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Review: Two Weeks With An iPhone

Our Apple expert takes the deepest dive ever into the iPhone, offering perspective on apps and corporate integration you won't find anywhere else.

Having owned my iPhone since about 20 minutes after they went on sale June 29, I'm comfortable in saying that, while the iPhone isn't perfect, and has some real flaws, it's nevertheless the best-designed, most pleasurable to use device I've ever owned.

Keep in mind that I'm no newbie, having used smartphones since 2001. Along the way, I've owned a Sprint Kyocera 6035 smartphone, an Audiovox PPC-6601 Pocket PC phone, also from Sprint; and two Verizon XV-6700 smartphones. I also support four models of Palm Treo, the aforementioned 6700, and the Motorola Q Windows Mobile 5.0 smartphone, all in an Exchange/GoodLink environment. So I'm hardly new to the joys of either smartphones or corporate uses thereof.

In reflecting on my two weeks with the iPhone, my objective is to move beyond nattering about its specs or complaining about what it doesn't do, and shed some serious light on security issues, corporate e-mail syncing, iPhone application development, and a bunch of other areas of interest to serious users, both corporate and otherwise.

Syncing With Microsoft Exchange

I wanted to deal with this first, because it's about a third of the noise in the iPhone signal. Right now, without third-party products such as Synchronica's Mobile Gateway, you can't connect to Exchange, (or Domino/GroupWise) via any method other than standard e-mail protocols. Even with a product like Mobile Gateway, you only get e-mail sync due to limitations in the iPhone. If you need full-on Exchange/Domino access à la GoodLink/Exchange ActiveSync, if that is a hard requirement for you, and you don't want to carry two cell phones? Don't get the iPhone for now, you'll not be happy with it. There's no sense in getting something that can't perform a critical function.

Having said that, this is only an issue for people who need Exchange/Domino-type functionality. I know what I'm about to say will give a lot of pundits the vapors, but here goes: Not every company uses Exchange/Domino. In fact, in the SMB and higher ed markets, a lot of people don't use Exchange, and don't particularly care about it. If you don't use an Exchange/Domino-type solution, if IMAP and iCal are fine for you, then the iPhone is an outstanding option.

The truth is, until Mac OS X Leopard is released, I doubt that there will be any options for over the air (OTA) sync of anything other than e-mail. Currently, Apple doesn't have a calendaring solution. They don't have a really good way to deal with networked user contact databases. Since there's no provision for OTA sync of contacts and events to any kind of server, third-party support for this is, shall we say, tricky.

However, come October and the release of Leopard Server, that changes. Apple will have a calendaring/group contact solution. I'll give you 80% odds right now that within a few weeks, if not days of the release of Leopard, you're going to see an update to the iPhone which will allow for OTA sync to CalDAV servers, and probably some OTA LDAP love, too. After all, why would Apple keep the iPhone from connecting to its own products? I quote from the Chewbacca Defense: "It does not make sense."

Once you have published ways to get contact and event data in and out of the iPhone over the air, then dealing with Exchange/Domino-style connectivity becomes far simpler, as you only have to make your server act in a way that's compatible with the iPhone. So I'll hazard that, post-Leopard, iPhone connectivity will get a lot easier.

Not A Big Security Risk

Leaving aside specific vulnerabilities in the iPhone itself (Yes, I agree that a hardcoded root password is, on the surface, a bad idea. However, an iPhone is an embedded device, not a general-purpose computer. There are some different rules in that arena, and the iPhone is hardly the first such device. I worked on a few Siemens Saturn phone switches that had the same issue. It's not what I'd call a great idea, but neither is it the end of the world. With any luck, this is fixable via a firmware update, and I'd like to see one soon if there is. But face it, as security risks go, an iPhone is far less of one on its worst day than any brand of laptop you care to mention on its best, and that includes Apple's.), the next big noise factor is security.

If you listen to some pundits, you'd think that every iPhone was vacuuming data off your network as fast as it gets on. This is highly overblown. The iPhone is not a flash drive. Even with software like Ecamm Network's iPhoneDrive, the iPhone still isn't a flash drive. Assuming that there's going to be a Windows version of iPhoneDrive (currently it's Mac-only) within a short time, it still doesn't make the iPhone a flash drive.

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