Apple iPhone SDK, Exchange Integration Leave Unanswered Questions


But industry analysts say that, while the SDK and Exchange tie-in are steps in the right direction for the coveted and cutting-edge Apple smartphone, there are too many questions that need to be answered before the iPhone can be vaulted to enterprise status.

"I'm not convinced it's going to be an easy sell into the enterprise," said Jack Gold, founder and principal of Northborough, Mass.-based mobility and wireless analyst firm J.Gold Associates. "You still have to prove to enterprises that it's secure."

VARs and analysts have criticized the iPhone because of its lack of an SDK and its lack of Exchange integration, noting that those two missing pieces are what's kept the slick device out of enterprise walls. Thursday, however, Apple said both the SDK and Exchange integration will be available in June as a free update to iPhone users as iPhone 2.0 software, which is now in beta testing. The same software will be available for the iPod Touch.

Along with the software update, Apple also announced that venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins has created a $100 million "iFund" to fund software development on both the iPhone and iPod Touch.

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Still, Gold said the update is rife with "gotchas." First, he said, to make the SDK work, users have to use Apple's tools, likely iTunes or Apple's App Store, which will be included in the next iPhone software release. App Store is where users can buy and download iPhone applications created with the SDK and where developers can update programs. Applications will also be available through iTunes.

Apple has said it will keep 30 percent of the revenue from applications sold through App Store, but will not charge developers credit card, hosting or marking fees. The developers themselves get to set prices for applications. Apple's developer program costs $99 to join.

"I'm not sure it's going to be easy to sell applications to the iPhone," Gold said. "Also, how you get the applications to the phone isn't completely clear."

Gold said Apple's SDK and Exchange integration still have hurdles to overcome, including proving to enterprise users that applications and email synchronization are safe and easy to manage. For consumers, that isn't a big deal, but to massive enterprises looking to leverage the iPhone as a viable business tool, security and manageability are top concerns.

"What are the management tools being put in place to manage these devices?" Gold asked, noting that BlackBerry devices, made by Waterloo, Ontario-based Research In Motion, run on the BlackBerry Enterprise Server which offers a host of management tools.

For security, iPhone 2.0 software will feature expanded VPN compatibility, including IPsec VPN from San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems; two factor authentication and the ability for administrators to wipe an iPhone clean of data to keep corporate information secured. Gold, however, said he has heard no mention of the software including encryption tools or other security mechanisms.

"How safe is it? What if I lose the phone? Is my data encrypted?" are just a few security questions Gold said enterprises should be asking.

The Exchange integration portion will enable push email, push calendar integration and contacts and a global address list. Apple has licensed the Active Sync protocol and built it directly into the iPhone to let it communicate with Exchange directly.

Gold said for now it appears the iPhone is best suited for consumers and SMB and midmarket companies that don't have on-site Exchange servers. Enterprises will take a little more convincing and will have to see that the management and security portions are hashed out before they trust iPhone as their corporate mobile device.

"Until people start mucking with it, it's hard to know what it all means," Gold said. "There are a lot of questions that need to be answered for enterprise users that Apple hasn't adequately addressed. The biggest questions is the unknown."