After almost three years, it has taken the combination of a much maligned network operator and a little known mobile enterprise software specialist to bring real enterprise credentials to Apple's iPhone.
America's largest telephone service provider, AT&T, has been under the cosh for some time with poor performance ratings and serious overcrowding on metro-area cells, and rumours abound that the firm will lose its exclusive deal with Apple to sell the iPhone in the US.
It is perhaps the impending loss of exclusivity that has given AT&T, which traces its roots back to Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, an incentive to get its act together and push the device into a whole new and lucrative market, i.e. the enterprise.
AT &T's WorkBench platform will allow corporations to deploy and control applications installed on employees' iPhones in a segregated area of the handset. The system, which has been developed with Antenna Software, should persuade corporations wary of security on a device which has over 140,000 third-party applications to start accepting the iPhone as a serious contender.
While the low level needs of corporations vary wildly, constants remain when looking at the bigger picture, and the need for security, synchronisation and control is paramount. However, employees are, above all, human and the iPhone, however limited in its functionality, is a much lusted after device.
Corporations are "looking to incorporate" the iPhone rather than fight it, according to Damon Wei, director of mobility product management at AT&T.
Apple, although keen to promote the iPhone as a device with many uses, has largely ignored the enterprise. The tardy adoption of Microsoft Exchange and ActiveSync won't have helped shrug off its image as a flashy toy, but worst of all is the inability of organisations to control the applications on employees' phones.
WorkBench will, according to Wei, allow the "isolation of data" and provide vital access controls creating one device which can cater to business and personal needs.
The iPhone was a revolutionary device when it arrived in 2007, but innovation has stagnated and some of its limitations have yet to be addressed, such as the inability of third-party applications to multi-task.
Rumours abound that the iPhone will finally get this relatively basic ability in a forthcoming operating system update, but AT&T is not waiting. By using the yet-to-be-ratified HTML5 specification, the operator has used web storage technology to create the perceived ability to multi-task.
However, corporations will not be enticed into investing in WorkBench just to overcome this basic shortcoming. It will be the ability to outline a specific set of applications in their delivery and removal that will be key.
Wei is aware that the access control technologies in WorkBench are vital to its adoption, and said that the system aims to offer "end-to-end" protection through the use of authentication, encryption and memory protection.
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