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Is The iPhone Enterprise Ready?

The discussion as to whether or not the iPhone is ready to be brought within the walls of the enterprise has heated up again in recent weeks. First, Apple announced the forthcoming release of its software developers' kit, which is slated for release in February. The SDK should lay the necessary groundwork for software developers to create applications for the iPhone in addition to the Web services applications Apple envisioned with the iPhone???s release. Next, Synchronica, Visto, and most recently Sybase iAnywhere released support for secure push e-mail for enterprise e-mail systems such as Exchange. These services all do roughly the same thing: create a secure IMAP relay server that interfaces with Exchange and allows iPhones to retrieve e-mail without the need for running IMAP services on the Exchange server itself. Add forthcoming support by Avaya for fixed-mobile convergence services on the iPhone and the question has to be asked: Is the iPhone primed to be a part of the enterprise?
The Apple iPhone hasn't always been a darling of enterprise IT's eye. Readers may recall that, shortly after the device's launch, there were reports that the iPhone was causing Duke University???s Wi-Fi network to crash. It turned out that the root of the problem was a bug in Cisco's own wireless controller, software that was quickly fixed by Cisco. Other wireless LAN vendors took advantage of the frenzy: Competitor Aruba Networks released a statement soon after saying that it had certified its infrastructure equipment to work with the iPhone. Apple's fanbase rushed to make sure that commentators, including myself, knew that Apple was in the clear.

But why were infrastructure vendors rushing out statements "certifying" the Apple iPhone? "Isn't that the role of the Wi-Fi Alliance?" we thought. We checked on the Wi-Fi Alliance Web site to determine if the iPhone had gone through a certification process the way competing smartphones, such as RIM???s BlackBerry 8820 and various handsets from Nokia and HTC, had. Turns out the Apple iPhone was nowhere to be found.

Apple is a charter member of the alliance, an alliance board member, and has been actively involved in the certification process with some products like the AirPort Extreme. To determine why Apple had not yet certified the iPhone, both myself and contributing technology editor Frank Bulk placed multiple phone calls and sent multiple e-mails to Apple's PR group and its Wi-Fi Alliance board member seeking commentary. Several months have gone by and, while we have tried to actively pursue the issue both directly and indirectly, we have still not received any answer from Apple as to why it has not certified the iPhone.

The debate as to whether or not the iPhone is ready to be included into the enterprise will last for the next few months as Apple releases its SDK and new applications enter the field. Major technology companies, some announced and others still behind the scenes, are lining up to bring the iPhone into the forefront of enterprise IT. But the question is, how dedicated is Apple, as a company, to making the iPhone palatable for the enterprise? While Apple clearly is driven toward patching security holes (the iPhone is a hot platform for hackers to target as they look to unlock the iPhones to work on multiple carriers and support third-party applications), the lack of Wi-Fi Alliance certification casts doubt on Apple's commitment to enterprise IT.

Some readers will ask, "Why does Wi-Fi certification even matter?" While Wi-Fi Alliance testing may or may not have helped prevent the issues found by Duke University in the early days of the iPhone launch, we believe this minimal level of interoperability testing demonstrates a vendor's commitment to standards and the best possible user experience. Intel's inclusion of Wi-Fi in its Centrino chipset (thus making the majority of laptops sold Wi-Fi capable) is clearly one of the major contributing factors toward the growth of Wi-Fi as a technology over the past several years. However, it's the Wi-Fi Alliance certification, which ensures that clients and infrastructure can interoperate at a base level, that has also ensured that the rising tide of Wi-Fi has caused all boats to float. Apple should demonstrate its dedication to enterprise IT and the Wi-Fi Alliance by getting the iPhone certified. Otherwise, we will have to ask: Just what might Apple have to hide that testing might reveal? Or does it just believe that it's exempt from playing the same game that its competitors, like Nokia, Research In Motion, and HTC have for some time? For now, we'll just have to speculate.