Apple opens up iPhone for business

The iPhone is ready for the business world.

On Thursday, Apple aapl released a limited test of software for companies to use that promises to make the coveted iPod/Internet device/cellphone as ubiquitous as BlackBerrys and Treos.

In June, the free software update will be widely available, letting workers connect to Microsoft Exchange servers for Outlook e-mail, contacts and calendar information and to virtual private networks. Corporate IT departments will have to give their blessing first.

"This addresses all the concerns of enterprise," said Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president.

Also Thursday, Apple invited software engineers to its campus for a preview of a software development kit (SDK) — the road map to building applications for the iPhone. Apple hopes to see hundreds of new iPhone games and other applications for social networking, music and more.

In June, it will open an iPhone Apps store, available on phones and computers, via iTunes.

Apple said it will keep 30% of any revenue from developers, who must have their applications approved by the company.

"Hopefully, people will find the iPhone even more desirable," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said.

To help fuel development, Jobs brought legendary Silicon Valley investor John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins on stage. Doerr said his firm has set aside $100 million to invest in companies developing iPhone applications.

"The iPhone is the creation of the third great platform (after computing and the Internet)," Doerr said. "It knows who you are and where you are. It's bigger than the PC."

Software developer Kirk Loevner, CEO of Epocrates, which provides medical information for health care professionals, said an iPhone application is the No. 1 request from clients.

His software helps doctors and nurses quickly look up information on drug interactions. The iPhone's unique big-screen interface "will make it easy to visually identify pills," he said.

Thursday's announcements will dramatically remake the iPhone but won't improve its slower network, said Van Baker, an analyst at researcher Gartner. Apple partner AT&T has said it will bring faster service to the iPhone, which now runs on an older AT&T network.

That the iPhone will work with corporate e-mail "is a big deal," said Shaw Wu, an analyst at American Technology Research. "It makes the iPhone now a viable alternative to the BlackBerry."

The software update will also work on the iPod Touch media player, for a small charge still to be determined.