The iPhone Goes Where No Mac Has Gone Before

Ipadboardroom meetingtrooms

After a year of using a MacBook full-time in the workplace, my new job has placed me in a position where I am using a Windows Lappie again. There are some good things that are worth giving up for even better opportunities.

No matter how humbling it is for a developer to suddenly have his silver shiny toy ripped out of his hands in favour of a better gig with a different tool set, it’s even worse for a geek to suddenly be thrust into another world without an iDevice of some sort.

I guess I should count myself lucky that my awesome wife decided to get me an iPad as a reward for landing a pretty decent gig (more on that another time). However I was not quite sure how well my Fanboy iToy addiction would go down in BigTime Corporate Canada. Well… You see that’s another funny thing about landing a new gig… You never quite know what to expect. In my case it was a full-blown mobile revolution. The thing about Corporate Canada is that it is getting pretty sick and tired of the BlackBerry and its locked down abilities. It is becoming harder and harder for them to find hot new talent that are willing and capable of working in restrictive sandboxes. It’s one thing to be able to access your work calendar, contacts and email but when you can’t see if your after hours drinks are going to conflict with that promise you made your 6 year old to be at her ringuette practice, the problem becomes all the more real. I know, I know… First world problem.

The other big issue we are finding is that business users and IT staff alike are becoming a little too accustomed to the instant on feeling you get from using a mobile device like the iPhone and even the iPad. When you are heading out of your fourth meeting of the day and you want to check if the next meeting time has changed or if the client suddenly needs a projector. Another situation that I find myself in almost everyday, being in the middle of a project workflow on the laptop at my desk and then being called into “a quick” meeting and having to close all, undock and go. The iPad allows me to take notes without disrupting my workflow and without having to play the secretary with my cryptic notebook hieroglyphs afterwards. And there are so many more application uses I could list here, but I think that the idea is pretty clear that although laptops and desktops computers still have their place in the enterprise, there is definitely a need for an appliance like device to play a big part in the middle.

A recent U.S.-focused Gartner survey indicated that 85% of respondents have users demanding access for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad; 74% of respondents support them already as personal assets.

Monica Basso, Gartner – October 2010

And this is where you will find most of the debate. It’s usually between those who will say that the iPhone is the perfect PIM companion for the elevator and all those moments where you have been torn away from your cubicle and those who hate lugging 5 to 7 pounds of Laptop computing, cables and mouse around the office. Add to this the fact that in many cases our laptops must be locked to the desk when we’re at work. So there I was in between floors checking the location of the next meeting while lugging my colleague asked me to review the notes from the last for one of the action items, and this is when it occurred to me. No one was looking at me weird because I wasn’t using a BlackBerry or trying to wake a HP EliteBook from Vista Sleep of death mode. In fact it seemed perfectly acceptable for me to checking my iDevices, getting the info out quickly and move along… “Nothing to see here folks” When in fact there was all to see in this simple little action.

In order to properly explain this revelation, I need to take you back almost a year to this day when I stopped using a Windows laptop for my work as a Developer / Web Project Manager and had started using a MacBook Pro as my main development machine and although it was relatively easy to convert the workflow, it wasn’t nearly as easy for the MacBook Pro to gain acceptance as a secure and professional tool. Seen as an outsider by both IT department and the boardroom it was only with the clients that the MacBook Pro earned respect, usually followed by a remark like “Oh, your website also works on Apple Macs? I see”. Even with all the tight integration Mac OS X has managed to create with Exchange Server and even with Microsoft domain networks in general, there are still too things the things the MacBook Pro had trouble doing like administering SQL servers and playing nice with Sharepoint. There just doesn’t seem to be any easy way for Macs to play nice on Corporate networks without an open-minded and cooperating IT department.

However, the iPhones and iPads seemed to have crept into most Enterprise class companies from the top floor boardrooms as well as the server rooms in the basements. Not only does the current version of iOS 4.3.1 play nicer with Exchange Activesync than Windows Phone 7 and even Android but its extra management features provide comparable security to BlackBerry Enterprise Server managed BlackBerry’s. In fact, the iPhone comes out tops on this fight too since it doesn’t require a Client Access License for it to be managed. Apple has even released a free tool to allow Exchange Admins to lock out other iPhone features if the need be. Here is a table explaining the current state of the mobile OS landscape. Further details can be found on the following Wiki link.

Table 1: The Mobile OS Landscape. March 2011

MS ActiveSync Function BlackBerry Apple iOS Android WebOS WinMo7
Strong Passcodes (Alpha) YES YES YES YES YES
Passcode Expiration YES YES NO YES YES
Passcode Reuse History YES YES NO YES YES
Max failed Attemps YES YES YES YES YE
OTA Passcode Enforcement YES YES ? ? ?
Encrypted Config Profle YES YES NO NO NO
Encrypted iTune/Local BackUp YES YES NO NO NO
Hardware Encryption YES YES NO NO NO
Data Protection YES YES NO NO NO
Camera Disable YES YES NO NO NO

Most companies are so happy with the performance of the iPhone and iPad in the board rooms, in the marketing depts and on the sales floors, they have barely noticed that it is quickly becoming the mobile tool of choice for IT departments as well. In short, the iPhone has done in 3 short years what the Mac has struggled to do over the past 35 years. The next major internet revolution will be played out on the Mobile Web and just as Web 1.0 was written to run best on Internet Explorer, this next generation appears to have been written to run best on WebKit (Safari, Android Chrome, BB and Web OS) and of course in all those amazing Apps.