Enterprise credentials better, but not perfect, for new iPhone

mobile_phone.gifSo, Apple managed to maintain its smartphone momentum with the launch of its latest iPhone, the iPhone 3GS, which has, like its predecessors, been flying off the shelf at an impressive rate -- more than one million units were sold during the first weekend of availability. And again, the issue of the iPhone's enterprise capabilities raised its head, with InfoWorld investigating to what extent the device is ready for enterprise deployment.

After the debut of the first iPhone, the general advice given to enterprises was to steer clear, with the consumer-oriented feature set failing to provide any of the features enterprises demand -- specifically with regard to security and management when devices are in-the-field. In contrast, alternatives such as Research In Motion's BlackBerry and Microsoft's various Windows Mobile technologies included tools specifically designed to target the enterprise user base, and as such were safer choices.

But in the meantime, more features have been added to the iPhone, such as support for Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync technologies and Apple's own iPhone Configuration Utility, which have made the iPhone more enterprise-friendly -- although it will obviously never fully rival devices built with enterprise features at the core, because it isn't meant to. The new OS underpinning the iPhone 3GS, iPhone OS 3.0, takes this further, with a new version of the iPhone Configuration Utility particularly promising new features.

So what did InfoWorld find? The best option is to use both Exchange ActiveSync and the iPhone Configuration Utility in tandem, to address shortcomings in each tool -- which is hardly the ideal solution for enterprise IT departments looking for seamless device management. Its verdict was "the good news is that most of the policy pieces are in place; the bad news is that the critical management pieces are still MIA".

While the iPhone appears to be moving in the right direction, the discussion highlights an important issue with regard to mobile devices in the enterprise, and one which is unlikely to go away: consumer and enterprise handset needs are vastly different, and mobile device development is generally aligned more with the former than the latter. But the very fact that the iPhone, which was initially a consumer device through-and-through, made it into the enterprise indicates that there is no impenetrable barrier between the domains, however much IT departments may want this.

The next challenge for enterprises may turn out to be how devices based on the Google-led Android platform are integrated and managed -- again, Android is coming from a strongly consumer-led viewpoint, with enterprise capabilities a second thought. And Android will have some different challenges to address; as an open-source platform, the potential to build enterprise-class security and management applications is very much in-place. But as an open-source platform, the need for security may also prove to be greater than for other, more tightly-controlled mobile platforms.

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