Talk of a licensing deal with iPhone and Microsoft raises new possibilities. Plus: dealing with iPhone headaches in the enterprise.
The iPhone as a media event is a wonderful thing but to an IT manager it is Satan Spawned
. This is because it is one of those devices and a large number of employees are likely to buy and bring to the enterprise begging, or in the case of executives, demanding support.
But we dont really take phones as seriously as we should and anything that currently showing the popularity this phone is showing should be taken seriously. If the rumored licensing announcement between Microsoft and Apple on ActiveSync is true (and some argue it is not) this would make a future generation of this device more attractive and you may be able to hold off supporting the first generations of this phone. But, this announcement assures that eventually the iPhone will be coming into the enterprise and youd better get ready.
What makes this problem visible is the amazing job Apple has done building demand for this phone. But we still have to deal with that demand. Eventually youll have to embrace this device, assuming it is successful, and that goes to the core of getting the company to buy one for IT. In the end, this signifies one of the biggest changes since the PC, or Mac was first created and we probably should begin preparing for that change now.
Before we get started, for anyone buying an iPhone, check out the Cell For Cash service which helps find buyers of old cell phones (may help recapture some of the cost).
The Risk of: Amazing Apple Marketing
Now if I were to describe the iPhone on spec but say it was from LG, Sony, or Samsung and not Apple I doubt many would buy it. It would read like this: First generation phone (new OS, new hardware, new applications), costing several times what people currently spend on a phone, lacking a keyboard (folks have historically hated screen phones), made of glass and metal (think what happens if you drop it), with no removable battery (phone batteries generally are good for a year), and requiring a 2 year commitment with only AT&T (a lot of folks truly hate Cingular). Granted it has a nice UI and it is pretty, but so is Paris Hilton and I doubt many of us would want her to move in for 2 years.
But Apple has done a stunning job containing (for the most part) the bad news and focusing us on the eye candy. The Ads are incredibly well done, they appear to have shills all over the blogosphere (even Slashdot appears to have been hit), and the result is demand for this thing that appears to be in line with a video game system.
Something to think about, if you are being asked, or considering buying one yourself, is that the first version of the iPhone is just a mashup of the ideas from Steve Jobs, Product Design, and Engineering with some last minute adjustments for major problems. The second generation will be based on Steve Jobs feedback after having used the phone and the third based on feedback from the market. The ideal phone should be the third generation and this is when Active Sync is should be designed in making this the phone you likely cant say no to.
While there is some question whether the first generation iPhone will experience the same problem the PlayStation 3 experienced once released (currently Sony is having a great deal of trouble moving the product while demand last December was through the roof), the reality is a lot of folks are going to be buying these things and, if they have a company approved smart phone, a good chunk will likely want to replace it with the iPhone.
I actually suggest IT gets one, or two, but think of it as a firebreak for now.
How to Get Your Company to Buy You an iPhone
Actually this will probably only work for one or two people in each IT shop. But saying no to someone, particularly an executive, is going to be very difficult if you havent actually tried to get the iPhone to work. In addition, people are likely to try to access internal and external web services with this phone and the browser isnt exactly a poster child for IE compatibility. For instance support for things like Java and Flash are uncertain, which could create problems if say a VP of sales (you know your sales guys will likely buy these things) tries to do his or her expense report and it crashes the phone or doesnt post, they are likely to blame you.
Also, if you have one or two in house you can demonstrate just what kinds of pain employees will experience and make it their problem. This is much easier to do before they buy the phone in the first place and, for most, once they see that the approved smart phone works much better they will likely pass and wait for something better. There is a new iPhone expected in October.
Finally, this gives you a test bed to run against internal and external web resources. I think it would be silly to count Apple out, particularly given the demand the generation one product has and with the rumored Active Sync announcement (if true). And by generation 3 of the phone, if you start looping in testing, youll likely have much of the support solved as applications naturally go through updates and improvements without incurring a substantial amount of additional testing and development cost. At the very least it will be a lot less disruptive and expensive than if you had to make fast forced changes in the generation 3 timeline when the phone could actually work.
Until then, however, you are going to want to say no to those wanting to expense and integrate the phone.
Saying No to the iPhone
We had a long podcast on this targeted at telephony administrators earlier this month. (If you click on the link excuse the sound quality I was in an airport when this was taped and the reception sucked).
There are three ways to try to talk an executive or employee out of trying to get you to support it.
1. It is a consumer device, focused on media and entertainment, and not appropriate for corporate use. This is the strongest argument but it wont hold indefinitely, which is why I suggest you start getting familiar with the device. Since you likely cant stop it anyway, you may want to say you will evaluate the 3rd generation product that should support Active Sync and likely support that version making this a soft, rather than a hard, no.
2. It is not designed to be compliant with the standards set in the organization. This is a quick way of saying you havent tested the device and believe it will have problems with resources that use Java or Flash. Once again this will likely be fixed by generation 3.
3. It is a Generation One device. This means the security and interoperability exposures are, as yet, largely unknown and IT simply will not put corporate networks at risk because someone wants to be first to use a flashy device. Since the third generation product is expected in a year, and it will take that long to get a feel for it, holding off until then would seem prudent.
However, even with all of this you will likely have to figure out how to support this in some way before the end of the year.
Web Access Only
There is likely no more risk to this device than there is to a borrowed PC or Web terminal in a common area, and it is relatively unlikely the iPhone will be running a key logger (a service that captures IDs and passwords often found on unsecure PCs and terminals). Outlook Web Access isnt bad, assuming it works on the iPhone, and it is better than nothing. Watch the forums after launch as I expect a lot of folks will be trying to get this to work.
This means there may actually be a benefit to using this phone, which is in the users control, over a piece of equipment that is not. Given you cant really prevent it anyway, recommending and assuring web access may be a better path than saying no and having folks try it anyway.
Sometimes all the employee or executive wants is someone to try to help them and, if you can warn them about what doesnt work, while helping them find what does, youll likely have a supporter at the end of this process and IT can use all the support it can get.
Big Changes Ahead
Lets step back and take a look at the Macro picture. Apple is driving a massive change into the cell phone segment. If you couple this with efforts like the Palm Folio, UMPC, and Blade PC you should be seeing huge red flags indicating a massive approaching change in everything from PCs to Cell phones and from related software to services. This change isnt just in the enterprise either but is likely to hit solidly in small business and consumer. Companies driving this change are Apple, HP, Cisco, Palm, RIM, and even Microsoft (and this is just the short list).
We are on the forefront of a massive change; unfortunately we cant hide from it, because even if we could prevent our executives and employees from moving, our partners and customers likely wont ask our permission. This change is broader than the iPhone alone; Microsoft is working with Apple and a number of Linux distributors and improving dramatically interoperability between a variety of platforms. If you wanted choice, you are probably going to see one hell of a lot of it shortly.
It is probably time we started looking aggressively at some of the emerging technologies and put in place strategies to improve our own Agility because we likely will be dancing fast in the next few years. So learning a few steps now could keep us from falling on our butts.