A few thoughts on mobile support in Notes/Domino

by Volker Weber

Notes has always had very weak support for mobile devices. Nokia shipped IntelliSync with some of their devices, but generally you had to purchase additional software to sync your Palm or Windows CE devices. There were two different versions of EasySync, the later one a limited OEM version of XTND Connect, but IBM did not own any technology that would let you sync your Notes data with mobile devices. And many people thought that was actually a good thing given the weak security of those devices.

Microsoft in contrast early on developed ActiveSync and bundled that with an Outlook client to put in the box of all Windows mobile devices. With Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2 Microsoft started shipping an OTA (over the air) sync called Exchange ActiveSync. Users could now sync their mobile devices with the Exchange server instead of the Outlook client. Microsoft did not only incorporate Exchange ActiveSync clients into Windows Mobile, but also licensed it for other platforms. Nokia for instance developed Mail for Exchange which I am using with the E-series phones I have. Palm has done something similar and lets you use the protocol with their Palm OS based devices. In all of those cases you are using the native device apps for your Exchange data, mail, addresses, calendar, todo.

Apple has now done the same with the iPhone. This would not be big news, if the iPhone were not such an extraordinary device — the better mousetrap that the world beats a path to. You could do it with all the other smartphones for years. But now, that there finally is a smartphone that people really really want, it becomes an issue for Exchange competitors. And that would be IBM.

IBM does not have anything like ActiveSync. The closest thing they have is Lotus Notes Traveler. But unless I am mistaken, you cannot call IBM, license the protocol and use the spec to write your own client to it. It isn't even included in any version of Domino, but requires a very special process to procure. I have asked what makes the product so special and concluded that IBM uses Nokia technology here. The interesting thing is that many Nokia phones (at least all that I have) contain a SyncML client that can be used over the air, and that makes me even more curious, why Traveler only works with Windows Mobile devices.

Traveler is not the only SyncML server out there. The most popular one seems to be Funambol, open source and with support for brazillions of devices. They will actually do an address book sync client for the iPhone as well.

So what is happening now, that IBM missed the boat on iPhone 2.0?

  1. IBM has advanced the release of an iPhone web interface to your Notes mailbox to 8.0.2. It was slated for 8.5, due by the end of the year but will now ship really soon. This is a good thing, on the iPhone 1.0 scale mind you. It's a first step to at least get access to the data at all. It won't let you feed your device apps, so the iPhone won't know who is calling, voice mail will only show a number, you won't be able to use the calendar to alert you, but at least you can look at your mail file and work with that data.
  2. You can provide mail to your iPhone users from Domino through the IMAP task. No access to your corporate directory, but you can receive, answer and send mail.
  3. Syncing your PIM data is not supported over the air, but there is one application which lets you sync Notes with your native apps on the Mac. Reports about the quality are anything but encouraging. I am also not aware of any such thing on Windows.
  4. The blame game has started. Some IBMers are asking customers to put some pressure on Apple. This tells me that IBM isn't getting very far with Apple. There are some strange contradictions here. On one hand I am hearing that IBM wanted to use the SDK and was surprised it did not provide the necessary services, on the other hand they have allegedly been working with them for months. So how could this come as a surprise.

Notes does not support the iPhone well today. I would maintain it does not support any mobile device well. (The BlackBerry is not really IBM's work.) The difference is that nobody really cared about the other devices. The iPhone has proven to shake the consumer world, and I predict it will now shake the business world. You can bet against me if you like.

Comments

You can bet against me if you like.

Do I sense a new Poll? :-)

The difference is that nobody really cared about the other devices.

I would maintain that through the years, IBM/Lotus relied exclusively on the Business Partners to develop the hooks to the Notes/Domino data. The customer was left to the whims of the vendors for support, and now, here we are, with less than optimal options. Some cared, but these are the wrong people. The "right" people are within the halls of Lotus/IBM.

For those that will say that the iPhone is not a business phone, I was asked yesterday by a client about support for Lotus Notes after the announcements. This was after they searched the Apple website. I think that whenever there is some partnership with Microsoft and Exchange/Outlook, the Notes users usually ask about the same support from Lotus.

