McAfee this week announced that the iOS edition of its WaveSecure mobile security software lets you remotely wipe or lock your iPhone or iPad from a web portal, as well as back up contacts, photos, and videos to its servers for safekeeping in case a device is lost, stolen, or damaged. Which is all well and good, except Apple has offered the remote wipe and lock features for more than a year at no charge to all iOS users via its free Find My iPhone/iPad service, and its iTunes software has backed up all that data (and more) since the very first iPhone shipped in 2007. The forthcoming iCloud will also do that backup online — at no charge — without iTunes. So what is the point of McAfee's US$20 offering to do the same thing Apple provides at no cost? One of McAfee's answers was amusing: It said iOS users could retrieve the backed-up information from Android or other devices that support WaveSecure. Yeah, sure — iOS users will switch to Android or BlackBerry if their iPhone or iPad is lost, stolen, or damaged. Never mind that data is available through iTunes and soon iCloud. Another answer was scary: "It enables telcos and ISPs to keep the user loyal to the network instead of the device," said Lianne Caetano, McAfee's marketing director for consumer mobile products. In other words, your WaveSecure backup is tied to your carrier, so should you change carriers, you lose that backup. That's not the case at all with iTunes and iCloud. Carriers and their technology partners need to get a clue: Smartphones are not interchangeable devices as past cellphones were. People buy iPhones, BlackBerrys, or Androids because they want an iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android — not because it comes from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless. The carrier is a secondary concern, based on local coverage quality and your family or business plan. McAfee's carrier-centric motivation should be a red flag that its WaveSecure product isn't really aimed to help you, the user. Like its rival Symantec, McAfee has been eager to convince mobile users that they need antimalware software on their smartphones and tablets, even though these devices — with the notable exception of Android — can live without it. That may change in the future, but for now, mobile devices are safer than PCs. Apple has deliberately kept antimalware software away from iOS, even as it has actively encouraged mobile device management (MDM) products designed to secure the devices' access to corporate information. Apple has long looked askance at the PC market, where antivirus products that intertwine with the Windows OS have become a de facto extension of the OS, increasing the complexity and cost for users, and often causing performance and other problems. You can see why Apple would prefer not to open that door on iOS and why it has quietly been handling some of that itself in Mac OS X in the last year as malware attacks have begun to target the Mac. McAfee's WaveSecure is also available for Android and BlackBerry devices, where it may be more justifiable:
- Some Android smartphone and tablet providers — Motorola Mobility and Samsung, for example — provide web-based remote lock and wipe, plus online backup of device settings and other data. Of course, because Android is tied to your Google account, your contacts are backed up there automatically. But with no iTunes equivalent, content such as photos aren't backed up. Depending on what your Android device's maker provides, WaveLink may — or may not — be worthwhile.
- The WaveSecure case is harder to make for BlackBerry users. Research in Motion has a desktop sync facility that can back up your BlackBerry's contents. Enterprises that use RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) of course have long been able to remotely wipe and lock devices, and and today RIM released a free web-based tool called BlackBerry Management Center for small businesses to do the same thing. So all that WaveSecure really brings to the table is online backup of your content. Is that worth $20? If you don't syc to your desktop regularly, maybe.
I almost feel sorry for McAfee, which like its antimalware brethren really hopes the explosion of mobile devices opens a new market for its wares. But frankly, I would be very happy if that market never materialises. After all, the antimalware market reflects a flaw in desktop OSes, and it would be better for businesses and users if they don't experience that flaw in the mobile world. As far as online backup, thanks to Apple's iCloud initiative, it's clear this is fast becoming a feature of a mobile device, not something that should need a third-party product.