Apple's iPhone 3G is fit for business use, according to analyst house Gartner.
But interested parties should approach adoption slowly, with Gartner warning that there are various "inconveniences" to consider, such as the iPhone's relatively poor battery performance--and the thorny issue of dealing with iTunes in the enterprise.
Earlier this year the analyst firm said it would be giving businesses the green light to use the device in a limited capacity after Apple detailed enterprise-friendly changes that would arrive with iPhone 2.0, such as support for Microsoft Exchange push e-mail.
The new firmware arrived with the iPhone 3G, which was launched to markets worldwide on July 11 and, after completing tests of the hardware, Gartner says the Mac maker has delivered on its enterprise promises. But organizations will need to develop strategies to support it.
In a report titled "iPhone 2.0 Is Ready for the Enterprise, but Caveats Apply," the Gartner states: "The iPhone meets our minimum requirements and can be moved to the appliance support level, which means support is limited to a narrow set of applications, such as voice, e-mail, personal information manager and browsing."
To pass Gartner's test, the iPhone needed to support "at least one popular enterprise e-mail system" and, on the security side, remote wiping of lost/stolen devices, and a complex user password "consisting of a combination of alpha, numeric and special characters in a pattern that cannot be easily guessed."
The iPhone 2.0's ActiveSync support ticks the first box. Microsoft Exchange has some 70 percent of the enterprise e-mail market--meaning "many end users can now use the iPhone."
Users of other e-mail systems--such as Lotus Notes--"must employ previously released methods, such as IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol), in the concierge support level or await third-party products that can tie into the security policy features delivered with the Firmware 2.0 upgrade."
Not all non-Exchange enterprise users will be happy with that situation however. Associated Newspapers Chief Information Officer Ian Cohen recently told CNET News sister site Silicon.com that the lack of Lotus support is one of the main reasons his company won't consider adopting iPhones.
Another CIO, Matthew Sinclair of Marsh, told Silicon.com: "Organizationally, we're heading toward migration from Lotus Notes to Exchange, which will take some time. Once we've done that we'll evaluate the use of iPhone versus BlackBerry."
The iPhone passed Gartner's security tests too. The report states: "The device can be wiped clean via the issuance of a standard instruction from Exchange, and can force the use of a complex password if the alphanumeric setting is checked on the Exchange 2003 SP2 or 2007 administrative console."
When it comes to remote wiping, Gartner said "the iPhone reacts similarly to a Windows Mobile device, clearing contents when the security policy is violated." The iPhone also follows Windows Mobile devices when it comes to setting parameters for password enforcement policy.
The report states: "Microsoft uses a confusing approach, assuming that the end device will decide on what type of password will be enforced when the policy is received by the device. There is no feedback to the console that the policy has been enforced. Windows Mobile interprets the alphanumeric parameter as an instruction to force the user to employ a complex password. The iPhone replicates this function in the same manner, despite Microsoft's awkward implementation."
But the cautious thumbs-up comes with various caveats for businesses considering adopting iPhones.
For businesses that simply want to make use of the device in a consumer-style way--that is, primarily as a personal assistant tool with little or no integration into business systems--the analyst said there is likely to be no more security impact than there is from an employee using a work mobile for personal use.
However, organizations seeking to put it to work as mainly a business tool will have to recognize that it could lower their overall security footprint--and therefore limiting browser access could be "one way to mitigate concerns."
Moreover, as it stands, the device "does not deliver sufficient security for custom applications." So businesses wanting to deploy custom apps can either "accept the lowered overall security footprint that adoption will dictate or block the device from use," said Gartner.
The iTunes factor
The report also considers the implications of running iTunes in an enterprise setting--as it must be running on the desktop of every iPhone user--a situation that is not ideal for businesses.
Apple uses iTunes to automatically send out firmware updates to end users, "which could be an issue if the IT organization hasn't verified what Apple has delivered," the analyst warns.
It adds: "We strongly suggest that enterprises use existing management tools to modify the iTunes registry entries to disable firmware updates, file transfers and other activities that could inject unwanted content into the enterprise, as well as to lock down the registry."
In the longer term, Gartner is keen to see Apple offer the option to "eliminate iTunes (as a desktop application) as a necessary component to access business applications and manage the device, as Microsoft and RIM have done."
Other iPhone "inconveniences" enterprises should be aware of include its limited battery life, which on default settings--and only using the device for e-mail and some limited browsing (not for any phone calls)--"seldom" yielded a full day of use for Gartner's testers.
The report adds: "Although we cannot confirm what is causing the battery life to be so short, we believe it to be Apple's implementation of Exchange ActiveSync and/or Wi-Fi."
Testers also reported issues with attachment handling--as files must be downloaded before they are read, which it warns "may take time." This stands in contrast to the BlackBerry, which gives users the choice of a "quick rendering from the server." Moreover, Apple does not support attachment editing.
The ongoing lack of cut and paste is also troublesome for business users and the analyst also claims to have stumbled on some glitches with Outlook calendar and e-mail integration. The lack of options to create sophisticated user profiles, such as "meeting" and "car" and so on are another gripe.
But it's not all bad--the browser is lauded as "excellent" and the App Store is also flagged up by the analyst.
The report concludes: "Apple has delivered an iPhone that is acceptable for business use at the appliance level. Most prospective iPhone users will judge the device based on consumer appeal. The App Store applications and the iPhone's excellent browser are supplemented with an e-mail client, which provides acceptable business capability with excellence in some areas."
It adds: "Those who previously used a BlackBerry, Windows Mobile or Nokia smart phone device should note that the iPhone will require an assessment of trade-offs in hardware design and onboard functionality. However, each enterprise will view iPhone through its own lens, which will be heavily tinted by the organization's security and management needs. Enterprises should approach expanded use of the iPhone slowly and with close examination."
Natasha Lomas of Silicon.com reported from London.