Microsoft and the iPhone’s Enterprise Coup

March 10, 2008

In response to an audience question during Mix 2008, Steve Ballmer downplayed Apple’s aspirations for the iPhone in the enterprise.

We’ve licensed ActiveSync for a while. That’s been an option that’s been available to Apple. It was certainly an option we knew Apple might take advantage of.

The Microsoft Exchange Protocol License is the key to Apple’s announcement and is a major enterprise coup for Apple. There is no way that Apple could have made any kind of headway in the enterprise space without it. This will hurt microsoft’s enterprise business as much, if not more, than RIM’s. Microsoft Exchange push e-mail/calendar is the only viable competitor to the Blackberry Enterprise Server (an adapter/plug-in for Exchange, Lotus Notes, and Groupwise).

The iPhone is a very different device than the Blackberry. With its thumb keyboard the Blackberry is the device of choice for writing e-mail. The iPhone, with its built-in WiFi and very functional mobile browser makes an ideal platform for any kind of enterprise application that does not require a great deal of free form text entry.

I’m not sure I.T. will embrace the iPhone but I don’t think this is required for it to be successful in the enterprise. The iPhone will be brought into the enterprise by employees who have purchased the device themselves. WiFi access is an effortless first step. Access to existing enterprise web applications is the next step. Exchange push is a natural third step, especially if Microsoft Windows Mobile devices are already supported.

I love stories like these… strategic decisions that have unintended consequences that reach far beyond the original scope. Microsoft has enabled a new competitor in the mobile enterprise space when their only intent was to knock RIM down a notch or two.