Apple iPhone for now ignoring synch to Exchange, other e-mail platforms

It has been less than a week since Apple introduced its iPhone, but corporate e-mail users hoping to land the device as a client for real-time remote access better think again.

The iPhone currently does not support e-mail synchronization with Microsoft Exchange, however, it does support browser based e-mail through the iPhone’s Internet access capability.

Apple also said last week that iPhone will feature an HTML e-mail client that fetches e-mail from most POP3 and IMAP mail services. While Exchange supports IMAP-based clients, IMAP does not support automatic e-mail synchronization and it does not allow access to Exchange features that do not use the IMAP protocol, such as scheduling and appointment features.

Exchange and Lotus Notes alone combine to support more than 300 million corporate e-mail accounts, which represent a large chunk of the users that would demand real-time remote e-mail access.

Microsoft has an Outlook Web Access client that plugs into Apple’s Safari browser, but it is a far cry from e-mail synchronization corporate users are accustom to with devices such as the BlackBerry. Lotus has a Domino Web Access client that runs on Firefox 1.5 on the Mac.

The consumer oriented Yahoo Mail service from Yahoo will offer a new free “push” IMAP e-mail service to all iPhone users that automatically pushes new e-mail to a user’s iPhone

Apple says it is too early to confirm what the final feature set will be for the iPhone, which is set to ship in June.

“We have not announced that level of detail,” said a spokesperson for Apple. But she did confirm that e-mail synchronization is not on the current feature list discussed when the iPhone was introduced last week.

In addition, iPhone will not be a development platform with an SDK, which means there will be limited iPhone compatible software from partners. Google and Yahoo were announced as partners last week, but so far the iPhone is an Apple-centric product.

“Apple could license the sync protocols from Microsoft as other handset manufacturers have done,” says Peter O’Kelly, an analyst with the Burton Group. “Put another way, if there isn't significant customer demand for Exchange sync, that'll be a pretty clear data point that the iPhone is a consumer-centric device.”

Other features missing from the current iPhone list include support for Word and Excel, although Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that iPhone will be able to open PDF documents.

Without e-mail synchronization, Apple would be hard pressed to put the iPhone up against corporate darlings like the BlackBerry, Treo, Microsoft Smartphones and devices that run Windows or Linux-based software, according to experts.

Users would be able to transfer e-mail from corporate servers to Web accounts, but that is an e-mail management and compliance nightmare most companies are shutting down.

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