CUPERTINO, California (Reuters) - Apple Inc said on Thursday its iPhone soon will support corporate e-mail, targeting a new market and challenging the dominance of Research In Motion Ltd’s popular Blackberry devices.
Apple also said it will roll out tools for developers to create software for the iPhone, news that was accompanied by a pledge from legendary venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers to set up a $100 million “iFund” to back iPhone software start-ups.
“This takes the iPhone from being not really in the running in the enterprise to being very much in the running and gives RIM a serious challenge,” Van Baker, an analyst with market research firm Gartner.
The move would help Apple hit its goal of selling 10 million iPhones by the end of this year, a target some analysts have questioned if the weakening U.S. economy takes a toll on consumer spending.
“Apple answered the majority of objections that most IT professionals had to the iPhone as an enterprise device,” Baker said.
The shares of RIM, whose Blackberry products are widely used in corporations, fell 3.8 percent to $98.72 on the news on Nasdaq. The shares of Apple, which also makes iPod media players and Macintosh computers, fell 2.9 percent to
Apple said the iPhone would work with Microsoft Corp’s Exchange software for managing business e-mails, contacts and calendars and “pushing” that information to handheld devices.
“We are doing all of these things with the next release of iPhone software,” Phil Schiller, vice president of global marketing for Apple, said at the company’s headquarters. “I think enterprise customers are going to be pretty excited.”
The new programming tools are also seen as a way to build more interest in the iPhone, which has so far only been able to run outside programs through the Web browser. The tool kit will let software makers write applications that can tap more of the iPhone’s capabilities, such as its touch-sensitive screen and motion sensors.
“Starting today, we are opening up the same native (interfaces) and tools that we use internally to build all our iPhone applications,” said Scott Forstall, vice president of iPhone software.
Programs will only be available through a new “apps store” on the iPhone and in Apple’s iTunes software that currently sells music and videos. Apple will keep 30 percent of revenue, with the rest going to developers.
Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs dismissed concerns the company was keeping too tight of a grip on iPhone software distribution.
“As a developer, your dream is to get your app in front of every iPhone user and hopefully they love it and buy it. That’s not possible today. Even big developers would have trouble getting in front of every iPhone user,” Jobs said.
“Are there going to be limitations? Of course. There are some apps we’re not going to distribute. Porn, malicious apps.”
John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins and one of Silicon Valley’s most famous venture capitalists, said his firm started the $100 million iFund out of belief that the iPhone would prove to be a long-lived platform.
“We believe the mobile Internet is a platform and that the iPhone is the best instance of that,” added Kleiner Perkins partner Matt Murphy, who will manage the fund.
Additional reporting by Duncan Martell in San Francisco; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe/Andre Grenon