The announcement by Apple today that it will support Microsoft Exchange on the iPhone had all the splashiness of something you’d see in the consumer space. Apple CEO Steve Jobs, accompanied by two Apple executives, addressed an invite-only crowd of reporters, bloggers and special guests at the Apple Town Hall in Cupertino, Calif. this morning (early afternoon on the east coast).
If you haven’t read the news story already, you can grab it here. Meanwhile, here’s three thoughts I jotted down during the presentation about what this might mean for corporate IT departments (and their users).
1) Many IT departments will have to give in to the iPhone now. At first, there were some significant reasons to prevent the iPhone from coming into the enterprise. But as Jobs said today during a Q&A with reporters, Apple “listened to what our customers wanted in the enterprise.” The list of IT-friendly features include push-based e-mail, calendar and contacts, as well as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) support and two-factor authentication, certificates and identities. An IT department will have the ability to remotely wipe an iPhone if, for instance, its company’s top salesman peaces out to join the ranks of a competitor.
While most mobile users won’t understand what this laundry list of IT features means, they’ll know enough to realize the iPhone is no longer the Wild West of mobile security. If they have e-mail over Exchange, they’ll be knocking down their IT departments’ doors asking for an iPhone.
And it won’t just be the troops; the General will want one too. It’s unlikely this development won’t make it across the desk of a CEO. This announcement carried the kind of aura we’ve come to expect from Apple. Steve Jobs came on stage to roaring applause (even from some of the reporters on hand) and the rest of the presentation contained playful demonstrations of newly developed applications for the iPhone. Camera crews zoomed in, and murmurs of amazement often enveloped the auditorium. It was, as they’d say, classic Apple in terms of delivery.
2) The iPhone app economy. We also learned that Apple is releasing a software development kit that allows engineers to create applications using essentially the same tool Apple uses internally. It reminded me of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision last May to open up the social networking platform, giving way to a plethora of widget makers. The difference? We’re talking even bigger money here. Mobile real-estate will heat up even more in the coming years. Jobs says developers can keep 70 percent of the revenue for each app, while Apple will retain 30 percent for overhead expenses (though I can’t imagine that won’t translate into some kind of profit for them).
3) The battle for enterprise hearts and minds truly begins. BlackBerry maker Research in Motion won’t go quietly. As CIO’s mobile expert Al Sacco reported, a touch screen of their own is likely in the mix, and they already have the dialogue with IT departments that will help them hold their sizable share of the enterprise mobile market. That said, Jobs seems ready for that debate. During the Q&A, when asked if Apple considered security a high priority, he answered by asking, “why aren’t CIOs worried more about security?” He was alluding to the fact that lots of corporate e-mail travels not directly from a BlackBerry to a corporate server, but instead makes a stop off at an RIM operations center in Canada. Jobs argues that extra point makes corporate e-mail more vulnerable and slower. The iPhone, by comparison, talks with an IT department’s Exchange server directly.