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The iPhone Meets Business

Will Apple’s hot handheld displace the dominant BlackBerry?

Daniel Chait has seen the future, and it’s on the iPhone.

In August, less than a month after Apple released the iPhone 2.0, Chait and Lab49, the New York- and London-based financial technology consulting firm he co-heads, introduced a portfolio management system designed for the popular handheld device. A fund manager can use the program, dubbed Lab49 Capital, to track profit-and-loss positions in real time, receive alerts on market or trading events and create and analyze colorful charts and graphs on the iPhone’s high-resolution touchscreen.

The application is the first of a series that Lab49 plans to offer buy- and sell-side institutions on the technology platform that Cupertino, California-based Apple has made available for enterprise software development. "We believe that the iPhone will make inroads into the enterprise generally, and into financial services specifically," asserts Chait. "Within financial services there are tremendous opportunities to extend workflow management and real-time information to the handheld." Chait thinks that the iPhone offers innovative firms a window of opportunity: "a period during which their competition has not yet brought in the new technology, thus affording a comparative advantage."

Chait is hardly the first to tout the convenience and productivity-enhancing possibilities of putting enterprise software and data management functions, whether generic (such as e-mail) or specific to the financial industry (such as fund sales or trading), on mobile devices. Some 19 million BlackBerry accounts, many of them in the financial services industry, attest to that. Until now the manufacturer of the BlackBerry, Canada’s Research in Motion, faced only token competition in the financial sector, mainly from products running on the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system.

The iPhone is likely to change that. The involvement of Lab49, which has numerous Wall Street clients and is a Microsoft Corp. development partner -- the Microsoft Exchange messaging package is one of the enterprise technologies compatible with the new iPhone -- is just one indication. Pyxis Mobile, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based company that supplies portfolio management, customer relationship management, compliance and other systems on handheld devices to such buy-side firms as AXA Financial and Deutsche Asset Management, has until now done the vast majority of its work on BlackBerrys. But Pyxis is an Apple development partner and, reports president and CTO Todd Christy, "We have an iPhone client in development." Karen Maguire, CEO of Satuit Technologies, a Norwell, Massachusetts-based CRM software specialist that has worked on investment management industry implementations with Pyxis, notes that people who have bought the iPhone for personal use are pushing technology managers to integrate e-mail and other office applications. Maguire and Lab49’s Chait say demand is strong from hedge funds, which tend to be quick to adopt new technologies free of the constraints of established, legacy systems.

Pyxis’ Christy, however, points out that even if the iPhone takes hedge funds by storm, that part of the industry consists of "small teams [whose] enterprise-class demands of device management and centralized control are far less urgent" than those of larger, traditional firms with hundreds or thousands of users.

While an enterprise software community for the iPhone is just beginning, RIM stresses that its programmer partnerships are well established: Hundreds are expected to attend a BlackBerry developer conference this month in Santa Clara, California.

"Apple has done well with the iPhone device and operating system, but it has lagged on providing less-glamorous but equally important enterprise-class management capabilities," says Christy, referring to control functions such as software provisioning and policy management, which are important to systems administrators.

"These are solvable challenges either by Apple directly or via expanded partnerships," adds Christy. "To see financial services institutions buy large numbers of iPhones and allow them on the corporate network, Apple will need to meet these requirements and prove to Wall Street chief information officers that it can offer a secure, stable and highly manageable mobility platform. Expect BlackBerry to maintain its Wall Street dominance until this changes."

And expect both iPhone and BlackBerry to be dealing with another upstart: the G1, coming this month from Google and T-Mobile USA, which is likely to move into enterprise applications once the consumer buzz about its Gmail, GPS, WiFi and YouTube capabilities runs its course.