Earlier in the month, Citrix analyst relations sent me a message laying out the company's plans to offer client software, a "Reciever" in Citrix-speak, allowing the iPhone to display Windows applications that are presented by Citrix's XenApp (formally presentation manager). Since I'm a big fan of making applications available "any time, anywhere, over any reasonable network and on any reasonable device," I applaud Citrix's efforts. Rather than commenting on the Citrix Receiver for iPhone at the time, I chose to think about the ramifications of this tool a bit.
Some random thoughts about the Receiver
- While it might be possible to access all Windows applications on an iPhone, the screeen and the current state of iPhone's software may create a trying, rather unpleasant experience. After all, many experienced users of Windows applications would expect to be able to use a whole host of Windows-specific functions that are initiated by <ctrl>, <alt> and other special purpose keys. The software on an iPhone provides a keyboard that doesn't offer those keys.
- Experienced Windows users would expect to be able select data in the application's window and then paste it into other applications. The current iPhone software has no concept of cut and paste. Citrix is in a damned if you do, damned if you don't position because of this strategic weakness in Apple's software. If Citrix and its community creates this feature (and I expect it would be a great deal of work to do this), it may only be workable with certain specific iPhone applications and be vulnerable to failure every time Apple updates the operating system. If Citrix and its community doesn't do this, experienced Windows users are going to be unhappy with this software.
- Scrolling up and down and side to side to see an entire Windows screen is unlikely to be a useful interface for most people. So, developers are going to be facing a task of providing a different user interface for applications so people could be productive. That's something that is possible for custom applications. Packaged software, such as Microsoft's Office, is unlikely to be customized for the iPhone.
In the end, it is going to be difficult to impossible to provide a complete Windows experience on the iPhone due to the inadequacies of the device and its software. Simple things, such as an awful keyboard and the lack of a cut and paste function stand in the way.
That being said, I expect it will be possible to make key applications, such as an Email agent, a viewer for documents and presentations, and a file transfer function work well enough so that mobile staff members can be productive.
I guess we're going to have to wait and see what Citrix and its community can do to overcome the weaknesses in the iPhone. Without major effort and creativity, it is likely that this tool will not live up to the expectations set by Citrix's ICA clients on other mobile devices.