Making the iPhone work for business

With the release of Apple's iPhone SDK imminent, speculation abounds surrounding Apple's plans for a business-friendly iPhone.

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Will the consumer-focused company introduce enterprise-class connectivity and security options for the iPhone? Will the SDK enable third parties to bridge the consumer/business divide?

Until Thursday (6 March), when the SDK is officially released, the fog of rumour will only get thicker. In the meantime, one thing is clear; the iPhone's popularity has executives, salespeople and even members of your IT staff hot to connect theirs to business resources.

Whatever the impending iPhone SDK, the fact is that most IT organisations can bring the iPhone into their operations easily and with acceptable risk.

Yes, instinct and analysts such as Forrester Research caution against such a move. After all, the iPhone is not designed for the enterprise and does have deficits IT should be concerned about.

But a strict "no iPhone policy" is likely to drive users to perform more dangerous hacks, such as setting up Google and Yahoo accounts as way stations to connect to enterprise assets – contacts and e-mail, in particular.

Instead, investigate what is possible before establishing your iPhone policy. Remember, too, that Apple updated the iPhone software several times in its first six months, fixing some significant deficits that early reviews highlights. While no panacea, such updates may mean the iPhone has fewer business-oriented caveats than you initially thought.

So, where do you begin preparing the iPhone for business? How can you satisfy executive demands to make the iPhone fit for corporate essentials? For those looking to get a headstart, here's a handy guide on what's possible, even before the SDK, and how to get it done. (Note that everything here applies to the iPhone's voiceless cousin, the iPod Touch with the January 2008 software update.)

Accessing corporate e-mail

IBM's promise of a Lotus Notes client for the iPhone remains unfulfilled. Although it may be announced with the SDK, at the time of writing, an Exchange client from Microsoft has yet to appear. But, if your business uses either system, you can provide email access via POP3 or IMAP, popular protocols that many businesses already support.

In either case, the iPhone's Mail setup is where to begin configuring host addresses, user names, passwords, and SSL authentication.

A tip for Exchange users: even though the Mail setup includes an Exchange pane, don't use it. Use IMAP instead; the Exchange pane doesn't work. (Even Apple's support pages say to use the IMAP pane.)

Many businesses prefer IMAP over POP3 because IMAP provides greater control over message management, such as keeping the mail folders synchronised as mail is moved on any client. The iPhone will connect to the IMAP server and detect most settings automatically.

You can adjust the SSL settings, IMAP path prefix, server port, and other such settings by scrolling down to the advanced portion of an individual mail account's setup area. Note that the iPhone's SSL options have been significantly enhanced from the first iteration's number-only token scheme.

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