Apple (news, site) unveiled the main features for its forthcoming update to the iPhone software with some big news for enterprise.

Apple Appeals to Enterprise

With BlackBerry still way out in the lead in the smartphone market, Android coming up fast on the rails and a potential threat from the upcoming Microsoft phones, how will Apple respond? The answer came in the middle of Steve Jobs' "Seven Tentpoles of iPhone OS4" speech, where business and IT leaders might have been impressed on Apple's plans for the phone in the enterprise space.

At the event, which covered a lot of new consumer features like multitasking, an ebook reader, games center and the new iAds interactive advert platform, there was a segment showing how Apple is ready to work with the enterprise and make the iPhone a more serious mobile contender for business.

The new features for the enterprise include:

  • Increased security, with encrypted e-mail, encrypted data in applications.
  • Company app transfer, so companies can create and send their own custom applications to company iPhones, rather than go via the App Store.
  • Support for Exchange Server 2010 and multiple Exchange accounts.
  • Cisco and Juniper support for SSL VPN.
  • Mobile device management.

The new features will work on iPhone 3G and 3GS models, so there's a few months for companies to upgrade those early-model phones.

Enterprising Initiative

Part of the solution is a unified inbox, where emails from multiple accounts will be displayed in one location. Users can view their inboxes independently or together, so a mix of personal and business messages can happily coexist. Mail attachments can now be opened by a suitable app, so documents can be previewed and so on.

With all those expensive phones out in the wild, security will always be a concern. Now administrators can enforce company policies -- no Fieldrunner game for the bean counters -- and can lock down a phone that has been stolen, rendering it useless.

VPN support will allow users to log into the company servers or sites, and keeping up with the latest Exchange is a big step in showing that iPhones will remain in sync with business development.

There's An App For That?

The range of iPhone business apps expanding all the time, with programs including Jive SBS, Cisco WebEx, Mindjet and Avaya. That roster will only grow as other developers see the potential in a massive market and with company's creating their own apps, a whole new market will emerge.

There are some 1,500 new APIs in the development toolkit, to help in this endeavor. So armed, you can also expect companies to try to find new ways to get classes of apps, interfaces and other methods of working usually found on a desktop on a device that fits in your pocket.

The Smartphone Battle Rages

Some pundits will claim this as an "onslaught" to the likes of RIM and Android, but since the final product won't hit phones until summer -- and the iPad until Fall -- there is plenty of time for them to respond and we already know that Microsoft is packing a lot of business compatibility in its new phones.

Will enterprise, or a significant section of it, take Apple up on its new offer of connectivity and security? Users will certainly be putting pressure on them to get hold of the sexiest kit.

So there are major decisions to be made in IT departments with a range of attractive products on the table. Summer will help us see a clearer picture, but there are plenty more battles ahead for phone makers, app makers and enterprise.