Apple's Corporate Drive
The Mac maven will now offer native Exchange support with ActiveSync licensed from Microsoft. It has also ramped up the corporate security capabilities of the handset with VPN security and authentication, along with added WiFi security. (See The iPhone Means Business.)
"This announcement will clearly take the iPhone where it hasn't gone before: Namely to the heart of the enterprise," says Carmi Levy, senior VP of strategic consulting at AR Communications Inc. "Although the iPhone was very obviously a consumer-only device when it first launched last year, Apple has realized that the only way it will hit its sales target of 10 million by the end of 2008 is by opening up the platform and making it more appealing to businesses."
The business-focused upgrades were announced alongside the long-awaited software development kit (SDK), which allows third parties to develop native applications directly for the iPhone. Users will be able to download these new applications via iTunes in June when the iPhone 2.0 software upgrade comes out.
Apple originally said that it would deliver the SDK in February. (See Where's the iPhone SDK?) Developers can already write apps that run over the phone's Web browser, but this upgrade should allow them to access more of the system-level features of the iPhone.
Apple's new corporate drive will take it into competition with the North American enterprise smartphone leader, BlackBerry . Small to medium-sized businesses might be the fastest to adopt the device, but overall, AR's Levy thinks it will take 12 to 18 months for a "business ecosystem" to develop around the iPhone.
"RIM isn't quaking in its boots... yet," Levi says. "These things aren't built overnight."
Jack Gold at J.Gold Associates agrees and adds that Apple's current strategy of signing up with one carrier per country -- AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) in the U.S., for instance -- may also stop it from winning large corporate deals.
"Apple still has a challenge in the enterprise, since they only supply devices for a single carrier -- AT&T," Gold elucidates. "What do you do for all the Verizon and Sprint customers?"
"Enterprises won’t simply change carriers on a dime since they usually have long-term contracts. This is more attractive to the smaller enterprise, but really small enterprises don’t usually have Exchange servers installed."
Ironically, as Apple targets the business market, RIM is itself adding more consumer-friendly features to its phones, including an iPhone-like touchscreen.(See RIM's Touching New BlackBerry Plans.)
"Apple and RIM are currently at opposite ends of the road, converging at very high speed on the same patch of market real estate," says AR's Levy.
"Although it is obvious the company [RIM] is committed to injecting an increasing amount of consumer-friendly DNA into its BlackBerry platform, they're not saying much more." he adds. "I still expect to see both 3G and touchscreen hit the market the first half of this year."
Nonetheless, the Apple news has made RIM investors jittery. The Canadian firms stock was down $3.11, or just over 3 percent, at $98.62 in afternoon trading Thursday.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung