iPhone gets beefed up to challenge BlackBerry’s enterprise dominance

Apple on Thursday announced a strong push to help companies incorporate the iPhone into their enterprise environment, putting RIM’s popular BlackBerry handheld devices squarely in its sites. The changes will come in a forthcoming release of iPhone software.

iPhone takes on the BlackBerry

During an event held at the company’s Cupertino headquarters, Apple senior vice president of product marketing Phil Schiller announced the company’s plans. “We’ve been hard at work trying to understand what it takes to bring the iPhone out across the enterprise,” he told guests.

The list of features that Apple describes as important to enterprise end users includes “push-based” e-mail, calendar info and contact management; additional support for Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) including Cisco IPsec; and two-factor authentication, certificates and identities.

“Enterprise-class” Wi-Fi with WPA2/802.1x support and tools to enforce security policies were also mentioned. Schiller indicated that IT managers are also looking to help deploy iPhones, set them up automatically, and, perhaps most importantly, wipe the devices when necessary.

“That’s a long list of important features,” said Schiller. “They say if we just did these things, it would really help adoption in the enterprise. And we’re doing all of these things in the next release of the iPhone software.”

Removing risk of service downtime

“We have licensed the ActiveSync protocol [from Microsoft],” said Schiller. This will enable Apple to build support for Microsoft Exchange directly into the iPhone — a huge request from iPhone users, he said.

Schiller outlined the method that many organizations use, which is dependent on BlackBerry server communication — an imperfect method that has recently led to widespread service outages. An ActiveSync-based method will enable the iPhone to talk directly with Exchange servers in the enterprise, all while still using the same mail, calendar and contact information that’s built into the iPhone.

Schiller demonstrated the new capabilities, including e-mail push services and the ability to remotely wipe an iPhone.

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