Though Apple continues to be coy regarding business-minded tweaks to the next iPhone, slated for unveiling next week, enterprise users have plans of their own: They want the iPhone–even if the IT department’s still a bit wary.
In light of the expected release of Apple’s second-generation iPhone at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference next week in San Francisco, we asked a group of CIOs and IT directors about the features that they most want to see in the new device to help make the smartphone more “enterprise friendly.”
(Note: Some of the CIOS we spoke with mentioned the fact that iPhone’s virtual keyboard could be a turnoff to “power users,” but we decided to leave this fact out for two reasons: 1) We’ve come to believe that whether or not you’re more effective on a physical keyboard or touch screen is largely dependent on preference, and 2) we simply don’t see Apple releasing an iPhone with a physical keyboard any time soon.)
Most Wanted: Tighter Security, Remote Management
Today, threats associated with remote workers and mobile devices are keeping more and more IT staffers up at night, according to new research, so it’s no shocker that the CIOs we spoke with cited security as their number one concern regarding enterprise iPhone use.
Markus Hill, VP of Technology with Charlotte, N.C.,-based Rodgers Builders, a construction contracting firm, says security and compliance are his biggest worries regarding iPhone use in the enterprise.
“My biggest concern about using the iPhone for business is drawing the line between business and personal use,” Hill says. “It is such a convenient device compliance issues could be a major problem.”
Hill cites the BlackBerry Enterprise Server’s ability to remotely enforce IT policies on users’ devices as one of RIM’s major strengths in the business space.
“The iPhone does not have a central management mechanism, and that is a very big concern,” Hill says.
Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits CIO Tim Davis Concurs: “Central IT needs to be able to remotely troubleshoot issues and brick devices if they’re lost or stolen.”
Keith Brooks, CIO of Vanessa Brooks, a firm that provides various services to companies with IBM Lotus software and infrastructure, also think the iPhone’s security is lacking–at least from an enterprise perspective–and suggests that Apple create its own BES competitor–a Mac iPhone Server (MIS), if you will.
Brooks says that if such a server were to be introduced, it could pave the way for acceptance of the iPhone within tightly controlled organizations.
Wanted: More Flexible Mail Client
Davis says an Outlook mail client that works seamlessly with messages, contacts, calendars and tasks is high atop his iPhone 2.0 wish list. Davis says he pictures it much like the current BlackBerry interface, “only better.”
“HTML emails should be readable; calendars should have the same look with any colors, etc,” he says. “You should be able to view invites and free/busy times. And admins should be able to accept meeting requests on behalf of folks like they do in Outlook.”
Hugh Scott, VP of IS for the wholesale business unit of Direct Energy, a retail energy provider with annual revenue of $8 billion, seconds Davis’s point.
“In order for the iPhone to be taken seriously as a business device, Apple needs to compete head to head with RIM, and to do that it would need to offer a corporate push e-mail solution that could be easily integrated with most organizations’ Microsoft e-mail environments,” Scott wrote in a CIO.com review of the iPhone a few months after its release
Davis also thinks the iPhone would be much more appealing to businesses if it functioned with Microsoft Live Communicator and Sharepoint.
For instance, he says, he can currently look at an e-mail message’s sender and addressee fields to see whether or not those people are online, whether they’re free or busy and more.
“It would be great if presence worked when looking at e-mail” on the iPhone, Davis says.
And though Windows Mobile 6.0 users can access and login into Sharepoint using their Internet Explorer Mobile browsers, Davis says he’s never been able to do so with his BlackBerry’s browser
“I have a Sharepoint Intranet that is not accessible via Blackberry, and our field staff needs data that is posted out there,” Davis says. If the iPhone could help those workers find the data they need, that ability would give the device a leg up on BlackBerry in that respect., he says.
Another thing: Albert C. Lee, IT director of New York Media, publisher of New York Magazine and NYMag.com, says the current one-year iPhone warranty offered by Apple/AT&T needs some serious work before IT departments consider large-scale iPhone deployments.
According to Lee, the existing iPhone warranty covers a very limited set of repairs, and whatever fixes it does cover must be setup through Apple and not AT&T, which can make the process more difficult for organizations that already go through carriers for repairs to other smartphones.
AT&T also doesn’t currently offer an iPhone insurance plan for devices that are broken or seriously damaged during use, though the carrier provides supplemental insurance for other handsets, Lee says. (In case you’re curious, the iPhone warranty states: “This warranty does not apply: to damage caused by accident, abuse, misuse, flood, fire, earthquake or other external causes.”)
Currently, iPhone users are stuck with the built-in battery that Apple ships in the devices–and that’s a major deterrent to business users, as it means they’re dependent on a single charge to get them through long travels and instances where electrical outlets aren’t available, Lee says. BlackBerry users, on the other hand, can purchase backup batteries to pop into their smartphones whenever the main power supply is drained.
Lee’s not an iPhone user himself, but he’s very familiar with the device: New York Media is currently involved in the iPhone 2.0 software beta program, meaning Lee and his team support four iPhone users while they test out Apple’s new handheld software. He says New York Media will be supporting mail, contact and calendar synchronization with global address list (GAL) support as soon as the new iPhone is released–though employees must sign the appropriate release forms–but a removable battery and improved warranty would make the device a much more attractive option to his IT department.
Wanted: More Robust Phone Feature Set
It would be great, says Rodgers Builders’ Hill, if Apple expanded the iPhone’s basic phone features to include the ability to activate the iPhone’s Wi-Fi while its radio was turned off.
“I do not have phone service in my office,” Hill says. “But I do have Wi-Fi.”
He’d also welcome the addition of a phone-based task-tracking feature, or to-do list; voice dialing functionality; the ability to use the iPhone to record conversations or other audio; a phone-based file folder to store documents and other business files; and contact search capability.
A cut-and-paste function would also be a great addition to the iPhone’s smartphone features, according to Direct Energy’s Scott.
“The iPhone currently lacks cut and paste commands, and this is problematic for me because when I want to send sections of content from e-mail or documents, there’s no way to transfer that content into a new message without retyping it,” Scott wrote in his CIO.com iPhone review. “It’s a function found on most smart phones today.”
Scott would also like to see a video recorder come along with the new iPhone, though he admits such a feature may not have many business-specific benefits.
An “Enterprise-Ready” iPhone Next Week?
So if the Apple were to add all the above mentioned features and functionality to the second-generation iPhone, would businesses embrace it with open arms? Would it be truly “enterprise ready?”
“‘Enterprise ready’ is a misnomer,” Brooks says. The real question is whether or not “it will be IT certified. Just like the IM [employees] use that aren’t approved, or secure…To argue a phone is or isn’t corporate in this day and age is just being narrow minded.”
New York Media’s Lee doesn’t think RIM has anything to immediately worry about, even if Apple does add an external battery and better warranty to the new iPhone.
“I think even with improved battery and warranty, Apple isn’t going to win enterprise adoption so quickly. There is a cult of arrogance that comes out of Cupertino — the “Apple knows what’s good for you” mentality,” Lee says.
For instance, Lee notes, you can’t load whatever software you want on an iPhone without “hacking” it or circumventing Apple’s default protections. And users can’t open up an iMac to service it, he adds.
“There’s a lot of ‘can’t do’ items that make Apple products extremely expensive to own and manage in the enterprise,” Lee says. “Like the Blackberry, the iPhone will need to earn its right to live on the hips of executives.”
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.