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Apple's iOS 14 update is set to bring a bevy of new features when it launches this fall, but its impact on the enterprise user may be marginal.
At this week's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple outlined the changes that would comprise the new version of iOS. At Monday's keynote address, company executives spoke of upgrades to Apple Maps; a change in the way apps and widgets are displayed on an iPhone's home screen; and alteration to the virtual assistant Siri's user interface.
Industry observers, though, said the new operating system offered few improvements for enterprise iPhone users.
"At its core, Apple is an individual productivity company for individuals who are ready to spend [a] premium for a beautifully designed device," said Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. "[Those individuals] pay for their fan status on the software side, where Apple's iOS trails [mobile productivity] innovation to Google's Android by close to three years."
One feature that could improve the experience for enterprise users is its new "picture-in-picture" functionality. During the keynote at the WWDC, Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering at Apple, said the iOS 14 update would allow users to do such things as accessing apps while on a video call.
"As I move between applications, [the video window] stays with me," he said as he demonstrated the feature during Monday's presentation. "I can also swipe it to the side, and the audio keeps playing while it's off the screen."
Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, said such a change could enable collaboration between colleagues while performing such tasks as reviewing documents.
"If you look at the user interface experience now with [videoconferencing services] Zoom and Webex, you're left to swipe back and forth. With a small screen, you have to choose between looking at the material they're presenting or the video -- typically you can't do both on an iPhone," he said. "Picture-in-picture would be an improvement, allowing you to eyeball somebody's video as an overlay on the slide they're presenting as opposed to swiping back and forth."
Apple's iOS 14 update also includes improvements to its messaging app, Messages, that might help business users. Several improvements provide for more flexibility with group communication: allowing users to communicate with a particular member of a group and have in-line responses; to draw someone's attention to a particular message by using their name; and the option to only be notified when another group member specifically mentions them.
"When you're talking to a group, sometimes there's so much going on, it can be hard to keep track of the conversation," said Stacey Lysik, Apple's senior director of OS program management, during the keynote. "We're going to help you bring order to the chaos."
Mueller said the upgrades -- especially the in-line message threads -- could prove to be useful for larger teams within a business.
However, Gillett said, larger enterprises will likely already have other collaboration tools in place.
"[The messaging features] might be valuable to a small business, but all the enterprises tell all their employees to stay out of Messages and use company-approved enterprise messaging, like [Microsoft] Teams," he said. "A small business that uses consumer messaging might appreciate that, but not an enterprise."
Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Mark Bowker said the collaboration improvements did not stand out from those offered elsewhere.
"I see very few people using Apple messaging [tools], in general, as a business collaboration tool," he said. "That doesn't mean that they aren't, but it's still Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Webex ... that really rule the roost in the enterprise."
Mueller said he believes Apple is losing ground in the enterprise to its competitors in terms of mobile productivity, despite recent business-focused iPad improvements.
"It is sad to see that WWDC did not deliver on any new, innovative ideas that would close the gap between Apple iOS and Google Android," he said. "That does not bode well for Apple in the long run, and not for Apple users for sure."
Bowker said, although this week's announcements may not have much of a direct effect on enterprise users, they might drive improvement in productivity software. Apple, he said, is still the standard for the consumer user experience and, as that improves, workers demand to have that same experience from their enterprise devices and apps.
"They aren't really addressing the present mode of operation for the typical enterprise, but they do set the bar on the way people use those devices and interact with them," he said.
Bowker said Teams is one place where such pressure to improve can be seen. That platform, he said, has added features previously seen on consumer messaging software, like emoji and GIF integration.
"Microsoft Teams is putting out new features at a pace that is delivering more and more of what people are experiencing on the consumer side in a business environment," he said.