Nicely written, vowe.

Gregg Eldred, 2008-06-11 20:07

I wonder if the seemingly missed boat by IBM Lotus has something to do with the change of heads?

I hope IBM Lotus is looking very close at the time spent by those people talking to Apple.

And IBM and Lotus heads should schedule a very quick meeting with Mr. Jobs. Although as eccentric as he sounds, not sure if thats gonna happen...

It is curious though that Apple and MS work so closely together when Apple makes fun of MS in every Mac commercial.....what..50 times a day...more?

And yes, nicely written....

Michael Kobrowski, 2008-06-11 20:19

Meetings with Jobs and co. need to come from the top at IBM. Given the history there, vis à vis Notes & Domino, I won’t hold my breath!

Ben Poole, 2008-06-11 20:34

Microsoft doesn't care about Apple making fun of them. They sell millions of copies of Office on the Mac, they make millions from it. Office makes more money than an OEM copy of Windows.

Microsoft kept Apple alive by bailing them out a few years ago, and making a huge return on their investment.

Microsoft needs a viable competitor otherwise they are considered a monopoly and that is not good for Microsoft.

Carl Tyler, 2008-06-11 20:36

Dead on, Volker! Notes/Domino is on the defensive side again. Lead, don't follow comes to mind. This issue needs to resolved by IBM in conjunction with Apple. Filing petitions and voting on ideaJam (as I did) won't cut it! Nobody cares who is blaming who - I'm just waiting to hear that some Domino customer started migrating to Exchange "just" because of iPhone support and integration. Look what Apple supports: On the Windows side of things it's all Microsoft only (Outlook, Windows Address book). Why can't the iPhone sync with Notes? IBM needs to get moving to convince Apple and itself that the iPhone is not a toy. It'll become the most desired portable device for home and business users over the next couple of years.
And now for something completely different... Going back to my TV to watch "Fußball"

Markus Dierker, 2008-06-11 21:04

a good start would be to let iTunes sync with Notes (Client), and next make a Server sync/push option....

Tommy Oustad, 2008-06-11 21:24

Another vote for the sentiment: nicely written!

Richard Schwartz, 2008-06-11 22:13

Sybase has told us they are developing native synchronisation with the OneBridge Mobile Groupware Server. So there are some people who see the business needs. By the way I was a Palm Fan since 1997 but i really enjoy the iPhone.

Detlev Buschkamp, 2008-06-11 22:18

Do I sense a new shirt possibly?

Bruce Elgort, 2008-06-11 23:43

IBM is about to be schooled by Microsoft again, does IBM never learn? Notes isn't even on Apple's radar, they know they can sell more devices supporting Outlook, why even bother talk to IBM which will just be painful.

As for IBM doing a conduit and sync application, all they really needed was a handful of coders to do this, the fact that so many applications have come out for the iPhone even before the SDK was available is proof that you don't need to have meetings with Apple to develop product.

We want to see a better Mac client (why does 8.5 take so long to move messages into a folder?) along with a sync method, via ical or native to phones. This is killing Notes, as the DB functionality is less important then mobile data now.

Bryan McDade, 2008-06-12 09:27

Hi,

ok, what's it all about the new Iphone. Again this big hype around a marginal better product than the beta .9 that came out last year.

I must admit, that it is a taunting product, nice design and easy to use. The mini safari is THE reason to have one of those.

But still: This is no business phone. I wouldn't know, how it could excahnge my E90 or even N95.

Bluetooth is still crippled AFAIK. And THE most negative point: I expect my phone to be able to connect my mobile computer to the internet via UMTS while I'm on the road. The Iphone can't do that. Not via bluetooth, because it doesn't support the data-connection, nor via cable, cause it doesn't have the ability to route the internet through the cable to the computer.

For me those are essentials for a business phone.

But besides that( enough of the ranting now): If it was affordable without a contract or a contract with a decent data-option (still hard to find in Germany) I'd want one. Not as a businessphone though, but as something smaller to replace the E90 when I'm going out and stuff.

Johannes Matzke, 2008-06-12 09:31

Nicely written Volker.

