by Tom Kaneshige

Apple’s Fight to Stop iPhone Jailbreaks: What it Means to CIOs

Jul 31, 20093 mins
Enterprise Applications

Consumers might fret over Apple's grip on the iPhone, but CIOs need not worry.

Apple has been busy protecting its iPhone franchise, and this has raised the ire of folks like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to defend digital rights. But is Apple’s fight for tight iPhone control bad news for should CIOs? Perhaps not.

The brouhaha started when Apple told the U.S. Copyright Office that modifying the iPhone’s operating system could crash a mobile phone network’s transmission towers or allow people to avoid paying for phone calls. In essence, this was Apple’s attempt to derail jailbreaking, which is the growing practice of hacking into an iPhone and installing unapproved apps.

Such claims amount to “a hill of beans,” said Fred von Lohmann, an EFF senior staff attorney and the organization’s expert in intellectual property law, in an article. “If we had to live under this kind of regime for computers, consumers would rebel. This isn’t about stopping attacks, it’s about Apple and AT&T trying to lock out other programs. I can’t imagine anything that’s any more blatantly anti-competitive.”

Apple’s campaign for control over iPhone apps is well-known and has gained momentum over the past few weeks. For starters, Apple reportedly rejected Google Voice from the iTunes App Store this week. Google Voice lets users forward calls to different lines. Google Voice is largely considered an app for business people and is still available on the BlackBerry.

“Depriving [iPhone] business customers of this killer app may drive them to competing devices, or just keep them on the BlackBerry devices they already rely on,” wrote Michael Scalisi, an IT manager, in a PC World Online article. “Could you imagine if all the apps you wanted to run on your desktop computer needed to be approved my Microsoft, Apple, or Linus Torvalds?”

The iPhone Google Voice slam came on the heels of Apple updating iTunes to Version 8.2.1 that blocks Palm Pre owners from using iTunes to sync their smartphones to Macs or PCs. Apple’s official statement: The new version “provides a number of important bug fixes and addresses an issue with verification of Apple devices.”

Nevertheless, the iPhone is making strides in the enterprise. A recent Forrester Research survey showed that nearly one out of four enterprises support the iPhone, and this number is growing. All of which begs the question: Do CIOs really care about Apple’s draconian ways?

The unfortunate truth is that CIOs have had to deal with attempts at vendor lock-in and proprietary apps ever since, well, CIOs first took one of the corner offices. While Apple’s attempt at control may upset consumers and, yes, even business folks, it probably won’t mean much for CIOs who have to support iPhones in their enterprises.

With Apple, there’s bigger fish for CIOs to fry, says Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney. Apple doesn’t provide good enterprise support, and iPhones lack good security and management features compared to other options today like RIM Blackberry, he says. Regarding the notion of rogue phones knocking out carrier towers, Dulaney says, “there’s no way to know whether that’s [possible] or not … There are so many areas where that generic claim can be applied.”

But the openness, or lack thereof, of the App store, has no real relevance for the CIO, says Dulaney. In a minor way, Apple’s latest volley toward jailbreaking is actually good news for CIOs. “They don’t want jailbroken phones, either,” Dulaney says. “You don’t want any phone that’s not backed by the manufacturer.”

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