Friday, March 7, 2008

Apple Wants iPhone Inside the Corporations

Up until now, the iPhone has been looked upon as a mobile device with a mostly recreational function, with many features heavy on entertainment. Free phones have been distributed by the hundreds to companies such as Genentech and institutions such as the Stanford University.

Despite the positive response from users, IT departments have been sceptical because of the iPhone’s lack of certain functions, such as corporate email, and potential security issues.

For serious corporate work, the BlackBerry has been the most popular tool. On Thursday, Apple took a step towards changing that by announcing the support for Microsoft’s widely used Exchange message system. Apple also said that IT departments will also be able to access iPhones from a central location, wiping out vital information in case the devices are stolen or lost.

Apple’s iPhone announcement was much anticipated and is viewed by many as an attempt by Steve Jobs to silence critics. With the announcement, Mr. Jobs seems to recognize that the technical and commercial environment surrounding the iPhone is changing quickly. Thursday afternoon, after Jobs had presented the SDK (software developer’s kit) aimed at letting independent developers get more of a say of how the iPhone should be direction, Apple opened a web site where anyone can download free beta versions of the kit. Interest was so huge that the site stalled almost immediately.

There was a lot of excitement in the air even before the analysts, bloggers and reporters – all permitted entry by invitation only – would entered the Town Hall theatre on the Apple campus. In the great universe of echoes, the world where Mac-fans live, Fortune magazine was referring to rumors posted by MacRumors, who quoted a posting by MacScoop. Minute for minute, every word of Steve Jobs was transmitted to the world inside what Fortune-journalist Philip Elmer-DeWitt call “the reality distortion field”, a place where people standing close to Jobs start to believe everything he says.

Perhaps of greatest interest to the community of die-hard Apple fans, the company is offering a chance for developers to sell new applications through Apple and get 70 percent of the revenues. This is a great leap forward for the software community, which until now has had great problems designing programs for a vast variety of mobile phones.

To get the development going faster, Apple said it will cooperate with the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who will set up a new fund worth 100 million dollars for start-ups that write applications for iPhone.

Some of the big issues regarding the iPhone remain alive. For instance, the iPhone is still locked to a single carrier, AT&T, meaning that owners cannot switch to another carrier without ditching or disabling the phone. There still is no file transfer via Bluetooth, no way to use Skype, no use of 3G standard and no video camera.

That leaves lots of work for Apple’s engineers and its chief salesman, Steve Jobs.