But unless I am mistaken, you cannot call IBM, license the protocol and use the spec to write your own client to it.
This is precisely the problem. One of the many areas in which Notes has been neglected over the years is the provision of APIs. There is no clean API for PIM data, which makes the provision of a PIM protocol very hard because there's no fixed foundation on which to build it.

The blame game has started. Some IBMers are asking customers to put some pressure on Apple. This tells me that IBM isn't getting very far with Apple. There are some strange contradictions here. On one hand I am hearing that IBM wanted to use the SDK and was surprised it did not provide the necessary services, on the other hand they have allegedly been working with them for months. So how could this come as a surprise.
The current situation is sad and pathetic, and reflects very badly on IBM's position in the industry. Exchange+iPhone is a powerful draw. If you thought selling Notes/Domino into SME was hard last week, what will it be like after July 11th?!

Julian Woodward, 2008-06-12 10:21

Johannes, I guess vowe has enough experience with phones to judge if the iPhone can be a business phone or not. And the other important part he described in an earlier post - it influences influencer and decision makers.

"marginal better product" makes me rofl. It's way better than the first iPhone (UMTS, GPS, software) and it's still out bof reach of any other mobile phone out there.

Martin Hiegl, 2008-06-12 10:36

I'm not questioning Volkers competence. Not even close. I'm just saying that it's still to limiting.

And UMTS...come on. That's standard, should have been there from the beginning on. Concerning GPS: AFAIK there's still no word whether it can navigate or not. So let's wait.
It certainly is a step forward from the old Iphone, but if you're honest, this is the way, the old Iphone should have been. Basically this is Version 1.0

Johannes Matzke, 2008-06-12 11:16

Johannes, the iPhone is probably not a business phone in your definition. But it certainly is a CEO phone and that is what matters.

Oliver Regelmann, 2008-06-12 11:19

just to confirm the "business phone" issue: I have seen in the last days a couple of guys in Airport lounges with iPhones and they were clearly not of the nerdy, gadget addicted type some associate iPhone users with. And I do not believe that they carry private iPhones in addition to business mobiles with them.

Armin Auth, 2008-06-12 11:50

I can't speak for other markets, but nobody is going to touch it in the UK until it's not tied into O2.

Ben Rose, 2008-06-12 12:02

I can't speak for other markets, but nobody is going to touch it in the UK until it's not tied into O2.

But you can speak for the UK? ;o) Come on Ben, that’s nonsense. Plenty of people are going to touch it; plenty already have.

Ben Poole, 2008-06-12 12:09

I'm referring to business customers and the market share that O2 doesn't have.

Of course one-man-band Apple fanboy consultancies are going to get it ;O)

Ben Rose, 2008-06-12 12:33

Actually I’m not, I have a contract elsewhere!

But if you think O2 doesn’t have significant business customer share in the UK, that’s nuts: I know of three enterprise-level customers in the UK (i.e. VERY big) off the top of my head alone, and I’m sure there are many more.

Ben Poole, 2008-06-12 12:41

"Vodafone has nearly 50% of the market share among enterprise mobile customers in the UK "

http://online.vodafone.co.uk/dispatch/Portal/appmanager/vodafone/wrp?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=template12&pageID=PAV_0018

They don't sell the iPhone.

It's fair to say that less than half of all enterprise mobile customers use a provider than can supply them an iPhone, whether they want it or not.

Ben Rose, 2008-06-12 12:54

A proper link

Sure. So (assuming we take Vodafone’s assertion at face value), how does that tie in to your previous statement that nobody is going to touch it in the UK?

Ben Poole, 2008-06-12 13:05

You're surely old enough and wise enough to understand that words don't always need to be taken literally.

When I say 'nobody', I'm talking about the same people as those referred to we they say that 'nobody' is buying PCs with Vista pre-installed and 'nobody' buys MS Zune players.

Clearly these products also have their fans, but they are currently in a minority and won't quite create the stampede to which Volker is hinting may happen.

Ultimately I feel O2 will lose exclusivity but, until they do, I don't see the enterprise market for the zweiPhone being massively bigger than the current model.

I feel the iPhone is just a fad, like the Motorola Startac was years ago and the Razr in more recent times.

