Apple aims iPhone applications at corporate users

Enterprise package includes remote wipe capabilities, access to MS Exchange and Cisco IPsec VPN

Now that Apple's iPhone has swept the US consumer market off its feet, it's moving toward becoming a dominant enterprise device as well.

During a media conference at its headquarters, Apple unwrapped a host of new features that are designed to make the iPhone more attractive to corporate users. The biggest piece of the enterprise package will give iPhone users access to Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync, which will provide them with secure over-the-air e-mail, contacts, calendars and global address lists. The addition of Exchange ActiveSync's built-in support will give IT departments the ability to set password policies, to set up VPN settings and to perform remote data wipes on iPhones that have been lost or stolen, Apple says. The iPhone will also soon support Cisco IPsec VPN, which Apple says will "ensure the highest level of IP-based encryption available for transmission of sensitive corporate data."

Both Exchange ActiveSync and Cisco IPsec VPN will be made available in Apple's iPhone 2.0 software, which the company says is scheduled to be released in June and will be given to all iPhone customers as a free software update. Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who acted as master of ceremonies at the media event, declined to comment directly when asked by reporters if Apple hoped that its corporate upgrades to the iPhone would make it competitive with Research in Motion's popular, enterprise-centric BlackBerry mobile device. Jobs did, however, allude many times to RIM's recent network outages, and he took some subtle digs at the BlackBerry's security infrastructure.

"You have to wonder about [BlackBerry] security," Jobs said during a Q&A session following the announcement. "All BlackBerry e-mails go through [RIM's network operations center] in Canada... you have to wonder, can someone look at my e-mail while it is there?"

Over the past year, some analysts have warned IT departments to not allow the iPhone to connect to their networks, noting that it has no way to deliver secure corporate e-mail or to encrypt data sent and received through the device. Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of marketing, acknowledged these concerns today and said that these new features were a reflection of what Apple customers have told the company would make the device enterprise-worthy.

In addition to bringing access to Exchange ActiveSync and Cisco IPsec VPN, the new iPhone software update will also include a copy of the long-awaited iPhone software development kit (SDK), which was first announced last October and was initially scheduled to be released in February. Jobs said at the time that he hoped the SDK would prompt software developers to create their own applications for the iPhone.

Several third-party developers demonstrated applications that they'd developed using the iPhone SDK today, including an iPhone-friendly version of Instant Messenger from AOL, an adaptation of Electronic Arts' popular game Spore and an application designed by medical software developer Epocrates that provides healthcare professionals with secure mobile access to patient medical information.

Apple said that new applications for the iPhone could be purchased through the App Store, a new application that will let users download the applications directly to their devices. Apple is letting developers set their own prices for the applications and will give them 70 per cent of all sales revenue they generate. The App Store application will also be part of the iPhone 2.0 software upgrade, the company said.

The iPhone SDK marks the first time that Apple has openly welcomed outside developers to create applications for the iPhone. While many developers have been making applications for unlocked iPhones since it first came to market last year, Apple has tried to stop the proliferation of unauthorized applications by issuing updates that would relock the device and break all third-party applications. Jobs said last year that his company would engage in "a cat-and-mouse game" with hackers where "people will try to break in, and it's our job to stop them breaking in."

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