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Gartner's change of heart over iPhone in the enterprise

Market research firm Gartner, which had previously shunned Apple Inc.'s iPhone as a consumer-oriented tablet device not fit for the enterprise, has changed its stance.

Analysts for the firm were among those who expressed concern over some security issues immediately following its release, but in a statement this week said a more enterprise-friendly version of the handset's firmware and other planned security enhancements warrants an updated recommendation.

Following the release of those improvements as part of iPhone software v2.0 this June, Gartner said it will endorse the handset under “appliance-level” support status, which permits the device to be used for PIM, e-mail, telephony and browsing applications. It would also deem the device fit to be used for other dedicated functions where the software is supplied by a third party, functionality is kept to a restricted set, the software supplier offers support for a backup platform, and IT development resources are not needed to program custom code locally residing on the device.

“In its initial release, the iPhone was, with few exceptions, an Internet tablet with browser-based applications as its main offering, however, the release of firmware 2.0 changes that, enabling enterprises to develop local code and create applications that do not depend on network capabilities,” said Gartner analyst and vice president Ken Dulaney. “The iPhone will thus match up initially in several segments against its main smartphone competitors — BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60.”

Earlier this month Apple announced an iPhone Software Developers Kit (SDK) that will allow third-parties to develop proprietary applications for v2.0 of the iPhone software. The Cupertino-based firm also said that it had licensed Microsoft's ActiveSync protocol suite, and was adding support for Cisco IPSEC and WPA2 security for Wi-Fi connections.

“By licensing Exchange ActiveSync and exposing its basic security policies, enterprises can provide sufficient security for iPhone during Exchange personal information manager (PIM) and e-mail use,” Dulaney said. “This will open up a huge market for the iPhone, which previously had been stymied by a lack of basic business security and application functionality. However, Apple must widen distribution and of course deliver what they have promised.”

iPhones trickling into the enterprise would also likely have a residual affect on Apple's brand awareness amongst corporate employees, which could spur additive sales, according to Gartner. But at the same time, the firm said this will push enterprises to invest in technologies with which they are unfamiliar and that require training and further investment.

“Management of the iPhone outside the Exchange e-mail/PIM application will require familiarity with new products such as Apple’s iPhone Configuration Utility," Dulaney said. "And enterprises should thoroughly review the platform’s management and security options to understand how they can control any consumer elements of the platform that may pose a risk."