Coming To The iPhone: Enterprise Apps

Analysts say the latest iPhone has the security and speed businesses seek in a smartphone, and the enterprise applications they depend on aren't far behind.
On July 11 when Apple launches the App Store for its new 3G iPhone, there's likely to be no shortage of applications focused on entertainment, online retail, and consumer services. But tucked in among the expected hundreds, if not thousands, of offerings may be a surprising number of applications for businesses.

That's because many of the 4,000 hand-picked developers who took part in Apple's beta program for the iPhone software development kit were enterprise developers, Gartner analyst Van Baker told InformationWeek on Friday.

"We're going to see an awful lot of consumer applications come July 11," Baker said. "The lion's share of the applications are going to be consumer apps, and they'll be thousands of them. But I think you will also see a significant number of enterprise apps as well."

Baker based his comments on a conversation with Philip Schiller, Apple's senior VP for global product marketing. Baker talked with Schiller on Monday after company chief executive Steve Jobs unveiled the 3G iPhone during his opening keynote at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. While Schiller did not provide names of companies or numbers of developers, he raised expectations for what would be available for businesses.

"I think you may be surprised," Baker said. "An awful lot of the developers that managed to get into the beta program were enterprise developers."

Baker expects most of the applications to have "time-sensitive data." For example, there may be applications that salespeople can use to get the latest price for products, check inventory, look up terms and conditions on contracts, or find the delivery schedule from a supplier. "Those kinds of things where you need to have real-time access to get the latest data are probably the ones that we're going to see quickly deployed," Baker said.

Other analysts told InformationWeek that it was a matter of when, not if, business applications would appear for the iPhone, particularly since Apple made sure the new version being released July 11 contains the features businesses need to consider the device over the most popular smartphone in the enterprise -- Research In Motion's BlackBerry. Those include a high-speed data connection, security, broad integration with Microsoft Exchange e-mail server, and the ability to notify employees of events that demand their attention.

Chris Silva, analyst for Forrester Research, said he expects to see a slow development cycle among major business-application vendors, such as IBM, Oracle, and SAP, who are likely to wait to get a handle on customer demand before committing a lot of resources to iPhone development.

"It'll be measured growth," Silva said. "They'll develop some applications and see what the uptake is."

Smaller business-application vendors will follow quickly, if the larger vendors prove there's a demand, Silva said. "They're the litmus test for the industry," the analyst said of the larger vendors.

Software makers expected to jump in with both feet right away will be players in niche markets that find certain iPhone features particularly well-suited for their needs. Examples include medical software companies Modality and MIMvista, which demonstrated during Jobs' keynote imaging programs that took advantage of the iPhone's high-quality graphics capabilities.

One barrier Apple will have to overcome to speed up adoption among businesses is the perception that the iPhone is a consumer device first, with business second, Silva said. That perception stems from the fact that Apple waited a year after version 1.0 of the iPhone was released before adding the features that companies need for deployment. "Many enterprises may look at that and see it as the enterprise being an afterthought," Silva said. "The delay in getting those features out may be at the cost of rapid, early deployment."

In the meantime, many experts believe that the 3G iPhone has the potential to become a strong competitor against the BlackBerry. Besides the new enterprise features, Apple has made the device more attractive by dropping the price of the base model to $199 from $399. In addition, the mobile phone has a global positioning system and a software development kit that has received high marks for ease of use.

The 3G iPhone will be available in 22 countries, versus six for the original, when it ships. Apple plans to make the smartphone available in 70 countries by the end of the year.