As excited as I am about all of the cool stuff that will soon be available because of what the iPhone SDK has to offer to developers, I’m even more excited about the proliferation of the iPhone that is about to happen in the enterprise arena. Let me explain:
Bringing the Microsoft ActiveSync licensing to the iPhone offers something RIM (the makers of the BlackBerry) can only dream about – a convergence device in the enterprise, and this without the hassle of a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). Many corporations manage their mail utilizing Microsoft Exchange. And while Exchange has its’ benefits, it takes something like BES to integrate smartphones onto a corporate network, unless the user community is wed to (YUCK!!!) Windows Mobile devices. The workaround for a user who has to interact with an Exchange server on their iPhone is to beg their systems administrator to enable the IMAP protocol. While this is an OK workaround, it’s really only mediocre at best, as this is not a “push” from the mail server, but a phone-initiated “pull”. IMAP also will not synchronize calendars and contacts.
I’m currently using IMAP at my office, just for the purposes of having my work-related email on my phone. I have to use a plug-in called GSyncItÂ to synchronize my Outlook calendar with my iPhone. It’s a massive pain, mostly due to the fact that I didn’t want my personal events from my main calendar to cross-pollinate with my work events. So I setup a secondary GMail account, which Outlook syncs to using GSyncIt, and then sync it to iCal by subscribing to an RSS feed of my calendar. What sucks about that as a solution is that those “sync’d” items are unable to be edited and are stripped of their alerts and reminders. So I have a less than productive PDA calendaring device using this method. To get my work contacts sync’d to my iPhone, I utilize Plaxo (with loathing, I might add) on my work PC’s Outlook contacts, and in my Address Book.app on my Macbook Pro. This way I get my contacts updated in both areas. Be aware – both of these solutions are Ã¼ber-geeky, and NOT efficient. In other words, they work, but they aren’t pretty.
Since I’ve gone in detail to describe my little workarounds, here’s how cool ActiveSync is going to make life: ActiveSync integrates directly with an Exchange server, which hosts not only mail, but calendars, contacts, and public folders. An appointment made on your iPhone is synchronized to Outlook over the air (also known as OTA). The reverse is true as well. The same goes for contact creations or edits. And lastly, mail that has been read in one place, moved to another, responded to, etc. is synchronized to the server as well. This includes the response itself, which would in essence invalidate the default “Sent from my iPhone” message at the bottom ofÂ mail sent from the iPhone.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Eh. Big deal. Who cares about how iPhones integrate into a business environment?” My answer is pointed. You should care. The iPhone is now strategically placed to be the BlackBerry killer that we hoped it would be. Talk about silencing every critic that has ever said that Macs (as a general rule) aren’t business-class machines, and that Apple (as a whole) isn’t interested in the enterprise. Right now, Dell and RIM should be shaking in their boots, as this move by Apple represents a major change in the tone and tenor of their party line. This gets Apple one step closer to becoming one of the largest smartphone makers in the world, and makes them a viable alternative as a computer vendor in the enterprise.
I’ve not even mentioned some of the remote administrative features (the “wipe”) of this change to iPhone 2.0 or the fact that Cisco is developing a native IPSec VPN client for it either. These also are steps that propel Apple – and we fanboys! – from niche computing to an operational standard. The game has officially changed, ladies and gents.