Daniel Eran Dilger
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Using Apple’s iPhone in the Enterprise

Daniel Eran Dilger

The iPhone is quite obviously targeted at consumers. However, it offers a significant leap forward in key features which make it attractive to business customers, particularly executives who like having the best communications tools available.
.Therefore, some have expressed the concern that executives will demand an iPhone and then insist that their information technology department support it, just as they once demanded the Palm Pilot, then the Palm Treo, and more recently Mac Book Pros and other consumer-oriented gear that IT departments may have initially lacked any existing systems to support.
Is there really any reason for concern? Will the iPhone pose some special problems that will hopelessly befuddle competent IT managers? There’s so much outright false information being thrown around by Microsoft apologists in their attempts to create fear about the iPhone that I figured it would be good to simply point out the truth about how the iPhone relates to enterprise customers.
Conflicting Stories, Conflicting Interests.
One problem with the reporting done to date on the iPhone in enterprise environments has been that journalists commonly aren’t technical experts. That means they have to rely on what they are being told by consultants.
Jessica Vascellaro and Nick Wingfield recently wrote a
Wall Street Journal article about the pandemic fear among corporations worried that the iPhone would cause problems for their IT operations. That article was based on remarks made by IT groups of companies who had invested in proprietary systems from Motorola, Microsoft, and Research in Motion.
Ironically, Reuters earlier cited computer science professor David Platt as saying that “the iPhone will likely miss the mark […] because it was designed more to please engineers than a regular consumer.”
That story failed to point out that Platt is a Microsoft-selected “Software Legend,” the author of Microsoft .Net books, and “teaches Programming .Net at Harvard University [Extension] and at companies all over the world,” according to his own bio. Doesn’t spreading the gospel of .Net disqualify you from offering opinions about competitors without disclosing that you are a high priest who makes your living serving the opposite church?
Companies Hang Up on Apple’s iPhone – WSJ.com]
[David S. Platt, Microsoft ‘Software Legend’ from Daring Fireball]
Paid to Shill Propagandism.
Since Microsoft just got busted yet again with another grassroots payola astroturf campaign that paid several high profile bloggers to lace their opinions with Microsoft jingles, it’s not hard to imagine that the company has outlined its own iPhone talking points as well.
Among those caught red-handed by
ValleyWag for repeating the “conversational marketing” jingles in Federated Media’s pay-for-say ad program for Microsoft were:

. Michael Arrington of Techcrunch
. Om Malik of Gigaom
. Paul Kedrosky and Matt Marshall of Venture Beat
. Fred Wilson the “blogger-investor”

We already know that other companies including Sprint and are gearing up to publish false iPhone information, because Sprint’s actual talking point bulletin was intercepted and published. Among the “sample talking points” outlined in the memo is the idea the the iPhone’s camera is only 1.3 megapixels like the Treo, that it lacks “secure email,” and that it only offers a really slow network.
In reality the iPhone has a competitive 2.0 megapixel camera, supports secure email, and offers WiFi networking, which is far faster than any 3G mobile service. WiFi is not offered on many of Sprint’s own phones, a good reason for Sprint to not mention it. Sprint offers a faster EV-DO mobile network, but why lie about the rest of it?
SPOKESBLOGGERS: Microsoft pays star writers to recite slogan – Valleywag]
[Sprint begins ‘talking points’ campaign against Apple iPhone – MacDailyNews]
[iPod vs Zune: Microsoft’s Slippery Astroturf]
The iPhone in Corporate Circles.
With all of the obvious conflicts of interest within the mobile industry, I’ll present a best effort at providing truly objective information on what IT managers will need to consider when determining how to deal with the iPhone, what its limitations are, and how things might change in the future. There are a number of issues involved with mobiles in business environments:

. securely delivering email to and from devices
. delivering push email
. integrating with a corporate calendar system
. integrating with custom Intranet applications
. provisioning and revocation of mobile devices

