Apple has finally indicated that it is ready to turn the iPhone into a business tool by announcing that it has licensed protocols from Microsoft that would allow the device to support Exchange. In addition, Apple has said that it had made a software developer kit (SDK) available for third party developers.

However, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the two new functions would not be added to the iPhone until June.

"We're building Exchange support so you get push e-mail, push calendaring, push contacts, global address lists and the ability to remote wipe [the iPhone]," said Phil Schiller, the head of marketing at Apple.

No new applications need to be added to the iPhone, Schiller said, because messages, appointments and contacts transferred from a company's Exchange mail server will end up in the iPhone's existing e-mail, calendar and address book apps. "The same e-mail app, calendar app and contact apps that customers really love will get information directly from the Exchange server," said Schiller.

A few enterprises have been testing the new Exchange support, Schiller said, citing both Walt Disney and Nike as early test sites. "I think when we release these features people will be blown away that the iPhone is the best mobile device ever in enterprise," he added.

Another company official, Scott Forstall, who heads the iPhone software group, toutedthe SDK that Apple is releasing in beta form today to developers. "Third-party developers can build native iPhone applications using the same SDK that we do," said Forstall.

He also spelled out the frameworks and tools that developers will have at their disposal, including a variant of Mac OS X's Cocoa application framework and Xcode, a source code editor and debugger. The Cocoa variant, called Cocoa Touch, is an "advanced touch event system," said Forstall, that lets developers access the iPhone's touch and gesture features, including the accelerometer, the tiny sensor in the iPhone that automatically switches between landscape and portrait display modes as the phone is turned on its axis.

Other tools in the SDK include an interface builder and something new, dubbed iPhone Simulator, by Apple. "It runs on a Mac and simulates the entire API stack on your computer," Forstall said.

He also demonstrated some preliminary work by third-party developers who had been asked by Apple to come up with something in two weeks using the SDK. Among the results: data pulled from a Salesforce.com SaaS customer relationship management application; and an iPhone edition of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

"I've never developed on a Mac before, never used Objective C, and we had a live buddy list in five days," said Rizwan Sattar, a senior software engineer with AOL, as he demonstrated the instant messaging client on the iPhone.

Third-party applications will be distributed via a new App Store, an online outlet for obtaining, as well as updating, third-party software, said Jobs near the end of the iPhone presentation. App Store access will be added to every iPhone in the next firmware upgrade, and applications can then be downloaded directly to an iPhone, or to iTunes - then later to an iPhone - via either WiFi or the AT&T data network that steps in when wireless isn't available. "[The App Store] will be the exclusive way to distribute iPhone applications," Jobs said.

That won't be for several months, however. Apple will package the Exchange support and App Store in Version 2.0 of the iPhone's firmware. The free upgrade, Jobs said, will be released sometime in June.