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Apple offers a sneak peek at the enterprise-friendly features in iOS 7

Apple hints iOS 7 will have many features that are friendly to the enterprise, including tools for better iOS management and new security features.

Apple's devices and services typically target consumers, with little attention paid to the enterprise, but enterprise-friendly features are more necessary now that iOS devices have become the de-facto mobility standard.

During this year's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple finally gave corporate IT some love with several new enterprise-friendly features. 

"Everywhere we turned, there was something they addressed to help business customers," said Michael Oh, founder of Tech Superpowers, an Apple solutions provider based in Foxboro, Mass. "It wasn't anything revolutionary, but a lot of the new features were subtle productivity things that should make work easier."

For starters, the refreshed visual design of Apple's iOS mobile operating system did away with many of the tacky cues (like the faux-leather appearance of the calendar app) in most of the applications. 

"The [old] design is patronizing to business users," Oh said. "Now, you look at the calendar in OS X Mavericks and iOS 7, and it feels like something that businesses and consumers would want to use alike."

Apple hinted at several other updates that should make IT mobile admins happy, said Kevin Hart, CEO of Tekserve, an Apple partner and solutions provider based in New York.

While details remain scarce, iOS 7 will include auto-updates for applications, application multitasking, per-application virtual private network, enterprise single-sign-on capabilities, streamlined mobile-device-management enrollment, as well as:

  • Better app license management, which will update the currently limited Volume Purchase Program App configuration management through the Apple Configurator to bring similar application management application programming interfaces to those that now exist at the device level.
  • FaceTime Audio, which is a Voice-over-IP call feature based on Apple's FaceTime video feature, could be good for organizations that send employees overseas and deal with expensive roaming overage charges for cellular minutes.

As for security, iOS 7 will include default data protection for third-party apps via the updated software development kit. There will be an Activation Lock feature to prevent a lost or stolen iPhone from being reactivated without the owner's iCloud account details, even if the device is wiped. The upcoming iOS will also include iCloud Keychain, a password manager that syncs across devices and helps generate secure and unique passwords. It's similar to 1Password or LastPass.

Most of the benefits hinge on the feature set of the app configuration management tool, Tekserve's Hart said.

"Some of the biggest challenges our customers have is with Configurator," he said. "It needs to be easier to set up and deploy multiple iOS devices. It needs to be easier to configure and push internal applications developed in-house to those devices."

Configurator requires that the iOS device be connected via USB to a Mac OS X computer. There's the outside possibility that the upcoming wireless app configurator feature could do away with the need to tether devices, Oh said.

It's too early to tell whether the ability to manage, configure, establish policy and push applications on a per-app basis through Configurator is what app configuration management is intended to do, but that would be a huge step toward alleviating many of those enterprise pain points, Hart said.

For example, IT admins would love the auto-update feature, but would also love to control which applications are capable of doing this for corporate-owned devices. On the one hand, auto updates patch security flaws quickly, but a buggy update could fail to work without proper testing, he said.

While much of the focus at the WWDC was on the new look of iOS 7, the improvements to its hardware lineup and the launch of iTunes Radio -- the things consumers love to talk about, Apple also launched iWorks for iCloud, which should compete with other productivity suites such as Office 365 and Google Docs for employees that need to work from anywhere on any device.

The productivity suite's enterprise-friendly features will allow users to create, access and edit Pages, Numbers and Keynote documents from a Web browser on a Mac or Windows PC. Users will also be able to upload and edit Microsoft Office documents, specifically Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Further, once in iCloud, those documents also sync to iOS devices for editing.

That iCloud sync feature could eliminate the need for file-sharing services like Dropbox, Oh said. Now, documents should appear ready to edit on mobile devices once they are synced through iCloud, similar to how Google Drive combines storage and document editing capabilities.

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What enterprise-friendly features does Apple need to include in future iOS updates?
Needs true hardware encryption for ALL data on device (i.e., data protection class of NSFileProtectionComplete).
easy deploy of multiple iPads with same profiles & apps
More MDM is needed.
I'd like to see WAN optimization built in.
From an ednd user perspective, what is most missing is forwarding of calendar invites, as well as the possibility to Crete and manage out to office message.

IT admins have different needs and their wish list is longer. A client less MDM integration is definitely very welcome.

Btw, Apple list new enterprise features on their iOS7 overview site.
time for Apple to make it easier to use its devices at the office as well as at home
Apple Configurator is very difficult to use, especially for the uninitiated. A simpler interface with more help would be good. Saying that, Apple's VPP staff are very supportive when you contact them.
Waiting to see the wraps to come fully off the app level VPN capability. We have found secure network connectivity decisioning to restrictive
Apple needs to provide the ability (thru api or apple solution) to centrally capture and manage text messages on business issued iPhones and iPads. This is a critical function for local, state, and federal agencies to comply with public record laws.
Would like better integration with Exchange to enable heavy business users such as free-busy lookups, ability to "reply all" to calendar invites etc.
I need editing of office docs and the ability to store it back at the source
Needs to support partitioning personal and corporate data
It needs Microsoft Office or something that is really comparable. My office runs on Office with OFFICE I have no business buying tablets.
Access to the file system for drag-and-drop file management. Trying to leverage Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iBooks, photos, video clips, etc. is still a hassle as you need to use iTunes or third party apps to move files, and it can be a confusing process for many execs and sales people.

By dragging the files you want to the iPad, you know you have the intended version (time stamps on "synced" files reflect the time transferred, as I recall) and you don't have to remember to "import from iTunes" even though you are no longer tethered to your host.
While I'm definitely in the MDM camp (for improved central administration), ENCRYPTION of iCloud data is mandatory for corporate use.
Separate partitions (or similar) for enterprise and personal use. If the device is BYOD, the enterprise could remotely wipe the device's corporate data without hesitation in the event of a parting of ways. As it is now (with native capabilities), wiping is all or nothing.
config over air wil be better than a USB tool
Need software that is compatible with MS Office
Enterprises need to have more control of iOS devices as with the other devices.
entreprise wide policy's as to manage all devices from one point and enable/disable feature on the go
iOS 7 needs a PKI encryption "flag" so you can easily toggle between sending regular or encrypted emails. As it is it's either struggle through the config each time or aggravate your peers by sending them encrypted regular emails.
It is a must to have, to be able to backup and/or synchronize data (back & forth) on the mobile environment (on the field) with the desktop/office PCs.