What Apple's iOS 7 means for business and enterprise IT

Credit: Apple

Tim Cook may not have announced every rumored product during the keynote at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (no mention of an iWatch or new iPads and iPhones), but the company did have plenty of things to announce and demo, including new versions of its mobile and desktop OSes - iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks. The company also had some key announcements related to its iCloud service.

Taken together, Apple is aggressively pushing major changes that will impact all Apple users. Several of the developments stand to impact how people use Apple devices and services in the workplace and how IT departments and enterprise developers manage and support iPhones and iPads.

The biggest change in iOS 7 is the redesign of the iPhone/iPad user experience, but the new version will also usher in a host of new features, including:

  •  The Lock Screen - iOS 7 allows users to view and manage notifications directly from the lock screen. A new version of the Notification Center can be accessed from the lock screen (using the same downward swipe from the top of the screen used in the current version of iOS), allowing users to respond to notifications without unlocking their device. The new Control Center that allows for quick toggling of device features and services in iOS 7 can also be accessed from the lock screen with a new upward swipe from the bottom. Whether Apple will allow IT to manage or restrict these features, which could pose a security risk, is unknown at this point.
  • Multitasking - Apple has finally decided to offer true multitasking and the ability to run and interact with multiple iOS apps simultaneously. This should allow business and productivity app creators more flexibility in their apps, and it will almost certainly allow users to develop better and more efficient iOS workflows.
  • AirDrop - AirDrop is a point-to-point file sharing system that debuted on the Mac. It lets users share content directly between devices using Wi-Fi, even if there is no Wi-Fi network available. From Apple's demo, it looks like AirDrop will be tightly integrated with iOS features and apps. That's great from a user perspective because it simplifies mobile sharing - users will simply see contacts around them and be able to transfer files without launching any apps - but it could raise security concerns and create data sprawl if it becomes widely used in enterprise environments. No word yet on whether IT will be able to disable or restrict the feature.
  • Auto-updates - iOS apps will now automatically update themselves. This ensures users will get patches that resolve problems and close security holes. It does, however, introduce the risk that updates which introduce bugs of their own may be more widely deployed than in current and past iOS versions.
  • Notification Sync - When an iOS 7 user dismisses a notification on one device, they will not see a duplicate notification on another device. That should streamline processes all around.
  • FaceTime Audio - Apple didn't elaborate on this feature, but it appears to be a VoIP calling option based on Apple's FaceTime video chat. That could be an excellent feature for mobile professionals, particularly those that travel internationally, as it could limit roaming and plan overage charges.
  • Activation Lock - Hands down, the biggest feature for enterprise or consumer use is Activation Lock that will prevent a lost or stolen iPhone from being re-activated without the owner's iCloud account details, even if the device is wiped. This is a good start as a theft deterrent system and it's a great security feature. It isn't likely that this feature will be enterprise-managed, but it's simple existence is a breakthrough.

Apple also teased the audience with slides that mentioned additional iOS 7 features as well as new APIs for developers that will be part of the iOS 7 SDK. They include some major business and enterprise features:

  • Enterprise Single Sign-on - This feature is becoming common on many mobile management platforms and it allows a user to authenticate once to enterprise services. Once authenticated all apps that interact with enterprise services or resources will allow access, meaning users don't need to login using every app. Building this into iOS could ease the user experience and increase security significantly. It could even provide advantages that third-party solutions cannot, such as deep integration with iOS services and device features.
  • Per-app VPN - This will be powerful enterprise addition that will allow more efficient VPN access for users and will likely lower the VPN load on a company's network.
  • App Configuration Management - This appears to indicate advanced mobile app management will be a big addition to iOS. Most likely it will support pushing apps out to managed devices as well as removing those apps. It may also enforce app black listing or white listing (currently MDM products can detect unauthorized apps but not really do anything to prevent their use). It may also include the ability to pre-configure apps when they're deployed.
  • App Store Volume Purchase - This looks like a replacement for Apple's current (and very limited) Volume Purchase Program. If so, it will be an extremely welcome addition as app licensing remains a major headache for many businesses and schools.
  • Streamlined MDM enrollment - It's hard to guess exactly what Apple means by this, but it may indicate a universal enrollment option that any MDM vendor could take advantage of.
  • New Smart Mailboxes - This is almost certainly an extension of the smart mailbox feature in OS X's Mail app. Smart mailboxes act as permanent email searches that can have granular search strings and make it easier to find all emails matching a complex set of characteristics. It will most likely be paired with Improved Mail Search, which was another listed feature.
  • PDF Annotations - Several apps already allow users to view and annotate PDFs, but the PDF must be opened with those apps. Making this a system-wide capability will certainly makes it easier to use.
  • Wi-Fi Hot Spot 2.0 - Presumably this is a more advanced version of the existing mobile hotspot and tethering capabilities of iOS. There's no real indication what the added capabilities will be, but they could include user/device authentication features or the ability to support a larger range of devices.
  • Phone, FaceTime, and Messages Blocking - This is most likely a way to block communications based on phone number, email address, and possibly other factors like an iCloud account, which would be a natural extension of the Do Not Disturb feature introduced in iOS 6.

The iOS 7 SDK slide also hints at a couple of additional enterprise features.

  • Peer-to-peer Connectivity - This likely relates to integrating AirDrop into apps, but it could also mean the ability to do more complex tasks like streaming content or screen sharing.
  • Data Protection By Default - This implies that Apple will make it easy for developers to deliver secure apps. It is most likely an extension of the data encryption APIs that Apple introduced in iOS 4 that ensures that all apps store data securely on the device unless explicitly told to do otherwise. It could also imply that apps will transmit data to cloud services or remote resources in a secure form.

Check back this week for a similar look at OS X Mavericks and iCloud.

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