Tech Spotlight: Mobility

Apple brings buzz to the market that could translate into sales of other types of smartphones in the short run.

Corporate mobility has been a consistently hot market for the channel over the last few years, with customers clamoring to have their corporate e-mail systems, especially Microsoft Exchange, accessible anywhere through handheld devices.

It's a market dominated by Research in Motion Ltd. and its BlackBerry devices and by smartphones from Nokia. But consumer-technology darling Apple Inc. is making a splash July 11 that could have ramifications on the corporate side.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled Apple's second-generation smartphone, the iPhone 3G, and its accompanying iPhone 2.0 software on June 9. The iPhone 3G will be available July 11 in an 8GB model for $199 and a 16GB model for $299. As the name implies, the new smartphone brings support for the 3G data network, which is much more robust than the first-generation iPhone's EDGE network. Users still must enter into a contract with AT&T to use an iPhone.

More to the point for the Microsoft channel, Apple has introduced support for Microsoft Exchange. The new iPhone will integrate with Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 through support for Microsoft ActiveSynch, which allows customers to receive e-mail, calendar and contacts. The phone also supports Cisco IPSec VPN and wireless network services with WPA2 Enterprise and 802.1x authentication.

Computer-Like GUI
Having brought a desktop-like, rather than a mobile-phone-enabled Internet browsing experience to the iPhone in the first generation, Apple now touts the iPhone 3G's ability to display HTML e-mail, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint and PDF documents much like a computer shows them.

Apple also added remote wipe capability, a key checkbox for corporate IT executives concerned that a lost or stolen phone carrying company secrets or private customer data could lead to disaster. Further, Apple is encouraging corporate developers to create applications for the phone, and the company says a software development kit for the iPhone had been downloaded 250,000 times since March.

Analysts don't see iPhones immediately, or possibly ever, taking over the corporate market. Reasons include Apple's cultural reluctance to commit major resources to meeting the special requirements of corporate and enterprise markets, concerns over whether the security features in the iPhone are robust enough and technical quibbles with the way Apple handles the remote-wipe functionality. In the short term, the iPhone seems more likely to be a conversation starter for customers and their solution providers, and those talks could lead to a sale involving a different brand of smartphone.

For existing players like RIM, observers note that Apple's moves have helped drive down stock values as Wall Street reacted to the buzz around the iPhone. But in the world of unit shipments, Apple's announcements have translated into substantial sales increases, according to executives from RIM, Palm Inc. and Nokia.

Other Offerings
Meanwhile, other companies have also been busy with their mobility offerings.

RIM is at work on the 5.0 version of the BlackbBerry Enterprise Server (BES), code-named "Argon," the software that connects to Exchange and Lotus Domino servers and allows administration and management of BlackBerry devices. General availability is tentatively set for the end of this year.

Like Apple, RIM sees mobile applications as a key to growth in the platform. To enable that on the enterprise side, BES 5.0 will include new features for surfacing, securing, deploying and managing mobile applications in enterprise settings with hundreds or thousands of BlackbBerry users.

At the same time, RIM plans to release a new smartphone called the BlackBerry Bold this summer. From the timing to the RIM description of the phone, the device seems to be aimed squarely at providing an alternative for customers who might be considering an iPhone 3G but have more buttoned-down requirements. In a May announcement, RIM described the BlackBerry Bold as "crafted from premium materials, inside and out, that radiate elegance."

The company says the Internet browsing experience will more closely match a desktop browser.

Building on its January 2007 acquisition of Good Technology, Motorola Inc. in June announced plans to roll out version 6.0 of the Good Mobility Suite later in the year. Similar in functionality to BES, the Good suite provides tools for managing smartphone devices and provides the back-end connections to Exchange and Domino.

The 6.0 version will include a new managed-service VPN and an enhanced device-management and security platform.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.