The iPhone will be compatible with Microsoft Exchange, after all

The rumors of Apple's indifference to Exchange were wrong, I hear. My sources say Apple will announce this week -- possibly as soon as June 27 -- that it has licensed the Exchange ActiveSync licensing protocol that will allow iPhone-Exchange compatibility.

Apple's iPhone is going to be compatible with Microsoft Exchange Server, after all.

Earlier this month, a number of articles and analyst reports claimed that Apple's iPhone would not be compatible with Exchange Server, Research in Motion's Blackberry servers and Motorola's Good Technology e-mail servers.

While I can't speak to Apple's plans regarding Blackberry and Good, my sources are saying Apple can and will make the iPhone compatible with Exchange Server.

Here's what I'm hearing: Apple will announce this week -- possibly as soon as June 27 -- that it has licensed the Exchange ActiveSync licensing protocol. Via the licensing arrangement, Apple iPhone users will be able to connect to Exchange Server and make use of its wireless messaging and synchronization capabilities.

I've asked both Microsoft and Apple for comments on this supposedly imminent announcement. No word from Apple so far. Microsoft's statement, via a corporate spokeswoman:

"We can't comment on (these) rumors. In general, Microsoft is always in discussions with other companies about licensing its intellectual property."

If Apple has, indeed, licensed ActiveSync, I wonder whether Exchange compatibility will be available immediately when the iPhones go on sale on June 29, or if it will be a follow-on feature, available some number of months after the iPhones start shipping.

Microsoft currently makes the ActiveSync protocol available to interested parties via a pre-established licensing agreement. From Microsoft's Web site:

"Microsoft offers a commercially reasonable, nonexclusive license so that other companies can use the Exchange ActiveSync Protocol in their own products. Microsoft will license its trade secrets and necessary patent claims for implementation of the protocol specification.

"Microsoft offers a license for this mobile device synchronization protocol for Exchange Server 2003 and 2007 with documentation. The Exchange ActiveSync Protocol license is for a five-year term and based on annual projected sales volumes. Standard pricing is $100K or first-year's royalties, whichever is higher, with a per unit royalty thereafter. Other pricing options are negotiable when appropriate.

"In some cases, companies may want to negotiate broader or narrower rights than the standard Microsoft license for the Exchange ActiveSync Protocol. In this case, pricing may vary. Microsoft remains flexible to adjust terms to reflect cross-licensing, unit volume, version limitation, geographic scope, and other considerations."

A number of phone vendors, including Nokia, Palm, Motorola and Sony Ericsson, already offer devices that sync with Exchange using ActiveSync.

While he said he had not heard that Apple was going to make the iPhone compatible with Exchange, Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff said such a move would make sense. Rosoff said he could envision a scenario where "Apple and Microsoft would sign a deal to incorporate ActiveSync into the iPhone, just as Nokia, Motorola, and PalmOne are doing."

"So this wouldn't be anything new from Microsoft's perspective, just a deal with a new telephone handset maker--Apple," Rosoff said. "It's in Microsoft's interest for Exchange to be suppored as widely as possible, even on what will probably be a consumer-oriented product."

Are there any wanna-be iPhone customers out there for whom Exchange Server compatibility would make the iPhone more interesting and compelling? Or does Apple's support (or lack of it) for Exchange Server have little to no impact on your iPhone purchasing plans?

 Update: In case you missed the fleeting reference in his iPhone review, Wall Street Journa's Walt Mossberg confirmed the iPhone will support Exchange. No mention of ActiveSync, however. Mossberg says:  "The iPhone can connect with most popular consumer email services, including Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, EarthLink and others. It can also handle corporate email using Microsoft’s Exchange system, if your IT department cooperates by enabling a setting on the server."