacture their components, creeping malware issues, the rollout of iCloud, and dissent on the value of their latest OS X release. The success of the iPad has been unprecedented, as has the acceptance of Macintosh computers in the workplace. Perhaps Apple took its eye off the ball when it comes to the iPhone.

Brace for It

Still, Cupertino reigns as the 800-pound gorilla (remember when Microsoft was the unassailable juggernaut in both OS and browser?). They have no incentive to give up their iPhone "walled garden" ecosystem based on iOS and iTunes. But as the launch of the iPhone 5 (best current guess: September 21) approaches, rumors of a nano-SIM card and a new connector (yet more non-standard formats) persist. Apple marches to the beat of its own drummer--you want an iPhone, you buy one. Lines will form overnight, media outlets will swarm and clog their outlets with news of The Release, and the official price won't matter in Mongkok. (Also see iPhone 5 and Everything You Want to Know.")

And despite one of the better retail supply-chain operations around, it will be difficult to get one--at first. Apple has been hoisted on its own petard: after the iPhone 5 launch, they need to address iPad issues. Will they release a smaller/cheaper iPad this year? That rumor's persisted for months.

The lesson for enterprises in all this: BYOD is here to stay, and regardless of device, company policies are essential to protect company-data. Breaches were noted with the first iPod: people walked into retail shops selling Apple computers, plugged in the device using a FireWire 400 cable, and copied files (the original iPod appeared as a hard disk). Nowadays, the cable isn't needed, nor is an Apple device.

With corporate-network security, the devices change but the principle remains the same: lock it or lose it.

This story, "The Long Road to iPhone 5" was originally published by Computerworld Hong Kong.

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