IBM Promotes the i–iPhone, That Is
October 7, 2008 Alex Woodie
IBM became the latest high-tech company to jump on the iPhone bandwagon last week when it announced new software, called iNotes ultralite, for accessing Lotus Notes and Domino software from the ever-present Apple handheld device. While the iNotes ultralite software has been received well among businesses, IBM continues to ignore its own business-centric computing platform, the IBM i.
iNotes, of course, is not a new product for IBM. The technology behemoth has been selling a version of Notes that works in a Web browser under the iNotes brand since at least 2001, a search of the IT Jungle archives will show. At some point around 2003 or 2004, IBM changed the iNotes name to Domino Web Access. Earlier this year, IBM backtracked and announced it would change the Domino Web Access name back to iNotes. Of course, as the Domino Web Access homepage shows, the current naming choice “represents current IBM plans and directions, which are subject to change without notice.” In other words, it’s an election year, and IBM was 100 percent behind the iNotes name before it was against it. (And you thought John Kerry was a flip-flopper.)
In any event, on September 15 IBM delivered a new release of the iNotes (redux) product, called “ultralite,” that is supposed to really fly on the Apple iPhone. The software, which became available with Lotus Notes version 8.02, runs within the Apple Safari mobile Web browser, and allows users to access their Lotus e-mail, contacts, and calendar info. The software uses 20 percent less memory compared to previous releases, and for added security, IBM supports iPhone and iNotes users with its Lotus Mobile Connect, a virtual private network program. It also offers Lotus Protector for Mail Security, which provides spam and virus protection.
IBM is promoting the latest new iNotes release as an element of its “Tomorrow at Work” initiative, which is a program dedicated to examining “a changing work world and anticipating trends in technology, business, society, and culture.” Obviously, Steve Jobs’ iPhone is the absolute epitome of all of these things, which is likely why iNotes ultralite debuted three weeks ago on the “Top 20 list” of the hottest and coolest Web applications for the iPhone. Today, it’s a top 10 app, according to Apple’s list of the most popular Web apps.
Not surprisingly, scores of Notes and Domino shops are scrambling to outfit their workers with the latest in geek sheek and mobile productivity. “We’ve been using Lotus Notes and Domino software for years,” says Jason Michels, who manages the e-mail network for Aurora Health Care in Wisconsin. “Now that there’s a light version for the iPhone, we’re completely rethinking our mobile strategy . . . It’s possible we’ll see a lot of people with iPhones around here because of this.”
“I really like the iNotes ultralite mode,” says Andy Brunner, the principal of ABData Information Technology Consulting and Engineering in Zurich, Switzerland. “It is very fast, works well, and has the same look and feel of the iPhone user interface. Congratulations to IBM on this introduction of support for the iPhone,” he says.
The iPhone 3G has had an extraordinary run since it launched in July, despite problems with data downloads, dropped calls, and trouble synching with PCs. The device’s appeal to both consumer and business elements is almost single-handedly responsible for the renewed interest in mobile computing over the last few months, which has spurred many “me too” products from other developers of handheld devices. As shown by IBM’s bringing back the iNotes name and the popularity of iNotes ultralite, even button-down business stalwarts like Big Blue can be moved by the buzz.
While responding to what’s cool and what’s hip may bring short-term benefits, it does not always make good business sense in the long run. IBM owns what was the finest business computer of its day, the System i family of products (formerly AS/400), which have run about half a million real businesses around the world for the last 20 years, without fanfare.
It would be nice if IBM devoted the kind of attention to its own i–the System i–that it is now devoting to the Apple iPhone. If it did, it might actually be able to resurrect the brand from the years of marketing neglect that IBM has heaped upon it. Sadly, IBM doesn’t seem interested in promoting its bedrock-stable System i server, and instead is more interested in promoting a consumer phone platform that has done some neat interface work, but whose capabilities as a business machine are as yet unproven.