With the release of Apple's iPhone to U.S. customers on June 29, IT managers are hustling to find ways to support the devices, anticipating the moment when the CEO walks in with one and demands, "Give me my corporate e-mail on this gizmo."
Analysts and IT managers Thursday said the iPhone will be popular among their workers who buy them for consumer uses, but the devices will certainly challenge businesses because of the needed support for e-mail, iTunes songs and other applications.
For example, at communications conglomerate ABC in New York, the official policy, for now, is not to support the iPhone at all, but there will be some exceptions for top executives.
"At this point, with a few exceptions, the iPhone is not a supported device, but for one or two ABC presidents, we'll make the walls move to allow it because we're in the communications business" and they will want to see iPhone's capabilities, said Jeff Plotkin, an engineer for broadcast operations and a technology liaison at ABC. "We'll figure out how to allow them access to e-mail."
Plotkin and other IT managers said there will be plenty of iPhone allure for their workers, even though the multifunction device doesn't support Lotus Notes or Windows Outlook e-mail, which are popular in corporate settings. Instead, iPhone will provide a Web access client for e-mail access, analysts noted.
"After it is out and the price point comes down, more people here might set up a business case for it, saying it could do this or that," Plotkin added. "I can see our policy changing eventually."
Also, the iPhone will pose a nightmare for IT because it requires an iTunes music directory account for each user, IT managers said, putting IT in the position potentially of providing song storage capacity and justifying that the copyrights for the songs were not violated or that the songs were properly paid for.
"How many enterprises want iTunes software running around in the enterprise?" asked Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney.
Meanwhile, corporate policy at Marriott Corp. already prohibits iTunes registration on Marriott's systems by its workers, said Arnaldo Impelizieri, director of hotel technology for the Grande Lakes Orlando resort, which is run by Marriott. "We're worried about the size of iTunes files, and also who is buying songs or not, and the huge concern about potential copyright infringements," he said.
However, Impelizieri said the hotel chain faces a dilemma because it will want to support the iPhone, and iTunes, for its hotel guests.
"If a customer has one, we'll do our best to support it, but that will require some sorting out. We have to get our hands on the iPhone and see if it's all that it's beefed up to be. When BlackBerry first came out, there was a wave of uncertainty at first."
For months, industry analysts have warned about e-mail access, security and whether the voice quality of the iPhone will be up to corporate standards. Dulaney is finalizing a report describing iPhone concerns, but would not discuss it until its release next week.
"Lots of Gartner clients are asking" about iPhone for business uses, Dulaney said. "They are scared of this device."
Tim Ma, a biomedical engineer at the American Red Cross in Washington who also handles some IT planning, said he expects "pressure from users" to support the iPhone. "It's too early in the game to say if we'd support it. We'd need a proven track record before moving forward."
He said he is personally curious about iPhone's features and potential benefits for a large organization, and will eventually test it out thoroughly. For one thing, the iPhone will have a full-screen Web browser, an apparent advantage over what Reseach in Motion's BlackBerry offers the Red Cross. Meanwhile, he added, "We have a contract with BlackBerry for a long time."
Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said he doesn't consider the iPhone as currently envisioned suitable for business users unless they limit their use to functions such as the phone.
"IPhone doesn't have push e-mail," he noted. Early reviews from February that the iPhone's voice quality was not good have raised questions as well, he said.
"Everybody assumes that because Apple makes it, the iPhone will be great, but it's hard to make a good phone, let alone pass data," Gold said. "Still, executives are going to come back from the store and tell IT to make it work."