The Worm in the Apple

Call Apple’s iPhone the wireless world’s rock star. In 2007, in the U.S. alone eight million sold. In 2008, in the first three days after release, the high speed 3G iPhone sold a dazzling one million units. But feast on this paradox: as far as enterprise is concerned the iPhone is a dud. Apple highlights a handful of enterprise users on its website, but go hunting for more and, suddenly, those many millions of iPhone users simply vanish.

Memo to IT Managers: “Yes, you are under siege by iPhone users who want corporate support,” notes Dan Dearing, a VP with McLean VA-based mobility management firm Trust Digital. But hang tight because at least for now all but a handful of IT czars are turning thumbs down on the iPhone. And for good reasons.

“IT wants to manage the enterprise’s mobile devices and it cannot manage the iPhone,” said Julie Palen, CEO of InterNoded, a Waltham MA-based enterprise mobility specialist. She cites a chilling “for instance”: patches and updates (think security) have been deliverable to BlackBerries for several years over the air but, for now, an iPhone needs to be physically tethered to the network to be updated. That, said Palen, is a huge concern to IT which wants to be able to update on the fly and as needed.

Equally troubling from IT’s perspective, said Mort Rosenthal, CEO of Enterprise Mobile in Watertown MA, is that “you cannot control the content of a device.” Say the business wants to ban or—too bad. “Fundamentally, the iPhone just is not a good platform for large organizations,” said Rosenthal. “You certainly can develop cool applications to run on it, and many developers are, but it just is not enterprise ready.”

Should any of this IT skepticism be surprising? Not according to Charles White, head of Telecoms for market research firm TNS North America. Says White: “iPhone was developed and introduced as a consumer device. BlackBerry was created as a business device.” That divide is huge particularly vis-à-vis IT’s centralized role, which Apple only recently has attempted to back into an embrace. And, suggests White, it’s unrealistic to think any company, least of all one that has developed a core identity as consumer focused, could quickly close the gap.

Even so, Apple’s iPhone, suggests the experts, may be winning some IT support. Certainly the mid-year release of the 3G iPhone with built-in support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSynch and with push email has won at least some IT enthusiasm. But not very much.

Memo to IT

Brace yourself for another set of problems. “The G1 phone will bring a new round of headaches for IT,” predicts Dearing, who said the so called Google phone, slated to ship from T-Mobile to early adopters in late October, will bring its own set of security woes for IT which will also try to keep it outside the enterprise.

Particularly keen for broader G1 phone acceptance will be Gmail users, said Palen: “Our CTO thinks they will be very vocal about wanting IT support.” But hang tough here too, say the experts, because it will take months to sort out just where and how the G1 may have enterprise security vulnerabilities.

Bottomline: as far as enterprise mobile devices are concerned, “we see Research in Motion winning big-time,” said Palen, who predicts that IT’s comfort with the BlackBerry, a device built from the ground-up to assuage IT’s security woes, will keep BlackBerry as the pocket pal of choice for businesses for years to come.