As expected, Apple unveiled a 3G version of the iPhone at the Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this week. No real surprise here — its hardware specifications simply served more as a confirmation of details already leaked the Web over.
The overall form factor remained unchanged, as was its trademark 3.5-inch Multi-Touch display and accelerometer. New attributes include a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone connector for standard earphones and built-in GPS (Global Positioning System) functionality. According to Steve Jobs, the new iPhone supposedly also has a better battery life, though it is an open question as to how they managed to pull it off with the slightly slimmer form factor.
The real gem is really in the software, however. In this regard, Apple is making a solid attempt to push the iPhone squarely at the enterprise. It appears that Apple has carefully studied the market and positioned itself to emulate and improve upon the best traits of its competitors.
If you can’t beat them, join them. Similar to how Outlook came to the Mac OS X platform in the form of Microsoft Entourage, Apple has licensed Microsoft’s Direct Push technology to put it on the iPhone. Direct Push allows a client handheld to connect to Microsoft Exchange for services such as push mail, synchronized to-do, calendaring, contact lists, global address lookup, as well as the ability do a remote wipe.
It is a request that Microsoft is happy to fulfill, as this will only strengthen its lock on the enterprise e-mail market — and get paid for the privilege. At this point, it is not clear which version of Direct Push Apple implemented in iPhone 2.0. The latest version — implemented in Exchange 2007 — comes with the ability to perform a server-side search of your e-mails, as well as the ability do incremental download of e-mail contents.
By signing on with Microsoft, Apple has propelled itself to the front line against the likes of RIM’s BlackBerry.
Unified Push Notification
This is probably the most interesting service that was mentioned. Called Unified Push Notification, this service maintains a persistent connection between the iPhone and an Apple-owned server so that developers can use it to push notifications to the correct application on the device. It is accessible to all third-party developers and is supposed to address the absence of background processes in the iPhone.
I am not sure if anyone else saw the link, but this sounds like a simplified cloud version of RIM’s Mobile Data System (MDS). Assuming that data transfers are fully encrypted, we could have something here, if this could be scaled up to include robust and validated delivery of applications from in-house enterprise programmers.
Unfortunately, push notification will be available only in September, so it’s still too early to tell.
Taking a leaf from RIM’s BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service), MobileMe is run as a stand-alone service and promises to push your e-mails. Unlike BIS, it will also automatically synchronize calendaring and to-dos between your Mac or PC desktop and your iPhone. In addition, it also comes with file storage functionality called iDisk as well as an image gallery. While a subscription fee of $99/annum has to be paid, it perfectly meets the needs of smaller businesses or power users who tire of managing multiple inboxes.
Ease of development
A key factor to the success of any platform has to do with the ease of developing on the platform. Microsoft knows that, which is why its flagship Microsoft Visual Studio is so good. Well, so does Apple, according to various reports of the keynote referring to how “partner after partner talked about how easy and quick it had been to build those applications.”
Still, as Gartner analyst Mike McGuire noted, “The devil is in the details, and we’re going to have to wait until we hear from developers.” I suppose the verdict on this will have to wait until July 11, when Apple releases version 2.0 of the iPhone operating system to the general public.
Will the iPhone succeed in its endeavor to penetrate the enterprise? Only time will tell. One thing is for certain, shipments of smartphones will only increase. And when you are talking about 195 million units by the end of this year, the platform with the biggest slice of the pie will wield incredible influence.
What are your thoughts on this matter? What do you think are the chances of the iPhone making it in the enterprise?