Apple iPhone for now ignoring synch to email platforms

The iPhone currently does not support email synchronisation with Microsoft Exchange

It has been less than a week since Apple introduced its iPhone, but corporate email users hoping to land the device as a client for real-time remote access better think again.

The iPhone currently does not support email synchronisation with Microsoft Exchange, however, it does support browser based email through the iPhone's internet access capability.

Apple also said last week that iPhone will feature an HTML email client that fetches email from most POP3 and IMAP mail services. While Exchange supports IMAP-based clients, IMAP does not support automatic email synchronisation and it does not allow access to Exchange features that do not use the IMAP protocol, such as scheduling and appointment features.

Exchange and Lotus Notes alone combine to support more than 300 million corporate email accounts, which represent a large chunk of the users that would demand real-time remote email access.

Microsoft has an Outlook Web Access client that plugs into Apple's Safari browser, but it is a far cry from email synchronisation corporate users are accustom to with devices such as the BlackBerry. Lotus has a Domino Web Access client that runs on Firefox 1.5 on the Mac.

The consumer oriented Yahoo Mail service from Yahoo will offer a new free "push" IMAP email service to all iPhone users that automatically pushes new email to a user's iPhone.

Apple says it is too early to confirm what the final feature set will be for the iPhone, which is set to ship in June.

"We have not announced that level of detail," says a spokesperson for Apple. But she did confirm that email synchronisation is not on the current feature list discussed when the iPhone was introduced last week.

In addition, iPhone will not be a development platform with an SDK, which means there will be limited iPhone compatible software from partners. Google and Yahoo were announced as partners last week, but so far the iPhone is an Apple-centric product.

"Apple could license the sync protocols from Microsoft as other handset manufacturers have done," says Peter O'Kelly, an analyst with the Burton Group. "Put another way, if there isn't significant customer demand for Exchange sync, that'll be a pretty clear data point that the iPhone is a consumer-centric device."

Other features missing from the current iPhone list include support for Word and Excel, although Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that iPhone will be able to open PDF documents.

Without email synchronisation, Apple would be hard pressed to put the iPhone up against corporate darlings like the BlackBerry, Treo, Microsoft Smartphones and devices that run Windows or Linux-based software, according to experts.

Users would be able to transfer email from corporate servers to web accounts, but that is an email management and compliance nightmare most companies are shutting down.