Sun Microsystems' (JAVA) plans to tune the micro Java Virtual Machine to the iPhone -- leveraging the new SDK to characterize the JVM as an "application" -- could quickly turn the iPhone into a powerful business tool that IT executives can love too.
The iPhone may have hit the trifecta with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Exchange support (take that RIM (RIMM)!), the new SDK, and now the probable June arrival of a native JVM. These add up to an enterprise-ready mobile endpoint that ushers the iPhone from a smart phone/PDA/browser into the first (but not last) true mobile Internet device [MID] for fun and work.
Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) SDK and targeted VC funding to spur on native iTunes apps will pay huge dividends eventually for consumers and the media hungry power users. But businesses looking for better mobile endpoints won't rush to another client platform.
The enterprise trend is away from supporting client-installed applications to embracing RIAs, web services, SOA-supported SaaS, and such client frameworks as Flex/Flash/AIR and Silverlight. The browser is king, more than ever, forever. Java can still play in this game quite well, however, and (performance willing) extend enterprise investments in Java to the edge.
Sun will need to make the JVM on iPhone scream. The iPhone and its MID ilk could be what client side Java has needed all along. There will need to be some compelling apps right away for this Java-iPhone mashup to gain traction. That is certainly doable, give the global stable of Java developers.
iPhone won't have the MID field to itself for long, so time is of the essence. There will be JVMs elsewhere, and Android and the OHA could quickly bear fruit. This is a huge potential market. Apple needs to seduce developers and IT architects and executives now. The Safari browser and "pinch" UI are Apple's competitive edge on the edge.
So what will immediately intrigue enterprise IT departments? Secure connections to mainstay enterprise browsers, along with email and groupware. The Microsoft Exchange announcement last week takes care of that. And the OSGi-based Lotus Notes et al from IBM (NYSE:IBM) should follow suit.
Incidentally, look for some compelling OSGi runtime announcements at this month's EclipseCon. OSGI, having come from the embedded world, makes total sense for iPhone.
And there is more than one way to skin the enterprise iPhone cat. You may also recall that Sybase highlighted a way to bring enterprise email and PIM, as well as some apps, to the iPhone several months ago at some additional expense to use their servers. For shops already using the iAnywhere approach, this may be the way to go.
But secure web browser connections to existing enterprise web applications is the real treat the iPhone can deliver to enterprises that would encourage them to actually buy iPhones en masse for their workers. It may be an offer they can't refuse.
I hope that the Mozilla Foundation takes the iPhone SDK and develops a lightweight Firefox browser for the iPhone ASAP. Combine the web apps that the iPhone Firefox and Safari together support, toss in SSL via Java, and create the means to easily set up VPNs -- and that's when iPhone becomes the darling of the mobile enterprise.
Of course the critical mass of such adoption pushes iPhone beyond the role of MID and begins to eat away at the definition of a personal computer. Use bluetooth or USB to hook up the enterprise iPhone to a keyboard and mouse and maybe monitor and get rid of those PCs altogether. All mobile, all the time. The iPhone becomes the ubiquitous enterprise thin client, at less than $500, and it's a phone too. And you can take it anywhere and work. One device. Nice.
But for now, I don't see the cost-benefits in writing native iPhone apps or porting existing enterprise apps to iPhone. Maybe never. You don't need native computing and local data storage to make great use of iPhone for businesses purposes. As the PC goes to mostly browser use, the MID takes over.
Yes, there will be oodles of interesting innovation, native iPhone apps that can aid user productivity and make them better connected wherever they go.
The iPhone can become the MID for business, and start to replace the PC outright for a significant portion of workers. The only question is whether the users will buy the iPhone and have their IT departments set it up for enterprise use, or whether the IT departments will buy it for the workers first.