TORONTO/SAN FRANCISCO A slew of small security software developers are helping Apple's iPhone gain a foothold within corporations that were once the exclusive domain of Research In Motion's BlackBerry.
The shift reflects efforts by some companies to accommodate the preference of many employees for Apple's iconic smartphone, a trend that has led software makers to develop programs to deliver secure email and other data over the iPhone.
To be sure, the status of BlackBerry's security features as the industry standard is not under threat. But the new programs could mean that many employees may no longer have to carry a company-sponsored BlackBerry in addition to their store-bought iPhones.
One company that is experimenting is Deutsche Bank. In conjunction with California-based software maker Good Technology, the German bank is delivering corporate email to some employees in a trial that its internal analyst said was "overwhelmingly positive" despite some minor flaws.
"You're seeing consumers, or employees, bring their iPhones in to IT managers and 'say make this work,'" Deutsche's Chris Whitmore said by telephone.
Good and other security specialists like MobileIron and NetHawk are developing programs that can provide the extra assurances required by financial services and healthcare providers, which require airtight communications.
"What they're very good at doing is going into an enterprise where they're very concerned about security and say we're going to beef up the iPhone and iPad because they're not very secure," analyst Jack Gold of J.Gold Associates said, referring to Good Technologies.
"It basically puts a lockbox around an unsecure device," he said.
Good says it has more than 4,000 enterprise customers, including 40 Fortune 100 companies and more than 100 of the Fortune 500 companies.
PLAYBOOK PLAYS CATCH-UP
Apple's push into boardrooms and sales offices also reflects the headstart it has with its iPad tablet, introduced almost a year ahead of RIM's PlayBook. Companies should be able to begin PlayBook trials within weeks for a March launch.
An August report from tech research company Forrester said security on Apple's iPhone -- while not yet in the same league as BlackBerry as a corporate tool -- has improved enough to be used by most enterprises safely and securely.
"IT initially dismissed the iPhone as unserious, insecure, trendy, and suitable only for consumers," the report said.
But three years later, "Apple's mobile devices provide enough security features that most enterprises can use them safely and securely," Forrester said.
Many financial institutions are at least testing whether the iPhone can be trusted with access to proprietary data that have long flowed through the BlackBerry.
Contrary to RIM's image, consumers now account for most of its sales - more than 80 percent of net subscriber additions in the three months to end-November 2009, the last time RIM broke out the metric.
In part that's because RIM has already saturated the market with BlackBerry smartphones provided by corporations. A business can save itself the cost of a BlackBerry by hooking an employee's iPhone into its corporate network without footing the bill.
The problem for RIM is that many employees, including senior executives, want to use other devices, said Matthew Thornton, an analyst from Avian Securities.
On top of that, Thornton said, corporate budget officials want to push ownership of the devices out to the employee, saving the company the expense of buying the BlackBerry.
Acutely aware of the challenge, RIM has unveiled its own program, called BlackBerry Balance, to address the issue. Balance would allow a BlackBerry user effectively to keep management-controlled apps separate from personal apps run on a single device.
In the Deutsche iPhone trial, users need to log into the Good Technologies app to access corporate information and exit again to update their Facebook status, for example.
BlackBerry Balance would not require the user to log in and out, providing a more seamless experience between work and personal apps for the user.
Good Technology, a privately held company that Motorola bought in 2006 and sold in early 2009, manages many of the functions offered on the BlackBerry, including calendars and contact lists that are accessible and sync to Microsoft Outlook on the user's desktop.
(Editing by Frank McGurty)