Email Security and Compatibility
One regular issue raised for the iPhone relates to corporate email security and compatibility. The good news is that email long ago moved beyond the closed world of today’s instant messaging, which is still fractured between proprietary services like AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Open IM systems based on the open source Jabber, such as Google’s GoogleTalk, are helping to crack that market open, but it’s still plagued with interoperability problems.
The market benefits greatly from open standards. Fortunately, email moved away from proprietary systems back in the mid 90s when the Internet became commercially available. Systems like AOL, GEnie and CompuServe rapidly opened up email gateways using standard Internet protocols; by 2000, all Internet email services were all using standard SMTP for relaying email between servers.
The Road to VoIP: Paved with Bad Intentions: From Proprietary Email to SMTP]
[Safari on Windows? Apple and the Origins of the Web: Open Standards Kill the Proprietary Star: 1993 – 1995]
Client Email Protocols: POP, IMAP, and MAPI.
To move email internally, between the server and client users, the Internet standards of POP and IMAP were developed. Several email systems developed prior to widespread use of Internet standards continue to use proprietary protocols to send emails.
For example, Microsoft’s Exchange Server uses a mix of undocumented RPC calls, generally referred to as
MAPI, to communicate between Exchange and Outlook email clients. However, Microsoft began giving up on MAPI for use with modern clients. Microsoft’s Entourage client for the Mac uses the standard IMAP instead. The company has also implemented mobile email support as an extension of Exchange’s webmail service.
That means the iPhone won’t have any more of a problem checking email over IMAP than Entourage does today, using Microsoft’s own supported IMAP service. Newspapers should fend off calls from any consultants trying to get quoted using the sound bite that Exchange IMAP support is “usually turned off for security reasons.”
Microsoft does set up Exchange 2007 by default with IMAP settings that rely on using its own certificate server. However, any organization with the capacity to support Mac email clients won’t have to do anything to support the iPhone. It just works, using the same industry standards as other mail clients.
Bear Sterns, cited in the above
WSJ article as telling its staff, “we are not aware of any plans to change the [iPhone] device to become compatible with corporate email systems,” was merely confused. The only corporate email systems incompatible with the iPhone are those that are incompatible with Internet standards.
Push Email for Mobiles.
While standard email protocols check for mail at regular intervals, push email is sent directly from the server to the client as soon as it arrives. This is particularly useful for mobiles, as it prevents the devices from having to rapidly check the server for messages, saving battery life.
It was popularized by the RIM
BlackBerry Enterprise Server. BEA connects to an existing email server, checks frequently for new mail, and then pushes mail directly to BlackBerry mobiles.
Good Technology developed its own push messaging system, and provides a similar server that can push to a variety of mobiles running Symbian, Palm OS, and Windows Mobile. Motorola purchased Good in January.
Oracle developed its own push email system based on Internet standards and delivered it as an open standard, called
Push-IMAP. This standard is supported on the iPhone, and is provided by Yahoo’s Push-IMAP service.
In addition to the open Push-IMAP standard and the popular proprietary push services BEA and Good, Microsoft developed its own proprietary push email service which acts as an extension of its Exchange webmail server, called
Direct Push Technology. Is it also marketed as ActiveSync on Windows Mobiles or Palm OS devices.
However, the Direct Push ActiveSync is only related to Window’s ActiveSync by name. The former is a web based push messaging system, while the latter is a desktop sync product similar to Apple’s Sync Services in Mac OS X. Window’s ActiveSync was renamed Windows Mobile Device Center in Windows Vista.
IT departments who invest in systems such as BEA or Good pay $200-300 a year per device to push emails. A better strategy might be to support open standards and move away from proprietary vendor lock-in. The iPhone promotes that by supporting Push-IMAP.
Corporate Calendaring.
Companies dependent upon Exchange will like the idea of Microsoft’s Direct Push because it goes beyond push email to also push Outlook’s contacts, calendar, and notes. The iPhone does not yet provide any support for proprietary push services.
That will mean iPhone users will only get calendar information when they sync to their computer, although live access to their inbox via Exchange’s
Outlook Web should be serviceable using the iPhone’s Safari web client.
That also means iPhone users, while lacking any push update system, won’t require any extra support from IT staff to use their mobile to security sync calendar or contact data from Exchange. The iPhone gets all that from the PC or Mac is syncs with, entirely through iTunes. It even imports the mail server settings directly.
In the near future, Apple will be releasing its
iCal Server, which offers an open source, standards-based CalDAV calendaring solution to workgroups. IT groups interested in avoiding the trap of proprietary vendor lock-in would benefit from considering alternatives to Exchange Server, in large part because of its expense.
Apple’s Open Calendar Server vs Microsoft Exchange]
Custom iPhone Applications are Automatically Cross-Platform.
IT groups maintaining custom intranet or web services will find that the iPhone is designed to accommodate a lot of highly customizable functionality via the web. Rather than requiring custom app development like Microsoft’s Windows Mobile devices, the iPhone provides a full web client capable of delivering interactive Ajax web apps.
That means web service applications can be designed for the iPhone using the tools IT groups are already familiar with, and that those apps will also work on any other mobile device that supports a full web browser.
Again, the iPhone provides an open, standards based alternative to vendor lock-in platforms, while reducing the amount of work required to deliver custom mobile apps.
The Future of the Web: Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer]
Provisioning and Revocation.
Apple currently only provides its own client for provisioning and revocation, and it is designed entirely for the needs of consumers. It’s iTunes, and it sets up iPhones directly with Apple’s own provisioning servers.
IT groups invested in push solutions from Good, BEA, or Microsoft won’t be able to set up or revoke iPhone users using their internal proprietary systems. That’s a drawback for companies interested in the iPhone as a low cost mobile web platform. They’ll have to consider the needs of securing their devices against the benefits of an open mobile platform.
After the iPhone’s initial rollout, expect Apple to offer the same iTunes provisioning tools to local administrators, in a similar manner to how Apple adapted the iTunes Store to serve higher education with iTunes U.  
Readers Write About Mobile Enterprise Products
writes: “Unfortunately, my day job burdens me with the administration of our company’s WinMobile Treos and Motorola Q’s (both of which are awful). Microsoft does offer a rudimentary web-based [provisioning] utility that sits on our Exchange server, which allows the remote wiping of any ‘identified’ mobile device, provided it runs Windows Mobile.”
GP writes: “It’s very important for IT to be able to protect company IP by remote wiping devices. Since I’ve been dealing with these devices I’ve had no fewer that 20 lost or stolen. And, I’ve mainly worked for smaller companies, and would expect this to be a bigger problem at large firms.
”Second, Microsoft’s ‘push’ email solution has been a commercial failure. If you use these devices, you are likely using Goodlink which includes a 300 dollar per client license per calendar year. BES costs are around 200 dollars a client, but there is a monthly fee built in to your wireless services.
“However, I can say the real reason to buy any device in a corporate setting is for [push] calendar integration. As far as I know, this is a feature the iPhone lacks, and most people don’t bother to understand why this is so important.”
CH writes: “I manage 100+ Samsung i730 Devices, 200+ Treo Windows Devices, and 300+ Motorola Q Devices using Exchange Wireless Sync.
”They are very easy to manage and sync issues do not force deletes of any of the information stored on the phone or in Exchange.  This may be a matter of opinion or just the way out network is set up.  ActiveSync is not needed at all.
“Something that is not a matter of opinion: All three phones fully support the MSFP remote clear [revocation] capabilities that are included in the MSFP add-on for Exchange and the newest ROM’s of for each of the phones.  This includes the Treo Windows Mobile phones and the Motorola Q.”