Steve Jobs is serious about making his iPhone a high-end alternative to Research In Motion’s (RIMM) BlackBerry in the corporate market. Last week, the company unveiled plans for new business-friendly features, like “push” email via Microsoft’s Exchange server. But it will be a while before Apple takes away significant market share from RIM — at least among huge enterprise customers.
Why’s that? Because when it comes to new technology, the biggest companies are also the slowest.
One example: We spoke with Robert Rosen, chief information officer for the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, a division of the NIH. His unit has about 510 people and about 75 RIM BlackBerries in service.
Even if he wanted to, Robert says, he wouldn’t be able to roll iPhones into his smartphone fleet right away — his parent organisation, the Department of Health and Human Services, says BlackBerries are the agency standard. But if Apple’s phones did get approval from above, he says it would still take “a matter of months if not close to a year” to get iPhones into employees’ hands.
Why’s that? Security and reliability requirements, Rosen says.
First he’d have to worry about security stuff, complying with the Federal Information Security Management Act. Some features he’d be looking for:
- Does the system encrypt the data coming in and out of the iPhone?
- Does it support encrypted email?
- Can you wipe the device remotely?
- To satisfy the group’s disaster recovery plan, is there a backup messaging feature in case the Exchange server goes down?
Assuming all of that passed muster, he’d have to set up the Microsoft (MSFT) ActiveSync software that the iPhone uses to connect to Exchange for email, contacts, and calendars. Then he’d have to figure out a deal with AT&T (T), Apple’s exclusive U.S. carrier partner. (His organisation’s BlackBerry account is currently with T-Mobile.) Then he’d have to test iPhones on the system, buy a bunch, and set them up.
To be sure, this is a branch of the Federal govenment we’re talking about, so we wouldn’t expect them to turn on a dime. But we think many large companies won’t be much nimbler. Which means the iPhone’s first corporate customers are going to be small shops with dozens of people, not hundreds or more.
And given that a lot of the growth in the smartphone market — even for RIM — is coming from consumers who just want to connect to their corporate email as a convenience, Apple (AAPL) will focus on them first. They can tackle RIM’s biggest business customers down the road.
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