Sure, lots of people want them, and most of these people also own Mac products...but they don't use them in the enterprise level corporate office.

Ben Rose, 2008-06-12 13:30

Ben, it's your usual pattern of "winning" an argument by pressing on until all sensible people have left the room. Your company does business with Vodafone, but apparently O2 also has customers.

I am with you when you say an exclusive partner will lock out other potential customers, unless they jump ship. In Germany the iPhone is sold through T-Mobile which happens to have the larger amount of enterprise customers. I leave it to Apple to decide what their best go-to-market strategy is, but claiming nobody will touch it unless they are also going through your preferred supplier is nonsense.

Johannes, the iPhone does not win through completeness of features but accessibility. Many of the more capable phones are used less because they are such a pain. There are numerous reports from web sites that iPhone users outnumber all other smartphone users on their site by a wide margin. The BlackBerry was the first device with seamless always-on access to mail and PIM. The iPhone is the first one doing that for "the Internet". Not the "mobile internet" and any such nonsense, but the real thing. That does make a huge difference.

Volker Weber, 2008-06-12 14:52

iPhones are carried by some management in our company. These people use them as personal phones simply because they think the phone is cool, they used to work for Apple and have a certain brand loyality, but more importantly they think that the iPhone will be the next big thing.
I would agree with them on the last point, the whole touch screen multimedia wireless device concept will change communications first in the consumer world and then spread quicky into the business sector. I know other phones may have this technology but the iPhone has the hype and ease of use.
These people don't mind that they have to pay for the iPhone and that they're tied into a 18 month contact with O2 or whoever. They like to be seen as early adopters.
They wanted their Lotus Notes mail, calendaring, contacts, etc on their phones 2 months ago, and have noticed that the "beloved" Outlook/Exchange will be natively handled in July. Apple and Microsoft are seen as modern, cool and forward thinking while IBM is seen as dull, staid and slow. The current Notes client might look nice but it's way too heavy.
I feel that light weight clients are the future so Lotus better get their skates on.

Gary Cousins, 2008-06-12 16:02

"I am with you when you say an exclusive partner will lock out other potential customers, unless they jump ship."

If there are executives stupid enough to force a mail platform shift just to be able to use their toys surely they won't mind moving to a new carrier, right?

Vitor Pereira, 2008-06-12 16:32

Vitor, may be you should revisit #10.

Volker Weber, 2008-06-12 16:57

Let me say, that we have the iPhone as a very high priority. Obviously the new iNotes (DWA) UltraLite is a very quick step that is not dependent on the iPhone SDK (api's). For sync, however, there are issues (not just for IBM), around the currently available SDK (both technical limitations, and some licensing), both of which are being worked and pushed very aggressively by IBM. It isn't that we have a lack of recognition here, lack of urgency, or even lack of will. We are aggressively pursuing, but not ready to publish a plan date yet. We, IBM, will be doing the heavy lifting on the work required here, but would be good to share passion for Notes integration with your Apple Sales rep as well.

Brent Peters, 2008-06-12 17:00

Can't see why I should, maybe I'm just dumb. Care to explain?

I'm not talking about Exchange, Domino or who's stupid and who's smart, what I meant is that if someone choses to ditch his platform (no matter which one) for no reason other than to be able to use the new toy you'd think that they will also happily move to a new carrier if that's what it takes to get the toy, right?

Vitor Pereira, 2008-06-12 17:15

@Vitor - In many cases, the mobile carrier in the company often isn't chosen by the IT department. For historic reasons this is often the job of facilities, who own all the phone bills.

A while ago I tried to push for our Blackberries to run on a different provider and had the full backing of IT management, for various reasons it didn't happen - much to the frustration of the proposed carrier.

I'm not saying this is the case in every company, but I've only really worked for Blue Chip employers.

I've known IBM employees get new Thinkpads overnight, but ask them how long it took their Blackberry to arrive...

