Do Apple and AT&T iPhone policies impede corporate adoption?

While consumers have flocked to the iPhone, enterprise customers have adopted a wary stance. After writing a very positive post about the iPhone, Scott Lowe puts on his objective hat and provides some thoughts on why some enterprises remain unfriendly to the iPhone.

Few electronic devices today engender as much discussion as the much ballyhooed and equally maligned iPhone. I've written previously about my love of my iPhone and my organization's intent to adopt the iPhone as our standard mobile device, but many organizations have yet to formally support the device. There are a lot of reasons for this, including:

  • Line of business application support. The Blackberry and Windows Mobile platforms have been around far longer and enjoy a much more entrenched and mature set of applications that will take the iPhone quite some time to match.
  • Security doesn't match up yet. Although there are ways to remote wipe an iPhone, it needs to be network-connected to receive the command whereas the Blackberry, for example, can be configured to self-destruct after a specified period of no communication with the network.
  • More security woes. The iPhone's encryption capabilities still don't match up to the encryption capabilities offered by other devices. This can be a serious issue for many organizations for which extremely strong encryption is a critical need.

These days, you can throw a virtual rock in pretty much any direction and find articles and new stories about what Apple and AT&T are doing, or have done, that potentially damages the credibility and opportunity for the iPhone to continue to make inroads into the enterprise. Although I've become an iPhone addict, I do see some possibly serious issues that could prevent enterprise adoption.

  • Lack of carrier choice. Unless you jailbreak your iPhones - and it's doubtful that you'd want to jailbreak 1,000 iPhones for your enterprise - you're stuck with AT&T and their network limitations and policies. In my case, AT&T is, by far, the dominant provider in my small town, so this isn't a big issue. However, AT&T isn't the dominant provider everywhere, so lack of carrier choice obviously impacts the uptake of the device. If AT&T had wider consistent coverage and would adopt iPhone friendly policies (see below), this could be a non-issue.
  • AT&T limitations. There are obvious and serious limitations that, for some, make the iPhone a non-starter. For example, AT&T still refuses to support tethering capability, which is supported on, well, everything else. Fortunately, we don't have major tethering needs where I work, so this hasn't been an issue. As I said, though, for a lot of people, this would be serious. There is also a lot of dissatisfaction about inability to send multimedia messages over AT&T's network. While this shouldn't affect that many corporate customers, it is an example of a carrier that is dragging its feet with regard to support for common features.
  • Apple app store policies, or lack thereof. I'm not sure how much this would impact enterprise customers since custom enterprise applications can be individually loaded on iPhones. However, I can imagine that Apple's well-known inability to clearly define app store acceptance and rejection policies for the app store would make some people nervous about what else may not be clearly defined. One lesson Microsoft learned early on is that the developer community was critical to the success of the platform. From what I have read and seen, it appears as if Apple has not yet made this leap and may still regard third party application developers as a necessary evil. I'd imagine that, over time, the company will adopt a more developer-friendly stance.
  • Lack of a user-replaceable battery. This may not sound like a huge issue, but what company wants to buy a new phone just because of a bad battery? Is this a show-stopper? I doubt it, but it could be used as another argument against iPhone adoption for an organization resistant to the iPhone in the first place.
  • Mobile policy enforcement. Computer World stated it best here when they said, " The iPhone 3G S also doesn't allow processing in the background that lets IT departments run updates and other management tools coveted by large enterprises, especially financial firms that are bound by strict federal regulations for the treatment of data." There are centralized management solutions for the iPhone out there, though, and I'll be introducing some of those to you in a forthcoming series of articles.

I've written quite a bit about the iPhone and, as I've stated before, am a big fan of the device. That said, I do recognize that the device is far from perfect and suffers from some limitations that make its adoption in some organizations difficult, if not impossible.


Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

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