In the past few years, consumer technology has been the primary driver of new technology into the workplace. Instant messaging, for example, found a useful spot as a communication method less disruptive than a phone call but more immediate than email. But the job of IT is to maintain solid systems and services and as I've said before, we have to tread lightly and sometimes say no to these new technologies. Conversely, our other mandate is to find ways of using technology to help our employees be more effective and efficient .
The iPhone has already made a significant impact and now is the time to start evaluating whether or not we as IT professionals should embrace or dismiss this device as the next interation of smart phone for business users. From the reviews so far, it seems to improve on the user experience for calling, voice mail and web browsing. The killer apps for business in mobile phones are e-mail and calendaring though, which is why Blackberry rules the roost. This is where the real competition lies.
The big advantage of the iPhone in my mind is the ability to update the firmware and roll out software updates with one click via iTunes. No scouring of the manufacturers website to find the proper patch which can be a real chore. The iPhone updates like an iPod which is very easy to manage compared to the rigamarole you go through with most smartphones. At this time there is also no SDK for 3rd party software developers meaning the platform is more locked down and less prone to users installing malware, conflicting, or buggy software. Because the iPhone is currently focusing on the consumer space, it is a less interesting target for attackers looking to disrupt an entire enterprise environment thus making it more secure, at least for the moment. Other compelling features appealing to business users are the ability to select a voice mail rather than listen to them all sequentially and a large, beautiful screen to appreciate a very full featured web browser with wi-fi. And just because it doesnât have some features now, doesnât mean it wonât in the future. Apple has vowed to upgrade its features and functionality via software updates.
The biggest downside for business people at this point would be the iPhone's lack of support for Windows ActiveSync which is required for full compatibility with MS Exchange servers, allowing users to receive mail that has been pushed to their phone rather than having to manually check for new mail throughout the day. According to Mary Jo Foley, Apple is already working on this problem.
The iPhone does support push e-mail from Yahoo! mail because Yahoo! uses âpush-IMAPâ technology. That protocol is not supported by Exchange server.
Thinksecret has some iPhone interface screenshots that show an Exchange interface tab but this is more likely a way to interface with exchange via IMAP which is not typically enabled.
Beyond this likely deal breaker, there is the cost of the iPhone of course. It is more than double the cost of a Blackberry. Also, in my experience, users rarely use PDAs and smartphones nearly as much as they expect to, another reason not to dole out that premium price. Because the iPhone doesn't support 3G networks it will not support extensive roaming overseas, a real concern to some.
From an IT administration standpoint, there is no central configuration control and no ability to wipe sensitive data remotely in the case of a lost iPhone like you can with a Blackberry.
Lastly, I have to worry about the slippery slope you risk by deciding to install iTunes on corporate computers. Streaming music and filling disk space with personal music and video is already a concern to many companies. Sanctioning iTunes would probably not help the situation.
So here are some issues to reflect on before taking the plunge. As always, consider whether there is actually a long term business advantage here and if so, does it outweigh the technical difficulties and unforeseen consequences that may be introduced during deployment. For the single superstar manager that walks into IT wanting email on her brand new iPhone, the answer would probably be no.