Can the iPhone handle Exchange e-mail?

iPhone's ability to handle corporate e-mail systems remains mediocre

Necessary or just nice?

Since the iPhone is targeted at consumers, does the iPhone really need corporate-level sync capabilities?

Without ActiveSync or an equivalent, iPhone users will still in most cases be able to check their Exchange e-mail using the Safari Web browser and going to their company's Outlook Web Access page.

Or they can use Mac Mail or Microsoft's Entourage to connect to Exchange or Notes/Domino e-mail servers using the popular POP3 or IMAP protocols.

But experts say IMAP and POP3 replication is less secure than ActiveSync and the like, because IT administrators often have to open up a port in their network firewall to send and receive e-mail.

Moreover, IMAP and POP3 are generally slower than more advanced technologies. That will be exacerbated when iPhoners are outside of Wi-Fi range and have to use AT&T's slowish EDGE data network to get their e-mail.

For that and other reasons, many users may forward their corporate e-mail to an outside consumer Web-based service, compromising message security, according to Ken Dulaney, an analyst with Gartner, who issued a report on Wednesday urging IT organizations to refuse to support the iPhone for now.

That argument falls apart even more when you consider that even smartphones aimed at teenagers, such as T-Mobile's Sidekick and Helio's Ocean, all boast ActiveSync capability.

And with its US$600 pricetag and 2-year plans that start at US$59.99 a month, the iPhone may end up being bought mostly by adults, and well-off ones like managers and bosses, at that.

"Traditionally, mobile devices have been adopted from the top-down," McCall said. "If the CEO says he wants an iPhone, then the IT administrator is usually forced to accommodate that request."

Both McCall and Agarwal expect Apple to announce that it has licensed a third-party sync technology -- later if not sooner.

In the meantime, what's an IT manager to do? Dulaney urges IT administrators to be stingy about granting iPhone support, which he says should be traded for funding to train IT staffers on the iPhone.

Another alternative, provided that Apple fails to license or improve the iPhone's sync capabalities, is synchronization software from Redwood City, Calif.-based Visto. On Thursday, the company said it will release software in the third quarter that will allow the iPhone to securely connect with Exchange and Lotus Domino servers.

The Visto software will use SSL encryption to protect e-mail as they are 'pushed' out to the iPhone. Visto is based on the IMAP protocol, which is why it does not require Apple to license the technology, too, according to a spokeswoman.

Using Visto will not require IT managers to open up any ports in their firewall and compromise their security, she said. However, Visto does not offer any remote management features such as killing lost devices, nor does it synchronize calendar, contacts or task data between server and iPhone.

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