Corporate iPhone to challenge the BlackBerry
Apple announces new software to make the iPhone business-friendly.
(Fortune) -- As anticipated, Apple announced a series of software developments Thursday to make the iPhone more useful to business customers while venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers said it is starting a $100 million "iFund" to finance startups developing applications for the iPhone.
Speaking at the company's town hall session in Cupertino, Calif., CEO Steve Jobs took direct aim at smartphone rival Research in Motion (RIMM) with the introduction of a plan to have the iPhone sync with office desktops.
The plan, according to iPhone enterprise chief Phil Schiller, is to license software that allows the device to work on Microsoft's Exchange platform for so-called push email as well as calendar and contact syncing.
Schiller explained that the business-user targeted iPhone will have network and information security features similar to BlackBerry devices in conjunction with Cisco (CSCO, Fortune 500). This would allow users and IT departments to perform similar functions that the BlackBerry does like swiping clean the devices if they are lost or stolen.
The move comes as iPhone sales start to droop ahead of a new faster 3G model due out mid-year. The business market, if Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) is successful, would represent a reasonable strong opportunity for added growth. RIM fans, however say the niche is pretty tightly locked up at the moment.
On the software development front, Apple says "starting today" the company is opening up some of its development tools to application writers outside the company. This development kit, which many had speculated would not be ready or made fully available to outsiders, will allow people to create widgets and other software applications to work with the iPhone.
The company demonstrated a Facebook interface and an online banking screen that works with Bank of America. The company also introduced Cocoa Touch, software for the iPhone's multitouch screen that opens the way for more interactive video games.
Apple showcased some of the new applications that will be possible on the iPhone, including a screen for Salesforce.com's business software allowing salespeople to measure performance against benchmarks and import new customer leads.
The company says it will open "The App Store," available in the next release of iPhone software. Presumably like iTunes, the feature will allow people to buy new applications for their phones.
It appears that Apple's business plan for developers will be a revenue sharing arrangement. Apple will keep 30 percent of sales from every app sold. Plus Apple will host and take care of credit card fees. The software developers get to keep 70% of the proceeds, said Jobs.
Jobs ended the event by bringing venture capitalist John Doerr to the stage. "We're all here today because we love Apple products. And I'm here because I love Apple entrepreneurs," he said.
Doerr called Jobs the "supreme commander" of the world's entrepreneurial rebels. "Today we are very proud to announce the iFund," he said. "We decided the iFund should be $100 million," Doerr said. "That should be enough to start a dozen Amazons, or even four Googles."