Blogger: Richard Monson-Haefel
Next Tuesday and Wednesday (August 28th and 29th) Burton Group will be hosting a telebriefing that asks the question, “Is the iPhone ready for the Enterprise?” This has been a topic of serious and sometimes not-so-serious debate among Burton Group analysts since before the iPhone was released. In the weeks since the device’s release I’ve been amazed by the differences in opinions and the well defended analysis on the subject by analysts throughout Burton Group.
The question of the iPhone’s utility and fitness for the Enterprise is an important one because it helps us determine what kinds of devices are fit for enterprise use and which ones are not. In addition, it’s a fun debate among iPhone enthusiasts such as myself and its detractors. The telebriefing next week promises to provide both perspectives and not just from yours truly. In what may be a first for Burton Group we have created a panel of Analysts to answer the iPhone question from various services including Application Platform Strategies (that’s me), Security and Risk Management Strategies (Diana Kelley), Networking (Dave Passmore), and IdPS (Bob Blakley). The panel discussion will be lead and moderated by our very own CEO, Jamie Lewis who has his own interesting perspective on the iPhone. A couple of the panelists, at my request, have already posted opinions on the iPhone in the enterprise. Diana Kelley has an excellent post from the perspective of SRMS as does Eric Maiwald. Bob Blakley – a self professed advocated of the iPhone in the enterprise – has also posted a very intersting blog entry on the subject. I look forward to seeing blog entries from other Burton Group analysts as we all seem to have slightly different opinions on the subject.
My position is mixed. I use my iPhone constantly to check e-mail, peruse the web, and yes to watch YouTube! But more importantly I use the device to access Web applications while away from my desk. For example, Burton Group uses Outlook and provides a Web client for Outlook Web Access. I frequently go this interface on my iPhone to check e-mail and my calendar – The experience is surprisingly good thanks to the iPhone’s ability to show web pages in their full splendor and to zoom in on specific areas of a page. I’ve also used iPhone to gather information form SalesForce.com. However, while the iPhone does a fine job with existing web applications its real potential is in applications developed specifically for the iPhone.
Today there are hundreds of applications that have been developed for the iPhone most of which focus on the mass consumer audience. A couple of my favorites right now include the iPhone interface to Facebook.com, which is excellent, the Gass.app which shows me the lowest gass prices a given zipcode (I drive a Suburban which gets 13.7 mpg on a good day, so this is a critical application for me), and Movie.app an application that lets me see movie times and locations (there are a lot of good movies out right now). All of these applications are designed specifically for the iPhone Safari web browser so that the user experience is simply excellent – far exceeding other mobile applications I’ve used. Why are these web-based interfaces so great? Because they are very lightweight and elegant.
Today the number of enterprise applications you can use with iPhone is small but it’s growing. For example, Funambol offers an iPhone interface to Outlook that promises to be pretty good – I haven’t used it yet but hope to get invited to the private beta soon. Another example is LiveTime, which is an application that provides service support interface for field technicians. It’s likely that the iPhone will gain some usage in the Enterprise especially when developers can create iPhone-specific interfaces to existing services or when using software as a service. For example, I don’t think it will be long before someone offers an iPhone interface to SalesForce.com.
The real sweet spot for commercial iPhone applications in the enterprise will be software as a service. As software as a service becomes more common vendors of such products will likely offer mobile phone interfaces to web applications and the iPhone, which provides the nicest mobile web surfing experience, will clearly be a primary target platform for mobile interfaces.
The iPhone does have drawbacks as a terminal for interacting with enterprise applications (applications is my focus. I’ll leave security, networking, and collaboration to the experts in those fields) it lacks persistent storage for both data and applications. As a result, every time you have to access an iPhone web application you load it from scratch. That can be a pain when working over the EDGE network with applications that are not properly designed for the iPhone. I find this far less of a problem, however, when working with applications (i.e. Gass.app and iPhone Facebook) that are specifically designed for the iPhone. Another problem with the iPhone applications is poor integration with the device itself so you cannot write applications that access Bluetooth or PIM application directly. This is seen as a limitation but it’s typical of web-browser-based applications which have very limited access to the device’s operating system.
In general I think the iPhone has enormous potential for the enterprise but as its stands now it’s a bit early in the adoption curve. Apple needs to release a more capable device with a resident development platform to complement the web interface. In addition, security concerns such as device management need to be addressed.
Tune in next week for the iPhone telebriefing to hear a lot more from me on the subject as well as other analysts from Burton Group.