Back in March, when Apple unveiled the details of its eventual iPhone 2.0 upgrade, I opined that the company was on its way to seizing a slice of an enterprise smart-phone market in which the BlackBerry and the Treo currently reign.
Now that I’ve tested the 2.0 firmware myself, I do still believe that the iPhone will become a popular enterprise device. For instance, I can report that the iPhone works quite well with Exchange-based e-mail, contacts and calendars, and that the new Cisco VPN client worked for me without a hitch.
As my fellow labsman Andrew Garcia Andrew Garcia has outlined, Apple’s management tools, while leaving much to be desired, do indicate an encouraging change in direction for a firm that often seems allergic to considering enterprise needs.
As with all Apple products, embracing the iPhone means relinquishing to The Steve some of the control and flexibility that organizations are accustomed to expect. Treos and BlackBerry devices come with carrier and device options that mirror the diversity of the PC market, in contrast to the locked-down, single-source rigidity that marks the Mac side of the market.
What makes iPhone 2.0 different from the Mac, however, is that while Macs offer up more or less the same functionality as do PCs, only wrapped in a sort of leather bucket seats veneer, the new iPhone balances its locked-down aspects with something unique and worthwhile: the App Store–a software management framework that’s absent not just from Treo and BlackBerry devices, but from Macs and Windows PCs as well.
By making available to all iPhone and iPod Touch users an official networked repository of Apple-vetted applications, the App Store lets these users purchase, download, install and update new software to extend the functionality of their devices without having to locate, decide to trust and execute transactions with a sea of separate software developers.
Now, I would prefer it if the App Store framework offered the option of connecting to additional, non-Apple software repositories in addition to the officially sanctioned channel. In some cases, I might not want Apple injecting itself between me and my software vendor. For instance, if I’m running an application from Oracle or Salesforce.com, I want to make sure that important security updates don’t get stuck in some Apple vetting queue behind Crazy Magic Monkey Explosion IV and an assortment of 45 different tip calculators.
What’s more, while Apple does currently provide a route through which applications that large businesses develop in-house may be installed on iPhones, that process lacks the networked delivery virtues of the official App Store channel.
And then there’s the question of applications that Apple is unwilling to host in its repositories. At the time that I’m writing this, some of the applications that I quite liked using on my hacked iPod Touch are not yet, and may never be, available from the App Store. For instance, while there’s a decent AOL instant messenger client available in the App Store, there are no IM clients that can handle multiple services.
With that said, I think that it’s important to point out that the iPhone has already grown significantly more open than it was at its initial debut, when the only third-party applications welcome on the device had to be piped through the device’s Safari Web browser. Here’s hoping that in time, with customer encouragement, Apple might loosen its grip further.