IT pros will have more productivity and management capabilities for Apple devices in the enterprise when iOS 8 is released this fall, but questions about security and compatibility remain.
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Apple's focus remains on the consumer market, but many new features around the upcoming iOS 8 operating system (OS) and application development opportunities will serve enterprise IT.
Ninety-eight percent of Fortune 500 companies use iOS, Apple said during this week's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote. But that isn't necessarily because the iPhone is an outstanding piece of hardware, according to Michael Oh, president and founder of Tech Superpowers, an IT managed service provider and Apple reseller based in Boston.
Michael Ohpresident, TechSuperpowers
"If you look at Apple's success in the enterprise, it's pretty much defined by the development efforts," Oh said.
In that vein, Apple took a major -- and uncharacteristic – step, and opened up many of its application programming interfaces (APIs). One that could excite enterprise developers is an API around the Touch ID sensor, a biometric security feature on newer device models that was only available for unlocking devices or authenticating App Store purchases.
Third-party developers will be able to use the Touch ID API in their own apps, which would add an additional layer of authentication. Some industry watchers are skeptical about Touch ID's viability as a secure enterprise option, but it does offer differentiation in the market.
"It's a whole different sort of layer than what Android has available," Oh said.
Apple iOS 8 full of enterprise IT features
With iOS 8, Apple has opened up to the enterprise more than ever, said Chris Hazelton, mobile and wireless research director at 451 Research in New York City.
"If [Apple wants] to control what people are doing on devices for the enterprise, then [it] needs to speed up," Hazelton said.
Apple plans to bring new enterprise-centric features around security, management and productivity with enhancements for applications within iOS 8. Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Reminders, Notes and Messages can be protected with a passcode, while Secure Multi-Purpose Internet Mail Extensions users can encrypt individual messages for extra security.
In addition to its previously introduced Device Enrollment Program, Apple created more opportunities for IT to hook iOS devices into an organization's mobile device management (MDM) infrastructure. Documents such as PDFs and iBooks can be automatically pushed to user devices through MDM tools and can later be removed remotely.
In iOS 8, IT can control which apps are used to open documents downloaded from an enterprise domain using the Safari browser. IT can also remotely set a name for a device and stop users from adding restrictions or erasing devices, and can check when the last time a device was backed up to iCloud to ensure certain tasks are safe. They can also deploy a new remote management user interface (UI) for MDM enrollment and a new UI to help employees understand a company's MDM infrastructure.
Apple seemed to call out competitors, outlining iOS 8's anticipated enterprise additions and announcing its plans to give IT more management options "without burdening employees with complex rules and work personas."
Google recently purchased mobile containerization startup Divide, Samsung has been touting its Knox enterprise mobility management suite that includes dual persona capabilities for iOS devices, and BlackBerry Balance offers a similar work/personal dual persona feature.
Apple's iCloud Drive opportunity
Joining the thundering herd of companies' cloud content management products, Apple introduced a new product around its iCloud offerings, called iCloud Drive. It has a similar mission to Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox and Box.
Files can be stored in iCloud through iCloud Drive on a Mac running the upcoming version of OS X, Yosemite, or on a PC running Windows 8. In addition, a file created with an iCloud-enabled application on an iOS 8 device can be saved in iCloud and then accessed from any iCloud Drive-supported device.
Everything stored in iCloud can be accessed through Finder on a desktop, including iOS application files. Applications can now share files through iCloud, so users can create a file in one application and finish using it in another. IT can set up rules to control which apps can access documents within iCloud Drive.
Because iCloud is mostly geared to consumers, iCloud Drive isn't seen as a full-fledged enterprise file sync and share/content management market play, and there are questions about how it will be secured. In fact, many of the aforementioned iCloud Drive features have been available in cloud file-sharing platforms such as Google Drive and Dropbox for several years.
However, as with many other Apple offerings used for business in the bring your own device era, all Apple needs to do is make iCloud Drive simple and secure for enterprises and employees to be interested, according to Oh.
"[IT will] put apps in their ecosystem that leverage iCloud Drive and the developers will choose iCloud because it's the cheapest and easiest for them to integrate," he said.
Not having a consistent file manager across all Apple devices has been one its biggest problems in recent years, and it appears Apple will finally address that, according to Craig Mathias, founder of mobile and wireless advisory firm the Farpoint Group in Ashland, Massachusetts.
"iOS is great for content consumers, but for content creators who are used to all the amenities that come with a full-blown file system, that [has] been lacking," Mathias said.
Apple plans to offer 5 GB of iCloud Drive for free with an additional 20 GB costing $0.99 per month or $3.99 per month for 200 GB with tiers up to 1 TB. By comparison, Google Drive offers 15 GB free, with 100 GB available for $1.99 per month and $9.99 per month for 1 TB.
Apple bridges iOS and OS X
Where Microsoft has gone for a more consistent experience between its phones, tablets and PCs, Apple has opted to let iOS and OS X exist separately.
But this week, Apple changed its approach with a more integrated experience between iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. In addition to the consistency expected between devices in iCloud Drive, Apple will allow users to transfer files between mobile devices and Macs using AirDrop. Previously, AirDrop could only transfer files between mobile devices and between Macs, but not between each other.
The new AirDrop capabilities will be welcome to both enterprises and consumers, according to Oh. Many of his clients have asked about using AirDrop to transfer files between their mobile devices and their Macs.
"That's really a much more pertinent use case," he said. "I have this PDF, so let me throw it over to my mobile device or vice versa. That, I think, adds a whole level of utility to it."
Enterprises may also take advantage of new features such as Handoff, which includes starting an email on one Apple product and finishing it on a different one. Users can also answer phone calls on a Mac or iPad and send SMS messaging from any device, plus they can use their iPhone to create a Wi-Fi connection between all devices when out of service range.
Continuity, Apple's effort to make interactions between iOS and OS X devices, was the single most important piece of news out of the keynote, according to Bob O'Donnell, founder and chief analyst for TECHnalysis Research in Foster City, California.
"Most people switch between multiple devices all the time and anything that can be done to make that computing model easier is a huge step in the right direction," he said.
The tricky part for enterprises, however, is that Apple hasn't taken steps to support seamless transfer and usage between an Apple OS and a non-Apple OS, which is something that becomes more important within an enterprise setting, according to O'Donnell.
Apple iOS 8 is available in beta form now for developers and is expected to be publicly released this fall. OS X Yosemite will also be available as a beta this summer with free download availability anticipated in the fall.