Ben Rose, 2008-06-12 17:51

Maybe Notes' and therewith IBM's "problem" is after all not really the lack of iPhone support. As Volker highlights, the "iPhone way" is its accessibility and not a theoretically completness of features. Since years I am carrying heavy PocketPCs with me, but use the Mobile Internet Explorer at best for lame demos. In contrast the Safari browser of iPhone/iPod touch provides you real access to tv program, news and corporate infos without the need of balancing a hot notebook on your knees. It instantly fills a gab in my daily routine. If your daily work mainly requires virtuosic access to mail and web based applications, then you may find Notes 7 clumsy and dated and Notes 8 with all its theoretic possibilities overweight. After I have to hear the legitimate moaning of users since months, I advised a customer today to switch a bunch of their Notes clients to Thunderbird. It just fits better their needs. Maybe they are not alone.

Peter Meuser, 2008-06-12 17:59

Ben, who said anything about IT? Are you saying that the executive is powerful enough to impose an email platform shift to IT but not to get 'facilities' to move to a different carrier? You're kidding, right?

Vitor Pereira, 2008-06-12 18:03

@Vitor - I was trying to switch Blackberry provider as the desired handset was exclusive on the other carrier network...the handset wasn't for me ;O)

Ben Rose, 2008-06-12 18:32

@Ben, that's kinda of what I'm saying.

Obliviously who ever wanted the handset is not big enough to get it, otherwise he would not run it through you he'd go to 'facilities' and bang someone's head. Either that or you work for a smart company (I know you do) and no exec is going to be able to get just everything he wants.

Everyone is saying the iPhone will get in the enterprise and not necessarily because it's the right tool but because execs want it, all I said was if execs can force it in they can probably also force a carrier switch.

Vitor Pereira, 2008-06-12 20:17

Brent, thank you for the clarification.

Can you elaborate a little bit on one missing piece in IBMs offering that I would like to call "Domino Sync" (instead of Exchange ActiveSync). Is Traveler going to provide this capability and will you be publishing/licensing any protocols and specs to ISVs or device manufacturers so that they can work with them?

Volker Weber, 2008-06-12 23:21

Hi Vowe

If today I can use the BlackBerry client on my Nokia Communicater, what stops me from using this on the new iPhone business?

This might be a outside in approach rather than an inside out approach, but I cannot wait for IBM to catch-up with my needs!

Thx for a great site!

Gerard Bredenoord, 2008-06-13 07:34

Hi Gerard, it's been a while. :-)

What stops you? The obvious thing that stops is that the iPhone does not run Nokia software. RIM would need to write BlackBerry Connect for the iPhone. From what we know today that is not remotely possible.

BlackBerry Connect is a very very very device specific software that always needs a specific version of the device firmware. You cannot for instance update your Nokia device software without first checking if RIM has a new version of BlackBerry Connect for it.

The iPhone does not provide any ISV with access to its code so close to the hardware. In fact, you (as in anybody but Apple) cannot even run any process in the background. There is nothing that could talk to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server while you are doing other things on your iPhone. What we have just learned at WWDC however, is that Apple is going to provide a notification service, which would let the server tell the device "please call me". These messages would need to be brokered through Apple.

Assuming, you could run a background process, the next hurdle is access to device data from your application. And those are actually quite limited. An application like BlackBerry Connect would be able to manipulate your address book, but not your calendar or your mail file.

On top of that, RIM is changing the game anyway. They are trying to build something they call Virtual BlackBerry. This means that they will try to duplicate the BlackBerry environment on other platforms, possibly first on Windows Mobile. So they won't feed the native device applications, but instead live in a closed box that can do everything a (hardware-) Blackberry device can do. The challenging part is to tie into things like the phone application so that you still get same experience as today, where the phone can tell you who of your contacts is calling.

In summary: RIM is unlikely to try the BlackBerry Connect approach. And they would currently fail because of limitations in the SDK. Without that piece of code, you as a user are stuck.

Volker Weber, 2008-06-13 08:54

@Volker - To your third point above, there is a way to do this on PC's as well. Sander Zwart posted this on the Domino 8 forum and I've blogged about it. It requires an unholy alliance of DAMO, Outlook and MobileMe, but it does work.

Mike Eovino, 2008-09-28 06:26

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vowe.net is a personal website published by Volker Weber a.k.a. vowe. I am an author, consultant and systems architect based in Darmstadt, Germany.

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