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Using the iPhone in the enterprise?

Is Apple's iPhone ready to be used as a mainstream corporate device? Zeus Kerravala provides the pros and cons of enterprise-level iPhone usage.

The iPhone -- never has there been a mobile phone launched with as much hype and controversy -- but is the iPhone ready to be a mainstream corporate device?

The Apple fanatics who are willing to wait outside on the street overnight to be one of the first buyers of the phone will make you believe that the iPhone is maybe the greatest invention since -- well, ever! I agree that it's a very user-friendly device, but the big question for IT managers is whether the iPhone is ready for the enterprise.

I'll give you the pros and cons of the iPhone as a mainstream corporate device here and give you the answer at the end.

The iPhone is probably the most innovative consumer device to hit our market in a long time and has many really cool features that make it appealing for workers:

  • Large screen
    For many workers, this is huge. The ability to actually pull up documents on a mobile device and be able to read them is really a breakthrough for mobile working.
  • Browser
    Most mobile phones have a browser on them. The problem is that they don't work very well. It's hard to see much of the info, the rendering is poor and the overall experience is bad. The iPhone's browser is the best I've ever seen on a mobile device, and I think Apple has pushed many of the other manufacturers into developing a more usable browser. With corporate software moving toward SaaS, the mobile browser is a key to worker productivity.
  • Touch-screen and user interface
    Clearly, Apple understands the user interface (UI) better than almost any company, and the touch-screen was a leap forward in the UI. I know there have been other phones with touch-screens, such as the Treo, but those phones didn't have near the functionality of the iPhone.

    So when you combine the touch-screen, browser and large screen, it's easy to see why the iPhone has become such a popular consumer product -- what consumers have at home and what they want at work. This brings us to the downside of the iPhone as a corporate device.

Overall, the iPhone poses many problems for IT managers. It has security and manageability limitations as well as application support problems; specifically:

  • IT manageability
    Corporate-built devices such as BlackBerrys have literally hundreds of management policies -- similar to what you would find with Windows -- to allow IT to manage the device like any other corporate end point. The iPhone has only a few management policies, which doesn't give the IT department the control it requires.

  • Application support
    One of the biggest problems for the iPhone's support of applications is its inability to maintain the integrity of stateful applications. Stateful applications are those that need to be in the foreground to operate, like the MP3 player. When a call comes into an iPhone, it actually kills the stateful session instead of suspending it. The call takes over, and the application and data are lost. This would be detrimental for any company trying to run a mobile unified communications (UC) client or one that provides fixed mobile convergence (FMC). If a worker sets his IM status and a call comes in, the iPhone kills that session and the presence status gets turned off. This is one of the main reasons that the leading mobile UC vendors do not have an iPhone solution yet.

  • Security
    This is a huge barrier to corporate adoption. Unlike BlackBerrys, the iPhone has no ability to encrypt the data on a device, meaning that any iPhone lost could result in corporate information being stolen. Also, the iPhone doesn't allow third-party VPN software to run on it, so end-to-end encryption can't be done.

So let's look at the information to answer the question of whether the iPhone should be considered as a corporate device. On one hand, the iPhone is a great-looking, innovative device that users love. On the other, it is a device that can't be secured or managed and can't provide reliable support for stateful corporate applications.

With that being understood, my answer is no -- the iPhone should not be considered as a mainstream corporate-supported device. BlackBerrys and Windows Mobile devices were designed for the corporate environment. Apple's devices were not. Apple may get there one day, but IT personnel who go down the path of trying to support the iPhone as a corporate device are putting themselves in a position to fail. Stay with BlackBerrys, Nokias and Windows Mobile devices for now and continue to push Apple into making the iPhone more corporate ready.

About the author
Zeus Kerravala manages Yankee Group's infrastructure research and consulting. His areas of expertise involve working with customers to solve their business problems through the deployment of infrastructure technology solutions, including switching, routing, network management, voice solutions and VPNs.

Before joining Yankee Group, Kerravala was a senior engineer and technical project manager for Greenwich Technology Partners, a leading network infrastructure and engineering consulting firm. Prior to that, he was a vice president of IT for Ferris, Baker Watts, a mid-Atlantic-based brokerage firm, acting as both a lead engineer and project manager deploying corporate-wide technical solutions to support the firm's business units. Kerravala's first task at FBW was to roll out a new frame relay infrastructure with connections to branch offices, service providers, vendors and the stock exchange. He was also an engineer and technical project manager for Alex. Brown & Sons, responsible for the technology related to the equity trading desks.

Kerravala obtained a B.S. degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Victoria (Canada). He is also certified by Citrix and NetScout.

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