New iPhone capabilities appeal to enterprises

The iPhone 3.0 software has some new features for businesses, but it still lacks things they need.

The new iPhone software announced Tuesday has some features that should make enterprise users happy, but it lacks others that could have made the iPhone far more enticing to businesses.

Push, cut and paste, integrated maps and enhanced calendar synch could all help to make iPhone users more productive at work. But administrators and enterprise application developers were hoping for a couple more capabilities that did not appear, namely background processing and device management tools.

The push capability is one of the most interesting for enterprise application developers, said Senthil Krishnapillai, director of product management for Sybase's enterprise mobility group. It could allow Sybase, which has a partnership with SAP, to push CRM (customer relationship management) notifications to iPhone users. For example, a potential sales lead could call in to a main office and the lead could be pushed out to a sales person in the field for immediate attention, he said.

"We still need to understand what this means from a scalability perspective, but we're excited about this as a long-promised feature," he said.

He's also pleased with the capability that will allow developers to offer updates within applications. "That would help us provide additional capabilities to applications without having to go to the App Store and go through the whole process," Krishnapillai said.

The iPhone 3.0 software will also allow maps to be included in other applications on the phone, which could prove useful to many businesses. For example, engineers at Herrera Environmental Consultants use iPhones and would find an application useful that would let them take photos that are automatically tagged with a location, said Stuart Maxwell, an IT manager at Herrera.

He's also interested to see what kinds of applications take advantage of the push capability. Adding push to an application like Yammer, a collaboration and communication tool for business users that is a cross between IM and Twitter, could be useful. "I've been playing with the idea of introducing Yammer into this office, and I think the usefulness would increase if certain messages were passed immediately to people who are working on a project," he said.

But the new iPhone software still lacks capabilities that enterprises need. "One thing I haven't seen is on the management side. We haven't heard of a strategy for how to manage these devices," Krishnapillai said.

A potentially even more important omission is the lack of background processing, said Ken Dulaney, analyst with Gartner. "It desperately needed background processing," he said. "You can't do security effectively without it." That's because for a security program to be effective, it needs to run independently of the applications being audited, he said. But since the phone can't run processes in the background, it can't run security separately from the applications, he said.

Management tools also can't work effectively without background processing, he said. While management tools can use the push notification, that still requires the recipient to take some action. With background processing, the iPhone could have a service like Microsoft's Windows Update to automatically update devices, he said.

The lack of background processing also prevents the use of applications that might connect an iPhone to a corporate PBX, he said.

"[Apple has] been enormously pressured by enterprise buyers to put this in and I thought they'd respond," Dulaney said.

He was critical of Apple's reasons for leaving out background processing -- that it would reduce battery life and slow performance.

"In the case of battery life, I'm not sure I buy it, unless there's something fundamentally inherent in OS X that prevents them from managing this from a power-efficiency standpoint. If you look at [Research In Motion] or Symbian or Microsoft, they can all do background processing. Even Android does it," he said. "And I would say that RIM has far better battery life than Apple."

Background processing can slow performance, but other cell phone makers have learned how to control it to mitigate the effect, he said. "Maybe they're waiting for multicore processors," he said. That would allow processes to run in the background without interfering with the application running in the forefront.

Apple released the beta software development kit for the iPhone 3.0 software on Tuesday and revealed the new features that will come with it. IPhone users will be able to download the software in a couple of months.

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