Three iOS enterprise features IT still needs

There's a reason why iOS is so widely used in the enterprise, but IT pros have identified a few features they still need to achieve peak functionality.

There are a few needs Apple could address that would convince more IT departments to buy into iOS.

Apple intentionally runs iOS in a more restricted, locked-down environment than its competitors, which has been a subject of intense debate among IT pros seeking a broader range of function. It's more common than you'd think for IT departments to write out a list of iOS enterprise features they could use, and, given the competitive environment mentioned above, Apple needs to take note.

When IT pros evaluate iOS, they tend to focus primarily on four things: security, integrity, cost control and management. IT organizations look for a mobile OS to show release-to-release consistency between versions of an operating system. Constancy helps to minimize support costs and reduce the likelihood of incompatibilities with existing enterprise mobility management (EMM) tools. IT also looks for mission-appropriate customizability and the ability to support a broad diversity of apps. Although iOS meets these requirements at least adequately, at my consulting firm we hear a number of common requests for enhanced functionality. From those discussions, I've been able to develop a wishlist of the three iOS enterprise features IT covets most, if only Apple would oblige.

Enterprise functions IT still wants from iOS

A single Apple OS would make IT's job a lot easier, and the uniformity could potentially save money for enterprises. Apple hasn't shown much interest in this idea, at least publicly, but consolidating iOS and OS X should be feasible, given that both are UNIX derivatives. The only functional variation Apple would need to account for is the user interface. File, task and other internal management activities should already be compatible with the single-OS concept.

An amalgamation of iOS and OS X would result in a greater commonality of function, making support and management of Apple devices a lot simpler. It's not just IT that would benefit. End users would likely see a boost in cross-device functionality, and all the cool stuff like Siri and iBeacon would work everywhere. Just as importantly, it would also cost less to manage and support one Apple OS instead of two. With Microsoft pursuing a similar direction in Windows 10, might there be hope here?

A real file system would make iOS less dependent on cloud sync and storage services. Its omission has been a personal frustration of mine (and many others) since Apple first released a mobile OS. Sure, cloud services can fill the gap, but they also introduce new issues with respect to system integrity and data protection. Sharing data among multiple services and their apps can also be difficult, given iOS' locked-down nature. Wouldn't it be nice to have file-browser access? After all, every other major OS, including Android, already does this. A variety of viable third-party applications are available, but all of these are still something of a pain to use.

Integrated mobility management is another feature that could reduce reliance on third-party services. Apple's own Configurator tool is proof that the company considers mobility management to be important. However, many companies bypass Configurator and instead invest in a third-party EMM strategy, which can introduce both security and operational challenges. Basic EMM really needs to be part of the mobile OS, located beyond the reach of hackers attempting to exploit potential weaknesses in a third-party EMM service. Apple has made positive strides, most notably with Managed Open In, a security feature introduced in iOS 7 that allows IT to compartmentalize apps and restrict corporate data sharing. Apple is also allowing more app customization, introducing over 4,000 new APIs with iOS 8.

Ideally, industry standards would play a role in pushing Apple toward integrated mobile management. However, Apple has been mostly immune to industry pressure, instead employing a go-it-alone attitude with respect to product definition.

What else is on IT's wishlist?

There are plenty of other ways Apple could improve iOS for enterprise use. For example, Apple could add configuration verification to help detect unauthorized apps and malware, while developers would welcome improvements to the iOS software development environments. One specific option developers request is the ability to split activities between local apps and cloud services, like iCloud, without affecting user experience. Keeping the data in the cloud enables access to faster, more capable processing and much-improved security.

Enterprises are always focused on maximizing their return on investment, and Apple could address that with more attention to analytics. If IT had a better understanding of how users are navigating iOS, it could lower operational expenditure and improve productivity at the same time.

There's little reason to believe that iOS will become stale anytime soon. Apple incorporated several new innovations into iOS 8, while IT demands and competitive pressure from Android should also continue to push iOS forward. IT will, in the end, get at least some of those iOS enterprise features it's been asking for.

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