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.