Apple CEO Steve Jobs promised deeper enterprise support with its iPhone 4 and its iOS 4 software, noting that it will offer better data protection, wireless application distribution and support for multiple Exchange e-mail accounts, as well as SSL VPN security.
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But all of that still might not be enough for some industry analysts to give IT shops a green light for full iPhone deployments, at least when the iPhone is compared with BlackBerry devices, which are backed by the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and used by many large companies.
Back in April, the initial analyst reactions to the mobile operating system were positive. Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said Apple was "on a positive track for enterprise support" more than with any of its prior releases. Dulaney and Gartner had been major critics of using the iPhone in the enterprise before April, so his comments were significant.
But after the iPhone 4 launch, Dulaney said Gartner would need more time to test the device in business settings to make a full judgment.
Dulaney also referred to a research note that he and another Gartner analyst, John Girard, prepared on May 20 that stated, "Apple continues to make incremental improvements for enterprise support [with iOS 4] and will widen its appeal to third parties and end users."
But those optimistic remarks were followed by this comment: "The iPhone is still not at the level of the BlackBerry at its highest levels of security, or at the level of Microsoft when third-party products complement Windows Mobile. However, Apple's iPhone OS 4 enhancements are a step in the right direction."
Dulaney said in an interview that Gartner would hold that May 20 conclusion, pending further testing once the iPhone 4 ships. The device is scheduled to ship June 24 .
According to Gartner, for the iPhone 4 to be enterprise-ready, its operating system, iOS 4, needs to have FIPS 140-2-certified encryption, a standard that government agencies require. Apple also needs a social collaboration client in iOS 4 and more background processing modules for security and device management, Gartner said.
While other analysts have praised improvements in iOS 4, one deficiency noted by Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler and Jack Gold of J.Gold Associates is that IT shops are unable to automatically push policy and software updates to iPhone users, meaning users would have to click a button to receive an update, leaving the IT shop to trust users to do so. Gold has called that deficiency a "barrier to iOS adoption" for banks and regulated companies.
The new iOS 4 software will ship on iPhone 4 units available June 24 but can also be added for free to the iPhone 3GS and 3G on June 21, Jobs said, expanding potential enterprise benefits to more users with older iPhones. The 3G phones will not be able to use the iOS 4's multitasking functionality because of hardware constraints, Jobs added.
Multitasking is a big enterprise plus, according to Gartner. Apple told Gartner analysts that multitasking will enable background processing functions such as playing audio while surfing the Web or playing a game. But background processing also means users can get a voice-over-IP call and have a conversation while using another application. IOS 4 also provides a battery-efficient way to monitor locations when users move between cell towers that Apple has called a "great way for social networking apps to keep track of users and their friends' locations."
Other background functions that could matter to enterprises include push notifications (to receive alerts from remote servers even when an app isn't running); local notifications (an app can now alert users of scheduled events and alarms in the background without any servers); task finishing (if an app is in midtask when the user leaves it, it can now keep running to finish the task); and fast app switching (a developer can build in functions to allow users to leave an app and come right back to where they left off, without a need to reload the app).
Apple in April listed many iOS 4 enterprise improvements, and several analysts ranked wireless distribution of in-house applications at the very top. That means IT shops can host and distribute these apps to employees via Wi-Fi and 3G networks without the need to connect to a PC and route through iTunes.
Improved e-mail also got high praise from analysts, noting that iOS 4 will support Exchange Server 2010 and multiple Exchange ActiveSync accounts with a unified in-box. Gartner noted that the e-mail upgrade, while an improvement, only raises Apple's device to where its competitors have been for a while.
Gartner also wants Apple to use cloud services to bring together internal and external collaboration functions into a single application, which can only be accomplished on the iPhone through third-party applications.
While Apple's device lacks FIPS-certified encryption, it has won praise for application and e-mail data protection, with the device passcode used as an encryption key. (Gartner, however, said users resort to creating short passcodes that can be broken easily.) Apple has said its data protection APIs can be used for custom-built apps to protect business information if a device is hacked or stolen.
Apple is also providing SSL VPN support in iOS 4 with upcoming apps from Juniper Networks and Cisco . It's a security improvement that analysts have said Apple needed to do.
In general, however, Gartner continued to be critical of Apple in its May 20 note, especially regarding data protection. With iOS 4, "security of the product should rise ... but not sufficient for those who benchmark products such as the BlackBerry as the gold standard for native device security."
Until Gartner does more research with real iPhone 4 devices, that is Gartner's last word.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld . Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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