Users eager, integrators mixed on enterprise iPhone use

System integrators offered mixed reactions Friday to the iPhone's immediate viability in enterprises.

Andrew Maddox is still using the first generation of Apple's iPhone, but he wasted no time this week in getting his business e-mail pushed to the device.

He was able to do so through Apple's iPhone 2.0 software, officially released Friday along with the next-generation iPhone 3G, which has support for the ActiveSync protocol used by Microsoft Exchange.

Maddox, an investment analyst at Boston hedge fund Rollo Capital Management, is so far a lone wolf at his firm in terms of using an iPhone on the job -- but an unapologetic one.

Other smartphones have an inferior Web-browsing experience, delivering "a watered-down version of the Internet," he said.

The iPhone's ample-sized screen makes other work-related tasks less of a hassle as well, he added: "I deal with a lot of .PDF documents. It makes it a little bit easier to work my way through them."

However, an executive at major system integrator EDS had a more temperate view of the red-hot device, saying customer interest has so far been limited, and that challenges stand in the way of wide-scale deployments.

"We have not seen a high number of requests from our clients to incorporate it," said Patricia Wilkey, global desktop and mobility leader.

Interest in the iPhone, and a concurrent desire to integrate it with enterprise processes, is typically coming "from executives who receive the phone as a gift," she added.

Industry observers have in the past repeatedly questioned the iPhone's enterprise-readiness, citing a lack of security features.

Apple has moved to answer those critics with the 2.0 version of the phone's software, building in additional features such as 128-bit SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption and remote wiping of devices.

Apple has made some steps forward and is leading the way in terms of the device's user interface, but other potential challenges remain, including how easily iPhone applications will be able to interact with other mobile platforms in an enterprise environment, such as the .NET-based Windows Mobile, Wilkey said.

Apple's exclusive US carrier agreement with AT&T could present another issue from a procurement perspective, she added. "It is a challenge when a device is specific to one carrier," she said.

Meanwhile, managed IT services provider mindSHIFT issued a news release Friday to highlight the new ActiveSync support for the phone.

"The drums of Apple and Apple device support have been beating in our customer support center for the past 12 months or so," said Mona Abutaleb, chief operating officer of mindSHIFT, which focuses on the small and midsize business space.

The iPhone is now "just another ActiveSync device," she added. "This is yet another one we will support it on."

Echoing Wilkey's experience, Ravi Agarwal, senior executive officer of the mindSHIFT subsidiary and hosted Exchange provider 123Together.com, said requests are indeed pouring in, but largely from individuals.

"We haven't had inquiries where a company wants to make the change wholesale," he said. "It's more about giving people who want to use the iPhone the ability to do so."

An IBM official suggested that for now, any uncertainty over the iPhone's viability in enterprises is to be expected.

IBM, which is creating the Lotus iNotes software package for the iPhone, is "cautiously optimistic" it will eventually become a peer in enterprises alongside products such as Research In Motion's BlackBerry and the Palm Treo, said Ed Brill, worldwide sales executive for Lotus Notes.

"It's taken a long time for those devices to get to that point," Brill said. "Today is day one of the enterprise-level iPhone."

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Chris Kanaracus

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