Gartner OKs iPhone For Business, With Some Reservations

One concern is the need to have iTunes installed on the end-user desktop, which allows for automatic firmware updates, file transfers, and other activities.
The Apple iPhone meets the minimum requirements for use on a corporate network, but companies that deploy the device will need to take a number of steps to prepare it for business use, IT research firm Gartner said this week.

The iPhone can be safely used for a narrow set of applications, such as voice, e-mail, personal information manager and Web browsing, Gartner said in a report. However, the firm advised businesses to deploy the iPhone slowly and assess trade-offs in hardware design and functionality relative to other options in use, such as Research In Motion's BlackBerry or devices running Microsoft's Windows Mobile.

In addition, Gartner recommended that organizations assess their security and management needs to ensure that the iPhone is a good fit.

Apple this summer released a major upgrade of the iPhone that included security, e-mail support, and other key business features that were lacking in the original iPhone released more than a year ago. Among the major features was support for Microsoft's Exchange e-mail server.

On the security side, Gartner found that the new iPhone provides the ability to wipe the device of all data if lost or stolen. In addition, it supports use of a complex user password consisting of a combination of alpha, numeric and special characters in a pattern that cannot be easily guessed. Both features are listed as minimum requirements by Gartner.

Security, however, is far from bulletproof on the iPhone. One potential problem is the need to have iTunes installed on the end-user desktop. Firmware updates are automatically sent to end users via iTunes, so Gartner recommends that organizations use existing management tools to modify the iTunes registry entries to disable firmware updates, file transfers, and other activities that could "inject unwanted content into the enterprise, as well as to lock down the registry."

"We recommend that Apple enhance this area long term to optionally eliminate iTunes (that is, as a desktop application) as a necessary component to access business applications and manage the device," Gartner said.

In its Exchange support, the iPhone only implements four of the up to 46 Exchange security policies. "If an enterprise is using any of these extensions, then it must reconcile the downgrade of these policies if deploying the iPhone," Gartner said.

Other shortcomings include high-bandwidth use, which means higher charges for international roamers if they do not have a flat-rate plan; battery life of less than a full day of use; and the need to download an attachment before it can be read, which takes time. With Research In Motion's BlackBerry, for example, the user can chose whether to get a quick rendering of the attachment from the server or a download, Gartner said. In addition, the BlackBerry supports attachment editing. Apple does not.

Other deficiencies include a lack of cut-and-past functionality with e-mails, and a password timeout feature that's too short and can't be increased. What other mobile features are critical to an organization? InformationWeek also has a published report that highlights how companies are using smartphones, PDAs, and pocket PCs to access business applications. The report can be downloaded here (registration required).

In conclusion, Gartner said each enterprise will have to assess the iPhone based on individual security and management needs. Those that decide to go forward "should approach expanded use of the iPhone slowly and with close examination," Gartner said.

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