iPhone Life magazine

Lotus Notes on the iPhone

Lotus brings the “other” Enterprise Messaging System (EMS) to Apple’s Mobile Devices

The initial release of the iPhone did not support corporate e-mail, but Apple changed course with the release of the second version of the iPhone OS by licensing and incorporating Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync. Corporations running Exchange could now push e-mail, calendar, and contacts info directly to the iPhone. (For more, see “Microsoft Direct Push Technology…” iphone life/issues/oct08/MicrosoftDirectPush.) This move on Apple’s part made sense for two reasons: first, as part of Apple’s increased emphasis on the enterprise, and second, as a competitive move against Research in Motion’s Blackberry and the Windows Mobile platform.

What about iPhone users of the other popular Enterprise Messaging System—IBM’s Lotus Notes? Microsoft marketing notwithstanding, Lotus Notes is as firmly entrenched in the enterprise as is Microsoft Exchange. Lotus announced at their annual Lotusphere conference in January that it has sold over 145 million licenses for Notes worldwide—an increase of 5 million over 2008’s figures. Clearly there a lot of Notes users out there, and a lot of them have iPhones. So what are the current and future options for accessing Lotus Notes on your iPhone?

Lotus iNotes Ultralite

Lotus iNotes is a Web-based solution for accessing Lotus Notes PIM functionality like e-mail, calendars, and contacts. With the release of Lotus Notes 8.0.2 in August 2008 Lotus added a third mode to iNotes (the first two being a “full” and “lite”). iNotes Ultralite (ibm.com/software/lotus/products/inotes/ultralite/) is optimized for mobile devices, those with slower CPUs, lower bandwidth data networks, and limited screen real-estate, and is targeted at devices like Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch.

To access iNotes Ultralite on your iPhone you need to get your IT department to upgrade your company’s Notes server to 8.0.2 (or the just released 8.5), and to modify your mail template to Domino Web Access (for more information have your administrator search for “iNotes Ultralite” in the Admin help file). Once your administrator has made the necessary changes on the server, point your iPhone’s Safari browser to the address of your secure Lotus Domino Server and log in just like you would from the Notes client.

After authentication you will be presented with the opening screen (Fig. 1). Using Ultralite on your iPhone you can view, read, reply and send e-mail (Fig. 2), access your calendar, view, edit, and add a contact, initiate a phone call or create an e-mail from a contact.

Why did Lotus choose a Web-based solution? By basing Ultralight on the mature iNotes platform they could bring something to market fairly quickly and give their customers an iPhone based solution. However, this solution has limited functionality: 

  • Your calendar is read only
  • You cannot view your full calendar, you can only view Day-At A Glance (Fig. 3)
  • There is no support for accepting or declining calendar invitations
  • You must open a message to delete it
  • You cannot access your folders
  • There is no off-line support. 

Even with these limitations, iNotes Ultralight gives iPhone users a way to access to their Lotus Notes on the go. 

Figs. 1, 2, & 3: The Opening Screen of Lotus iNotes Ultralite (left). The Inbox in Lotus iNotes Ultralite (middle). Day At A lance in Lotus iNotes Ultralight (right).

Lotus Traveler to incorporate Exchange ActiveSync

iNotes Ultralite for the iPhone simply doesn’t provide the same functionality provided to Exchange users. At best it is a stop-gap solution, and Lotus knows it. In January IBM took the extraordinary step of licensing Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync for use later this year in Traveler, its existing mobility solution. The move was described as “pragmatic” by Ed Brill, director of product management for Lotus Software, given the need to provide a better solution for iPhone users.

Although ActiveSync supports many mobile devices, the clear target for Lotus is the iPhone. “We have every intention in getting Notes and iPhone integration to be on par with Apple and Exchange” said Brill.

Traveler with ActiveSync will provide iPhone users real-time access to their e-mail, calendars, contacts and journal in a native iPhone application and should overcome many if not all of the current limitations of iNotes Ultralight. Lotus demonstrated Traveler on an iPhone during their Lotusphere conference in January, to a positive reception.

There is no firm estimate on a beta or release date, but the product is expected to be available sometime in 2009. The new Traveler with ActiveSync will be integrated into the Lotus Notes Domino 8.5 (server) code. That most likely will happen in the 8.5.1 release, which is tentatively scheduled for August or September. There will be no additional licensing fee.

Many questions remain, including how will you configure the iPhone to use Traveler and will IBM have the clout to get Apple to add “Lotus Notes” to the “Add Account...” mail screen along with Microsoft Exchange, MobileMe, Gmail, Yahoo mail, and AOL?

Future iPhone integration

Lotus is clearly playing catch-up with Microsoft on the iPhone, but is working closely with Apple to narrow the gap. Lotus demonstrated its commitment to the Macintosh platform by making two major announcements at MacWorld, and not at its own conference two weeks later. Specifically, they announced Notes 8.5 (arguably the most significant release of Notes ever) and the next version of its free office suite Lotus Symphony 1.2.1.

The company also made several major iPhone related announcements at Lotusphere, including the new version of Traveler discussed above and the fact that they will be bringing iPhone support to Sametime 8.5, the next release of their enterprise instant messaging application.

Clearly 2009 will be a good year to be a Lotus iPhone user.