Apple might start making enterprise-class iPhones or incorporate more enterprise-friendly features into existing models, a Gartner analyst has predicted.
Gartner previously dismissed the idea of the first iPhones becoming business tools, but the analyst group seems to be warming to the possibility. "I would expect Apple in the future might see some potential in the enterprise market and maybe have devices for enterprise users, or maybe just add to their phone some of the features which would make the device more reasonable for an enterprise deployment," said Monica Basso, research vice president at Gartner. "Certainly the support for ActiveSync is one of these [as is] independence from the carrier."
Basso said that enterprises' need for flexibility meant different back-end servers would need to be supported, and suggested that a licensing of Microsoft's mobile-synchronisation software would make the iPhone more attractive to businesses using Exchange Server.
"The Exchange email server is the market leader… I would expect in the future it might happen that we see Apple licensing the ActiveSync software to support direct push on their phones, as Nokia and other manufacturers have done," Basso told ZDNet.co.uk on Tuesday. "It is not impossible despite the fact that Apple and Microsoft don't look like partners. There would be some mutual benefits for both of them."
In response, a Microsoft spokesperson said: "We can't comment on rumours. However, we can tell you that we openly license our technology to others, and to date, many mobile device manufacturers, including Nokia and Sony Ericsson, have licensed the Exchange ActiveSync protocol which enables access to Exchange Server email."
Despite her predictions, Basso said the current version of the iPhone was not suitable for enterprise use. "If I look at the iPhone, I see it more as a new threat for enterprises [than] something that is secure. There is little support nowadays from a security standpoint that can be put on the iPhone. It doesn't support any of the enterprise mobile email solutions. It doesn't support Exchange direct push. The only thing that is supported [are email clients] that can be connected to POP3 or IMAP4 servers [which] cannot be connected to email servers that sit behind the firewall. This exposes the email server in a way that is not considered secure."
Basso also suggested that the iPhone's lack of standardised push email support might lead users to forward their corporate email to a consumer service such as Yahoo, which could create further security headaches.
However, she conceded that the approach taken by companies offering iPhone-based enterprise application access through the phone's Safari browser — WebEx and NetSuite being two examples — could reduce the exposure to security threats because less data is stored on the device itself. Gartner predicts that, in 2012, 10 million smartphones containing corporate data will be lost or stolen.
Analysts at Butler Group have also raised concerns that, without proper administration of the use of iPhones in businesses, the device will be "user pushed" into companies by owners seeking to integrate their work and personal-management tools.
The iPhone is only currently distributed in the US. Rumours suggest the device will make its UK debut later this year through the mobile operator O2.
Apple could offer no comment at the time of writing.
Monica Basso is speaking at Gartner's IT Security Summit in London on 17-19 September.