The iPhone is already a popular product in the US, but it will become much more popular, specially in the enterprise, once Apple releases version 2.0 of the iPhone OS. With the new software companies will be able to easily distribute custom build applications to their employees using a special version of the iTunes App Store.
While not much is known about this application, it is a pretty safe guess to assume that it is Mac OS X only and that it will probably included in an upcoming release of OS X Server. While such a strategy may help Apple sell a couple of hundred servers, it is hard to believe that Apple doesn’t have larger ambitions in the telephony market, specially for small and medium sized businesses.
Asterisk is a popular open-source application that is already widely used on Linux servers. It is used to create cheap telephony solutions that used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The solution is an open source/free software implementation of a telephone private branch exchange (PBX). Like any PBX, it allows a number of attached telephones to make calls to one another, and to connect to other telephone services including the public switched telephone network (PSTN). With Asterisk it is easy to setup voice mail boxes and route calls to home numbers or cell phones.
Asterisk also supports a wide range of Voice over IP protocols, including SIP, MGCP and H.323. It can interoperate with most SIP telephones, acting both as registrar and as a gateway between IP phones and the PSTN. This makes Asterisk a perfect complement to iChat.
Apple has a long history of including open-source applications with OS X Server, making them easy to configure and manage. The OS already includes products such as the Apache Web Server or the MySQL database server. So why not include Asterisk? It would allow Apple to offer a turnkey solution for small to medium companies. Imagine a server that costs less than US$ 5,000 and offers everything that this market needs, from e-mail to instant messaging, from wikis to video conferencing, and now with a true unified communications solution. I am sure it would quickly become an instant hit.
What is required to make this happen? Asterisk already runs on OS X, so all Apple really needs to do is to integrate it better with the OS and offer the required analog phone and E1/T1 interfaces for the XServe. Additionally they will need to port iChat to Windows (this is long overdue). On the business side, they will also need to improve their VAR network as these solutions cannot be simply sold at the Apple Store, they need to be supported by IT professionals.
None of these hurdles seem too hard to overcome. I really believe that Apple will eventually offer such a solution, with an announcement coming maybe as soon at WWDC. After all, at the event there is an Information Technologies track designed for IT professionals who support Mac networks and many of those attending it would likely be very interested by such an announcement. The iPhone is Apple’s key to get the Mac into the Enterprise and Asterisk can make it happen in a really big way.