Gartner raises iPhone rating based on 2.0 software

Gartner Inc. Tuesday upgraded its assessment of the iPhone based on the business-focused improvements in the 2.0 version to be launched in June, and predicted IT groups will get a flood of requests for iPhone support from users.

With iPhone 2.0, "Apple corrects the basic omissions of the first iPhone release, noted by Gartner early on, and becomes attractive to enterprises," the analyst firm said in a six-page research note.

Still, Gartner analysts urged caution to IT managers who might be forced by hordes of users to support the device. "Be cautious about generic access to back-end systems via VPN and the untested security model of a product that is new to market," the report said.

Principal author Ken Dulaney said the improvements in the upcoming version "will open a huge volume of business users" for Apple Inc. Still, he said the iPhone won't be ready for broad application development because IT shops have little experience with the iPhone and with the modified OS X that it runs on, Dulaney said in an e-mail.

IT managers' comfort level over iPhone support will depend on Apple's response to security concerns that Gartner analysts and others have raised, as well as what kinds of third-party security products are produced based on the iPhone software development kit (SDK) between now and the June release, Dulaney added.

In the report, Gartner briefly mentioned a range of ways IT shops can prepare for iPhone development and support, including hiring developers familiar with mobile OS X and even acquiring Macintosh computers and training for those developers.

The 2.0 firmware allows an enterprise to develop local code and applications, which bring the iPhone "to a limited degree" to match up to its main smart phone competitors, such as Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry, and models of the Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60, the Gartner report said.

Gartner noted that the 2.0 support for Exchange ActiveSync will affect more than 70% of the enterprise e-mail market, but said it expects that IBM Corp. in the next six months will have a Lotus Notes Traveler version to use with iPhone. IBM has not commented on that possibility, however.

The report also noted that while Cisco's IPSec VPN capability in 2.0 is a plus, the IPSec VPNs from competitors will connect with only basic interoperabiity and without value-added features.

One potential danger for large companies is that the proposed AppStore for application distribution to the device and Apple's iTunes music store "will not sit well with enterprises" because of their consumer focus and because both will be difficult for IT to disconnect from the iPhone, Gartner noted. The report said that Apple plans to adapt iTunes and AppStore to enterprise needs, "possibly eliminating them."

Apple could not be reached to comment.

The overall upgrade in Gartner's rating is based on its three-tier system of support for mobile devices. The most time and resource-consuming level of IT support for a device is called "concierge" support, which is the rating Gartner gave the first iPhone version that was released last June. The main reasons for that rating were the iPhone's lack of direct support for an enterprise-class e-mail system and an overall lack of security. It is called concierge because IT shops must devote extraordinary attention to users, much as a concierge in a hotel would provide.

Tuesday's report raised the Gartner recommendation to a middle tier called "appliance" support, which means iPhone can be used for e-mail, voice and browsing as well as third party software within a restricted group of applications. An appliance level of support means the iPhone meets requirements now being met by the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60.

Gartner's top support rating, called "platform" was not given to the iPhone because of several factors. Gartner's reasons included that Apple has provided no alternative supplier for its hardware, making developers totally dependent on Apple, unlike the Windows Mobile platform. In addition, standard management tools used on other devices cannot be used on the iPhone and the device's security for enterprise applications is "untested."

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