iPhone Infiltrates the Enterprise, iPad to Follow?

By Ericka Chickowski

As anecdotal evidence of Apple iPad WiFi connectivity issues continues to mount, experts within the reseller channel believe that partners who make the effort to learn about workarounds stand to gain. The homework they do now will add to their iPad expertise which will lead to greater opportunities down the line when the iPad gains more traction in the enterprise.

Apple's early success with iPad – the company says it has sold one million units already -- has been clouded by reports within Apple forums and online technology communities of iPad users experiencing connectivity issues. Apple has acknowledged the issues, claiming that the trouble occurs with third-party (read: non-Airport) routers when the iPad tries to rejoin a WiFi network after a reboot.

According to Michael Oh, founder of the Apple-centric reseller Tech Superpowers, even though the iPad's penetration into the typical business network is still miniscule, channel partners can help customers and their high-value, iPad-toting executives by finding workarounds until Apple offers more concrete fixes.

"I think the way channel partners can help to address is to use their networking expertise to get to the root of the issue," Oh says.

"The most popular explanation for the problem backed up by various research organizations is that the iPad as well as the iPhone doesn't handle DHCP leases as network standard devices should," he says. "There are workarounds that can happen in the firewall level, there are things that you can do to avoid the problem, but ultimately it's going to be up to Apple to research the issue, admit that there's a problem and create a firmware fix for it."

Even though Apple currently blames third-party routers for the issues, Oh believes the company will endeavor to fix the issue in order to keep the business community optimistic that the iPad is a viable enterprise tool.

"The way I look at it is that Apple's not stupid," Oh says. "They realize in order for this to be popular with the enterprise -- even if it is a fringe issue and it’s only affecting various small percentage of users -- from a perception standpoint they have to resolve the issue."

And Oh is among many that do have faith that the iPad will eventually make its way into the enterprise. In many ways, the iPhone stands as a testament to how the cool factor Apple develops into its devices eventually washes away the resistance enterprise IT initially puts up against them.

"I think that the introduction is going to look and feel from a corporate standpoint very similar to what happened with the iPhone," says Andrew Rubin, CEO of Cymtec Systems, an IT security vendor.

"Remember that original, very early release of the iPhone where corporate America said there's no way that this is going to become a piece of our infrastructure? Then fast forward a year later and people were starting to find ways to bring them in and fast forward yet another year after that and all of a sudden now you have companies literally issuing iPhones or obviously opening up corporate conduits to it."

In fact, Rubin says that the innovative features of the iPad, along with the previous experience gained from the iPhone may make for an even faster and more overwhelming acceptance of the tablet device.

"Companies are going to very quickly start saying, 'I can use this thing as a productive business tool,’" he says.

Nevertheless, both Oh and Rubin agree that the acceptance curve is still at least three to six months from swooping upward. This is a good thing for the channel, which can start preparing now rather than being blindsided by the iPad's popularity like some were with the iPhone.

This starts by playing with these devices and gaining an understanding of the network infrastructure needs to make it work seamlessly in customer environments. Which is why it may be worthwhile to take a look into the connectivity problems now, even if they seem irrelevant to many of your customers.

"In the meantime it's a bit of an opportunity for channel players , more from the standpoint of this to be kind of a pilot and to instigate pilot projects and make sure that the iPad works well and to sort of help people do that. Then in the long term they can become more of a reliable partner."

According to Oh, partners would do well to learn not just from the history of the iPhone, but RIM's BlackBerry devices as well.

"I think a smart channel partner can look at history to sort of take their cues for how to plan for these devices. I mean if you look at the BlackBerry, that was widely regarded as a fringe device," Oh says.

"When mobile devices weren't prevalent for doing things like e-mail messaging, channel providers had a great opportunity, actually to go in and sell not only the BlackBerry device, but also the enterprise server and so on. I think that ended up being a tremendous outsourcing opportunity for a lot of channel providers and they made a lot of money on it because it was something that internal it was not interested in learning."

And unlike with the BlackBerry, Oh says that learning about the iPad is as simple as acquiring a device and a Microsoft Exchange account and learning how it integrates with Exchange, learning the limitations of the device and how it works in the networked environment.

Rubin also believes that now is also the time for channel partners to ready customer networking environments for the added burden that these devices may place on the infrastructure.

"Given all of these new devices and all of these things people are doing on the network, there is a lot of room for that sales pitch through the channel to the end user," Rubin says. 

This article was originally published on 2010-05-03