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 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,” says Todd Christy, president and chief technology officer at Pyxis Mobile Inc., a smart phone 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,” according to a senior IT official at a large North American 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.
1. Manageability and security
When it comes to employees’ smart phones, IT managers may seem like the worst kind of control freak.
And for good reason – nothing is as easily lost or stolen as a smart phone, along with its corporate data.
Research In Motion Ltd.’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 Corp. is attempting to challenge BES’s 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 Business Solutions 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,” says Scott Gode, vice president of marketing and product management at Azaleos Corp., 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,” says Ahmed Datoo, vice president of product marketing at 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,” says 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, says Vivek Kundra, CTO of the governmental body.
At least one independent software vendor, SplashData Inc., 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,” says David Messina, vice president of marketing at 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 says.
2. Network and deployment
The iPhone has one advantage over RIM: All messages and updates are routed directly from server to smart phone 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 — vs. 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, which generally prefer a larger degree of control over what, which and how applications are added to employee smart phones.
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 miniversion 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 smart phones, thinks Apple at that time needs to bring out a full-fledged application along the lines of BES or
Microsoft’s SCMDM, one that enables IT folks to install more policies and apps wirelessly.
“That’s what they need to do if they really want to sell into the enterprise,” he says.
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 Inc.?
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 Zenprise’s Datoo 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 says.
4. Application ecosystem
Having 500 applications available at the iPhone 3G’s launch was impressive. And no doubt that number will grow, fast. But the fact remains that there are more than 18,000 applications available for Windows Mobile at public Web storefronts such as Handango.com.
And while the BlackBerry platform remains difficult for developers, there are still nearly 4,000 BlackBerry apps at Handango.com, along with thousands more custom business apps.
Of course, many business apps have already been ported over to the Web. For these, no porting is needed — iPhone users can simply fire up Safari. But many applications still run better as clients.
And some of those independent software vendors, such as Rove Mobile, say they are in no hurry to port their products over to the iPhone.
5. Cost and carrier choice
The iPhone 3G may only cost $199, but its true cost over the life of a typical two-year contract with AT&T is at least $2,000 (including voice plan, unlimited data plan and $5/month for 200 text messages). Pricey for a consumer toy, but comparable to a BlackBerry or Windows Mobile smart phone.
Rather, the true cost for an enterprise switching to the iPhone comes from the substantial investments in money, time and personnel that those firms have already made in BlackBerry devices, multiyear contracts, BES servers and the like.
And there is the matter of Apple’s preference to sign a single carrier in each market for the iPhone, in contrast to the multicarrier availability of BlackBerries and Windows Mobile phones. The District of Columbia’s Kundra says the biggest hurdle to deploying the iPhone widely is AT&T’s spotty geographical coverage.
Their surveys said …Only 1 out of 25 senior wireless executives queried by Immobile.org for a poll earlier this month expect both corporate IT admins and employees to embrace the iPhone. Three out of four expect the iPhone to make few inroads and for RIM to maintain or strengthen its lead.
Another survey, by investment bank Goldman Sachs & Co., found that 17% of 100 Fortune 1,000 CIOs polled plan to buy an iPhone, though The Wall Street Journal, which reported the survey, opined that the figure “strikes us as pretty high.” The survey also did not ask those CIOs how many iPhones they plan to buy — a key point.
“I think companies will start to put the iPhone on their approved list, but I don’t see many making it their standard-issue device,” says Conceivium’s Gyllensvaan.