The iPhone 3G Hubbub: Enterprise-Ready or Flash in the Pan?

Is the release of Apple's iPhone 3G big news for IT professionals? Well, based on the amount of news coverage it's received and—even more—the number of vendors who have jumped on the bandwagon to promote their compatibility with the new iPhone, it would certainly seem so, even though the iPhone still probably isn't the best choice for an enterprise-class smartphone. Here's a rundown of some of the information I've received.

First of all, the day of the iPhone 3G release, Microsoft's PR department sent out an email message to remind us of the iPhone's availability. Not just that, of course, but also to point out that this great new release from Apple is based on Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). Good old Microsoft, right? What would anyone do without them? The Microsoft Exchange Team Blog also featured a day-of-release post entitled "iPhone 2.0; Welcome to Exchange!" The post includes many screenshots to help Exchange admins understand what to expect when supporting iPhones, which is certainly useful. But the post begins with this statement: "We're thrilled to add them \[Apple\] to the family of Exchange ActiveSync licensees that enable all sorts of devices to connect to Exchange Server." Now, someone who was cynically-minded (but there's no one here like that, right?) might see that statement as a little self-serving.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's left hand is busy talking about the success of Windows Mobile. Despite missing their sales goal of 20 million licenses in their just-ended fiscal year, Microsoft PR sent a message touting the fact that Windows Mobile had achieved tremendous growth, which no doubt is true. The message also included this competitive assessment: "IDC expects Windows Mobile phones to continue to outsell Apple iPhones in both consumer and enterprise shipments, and by 2012, Windows Mobile is expected to double sales over the iPhone in the consumer space, and have nearly nine times the amount of enterprise deployments." Sure, it's IDC's prediction, but Microsoft still wants you to know about it. Microsoft wants you to realize that the iPhone is really just a flash in the pan—whether or not it truly is.

The actions of other companies, however, seem to suggest that many of them are taking Apple's latest release seriously by throwing their names into headlines next to the iPhone. For instance, Azaleos sent a press release just before the iPhone 3G launch confirming that Azaleos's OneStop Services would support the new phone as well as firmware-upgraded original iPhones. For those who don't know, Azaleos provides Exchange management and monitoring services with something of a hybrid approach: you have an on-premise appliance, Azaleos OneServer, which is managed remotely by Azaleos. Company data stays safe behind the company firewall, and you can choose from a variety of OneStop Services, such as archiving and mobile device support. The Azaleos OneServer Virtual Edition recently won the Best of TechEd award in the messaging category.

I spoke with Scott Gode, vice president of marketing and product management for Azaleos, about the company's offerings and the iPhone announcement. Gode previously worked for Microsoft and spent five years on the Windows Mobile team, so he certainly knows a thing or two about mobile devices and connectivity. In hindsight, Gode suspects that Microsoft's attempt to tackle the enterprise mobile device market directly was the wrong way to go. In contrast, Gode said, "Whether they stumbled into it or whether it was part of their grand plan, \[Apple\] captured the heart and mind of the consumer first. . . . And now they've gone from there into the enterprise." The reason the consumer-first strategy works is that people want to use for work what they're comfortable using all the time. As Gode said, "A lot of the initiatives that IT ends up doing are driven bottoms-up by what the users need or demand or stamp their feet for." Currently, that seems to be the iPhone. Azaleos reports that about a quarter of its customers are either using or testing the iPhone in their environments.

I also spoke with Dusan Vitek, the vice president of worldwide marketing for Kerio Technologies. Kerio MailServer is an Exchange alternative aimed primarily at small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs), offering similar features at a lower cost, and including broad cross-platform support. And, now, full support for the iPhone. Kerio MailServer 6.5 was released the week after the iPhone 3G so that Kerio could test its latest version with the final release of iPhone 3G and provide native support for the device through EAS. As Vitek said, "You can use Exchange ActiveSync for email, contacts, and calendars, and all of those are synchronized wirelessly" with Kerio MailServer. Just as you would expect, right? Kerio also chose to implement EAS's Remote Wipe, a handy feature for those security conscious yet forgetful CEOs. Kerio MailServer also features what the company calls Smart Wipe for older Windows Mobile devices that don't support Remote Wipe; Smart Wipe sends blank data to overwrite existing data, effectively giving the benefits of a wipe.

Vitek mentioned Apple's successful ad campaign, which makes Apple's devices such as iPhone seem to be the "hip" choice. And the campaign's not just working on consumers: Increasing enterprise adoption seems to be on the way. "We see a lot of CEOs of our customer who dump their BlackBerry and buy an iPhone," Vitek said. "More than BlackBerry we actually see migrations from Palm \[OS\]; that seems to be the main current, the main trend." Vitek estimates that about a third of Kerio's customers are actively using iPhones in their environments now, and he expects that number to climb dramatically with the widespread release of the iPhone in Europe.

I've also seen news from MailSite and PostPath, two other Exchange alternatives, touting iPhone 3G and iPhone 2.0 support. PostPath Server recently earned Gold in the messaging category in Windows IT Pro's Editors' Best awards. And I heard from Rivermine, a telecom expense management provider, who wants to help you develop smart strategies for managing your wireless telecom costs—including the business use of the iPhone.

In most cases, these releases from vendors don't actually indicate any new features or development in their products: They just want you to know that now that the iPhone uses EAS, it will integrate easily with whatever they have to offer. Sure, they've no doubt tested the iPhone 3G and iPhone 2.0 on their product to ensure compatibility, but they've probably had to do little or nothing at this point to produce that compatibility. The significance of this volume of announcements is in how important the iPhone is perceived to be by these vendors—whether based on the merits of the device itself or simply all the hype surrounding it.

So will iPhone make the leap to enterprise in a big way? I don't currently have a functional Magic 8-Ball, but my best guess is that it will, even if it remains behind Windows Mobile devices in importance. Thing is, you just can't fight the "hip" factor, and at the moment nothing even comes close to Apple in that department.

One last vendor notice I received was from AT&T. No surprise there, I suppose, since they have a strong interest in the iPhone's success. And their message simply included a link to "iPhone 3G. A Guided Tour" on Apple's website. Check it out if you haven't seen a good demo already.

Windows IT Pro has been following iPhone news, of course. Here are some recent articles in case you missed them:

"iPhone 3G Launch An iDisaster" 
"A Day Early, Apple Opens iPhone App Store"
"iPhone Poised to Trump BlackBerry Among SMBs"
"What You Need to Know About Apple iPhone 3G"
"What You Need to Know About Apple iPhone Enterprise Features"
"The iPhone as a Mail Device"

Hey, and for any of you who are Exchange admins, we've got a poll question up on the Exchange & Outlook page, "Are you currently supporting Apple iPhones in your Exchange environment?" Pop over there and give us your answer!

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