Lost amid all the consumer-focused frenzy of last week's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) is an intriguing set of new enterprise features that Apple will add to its mobile OS in iOS 8. Due later this year—and no doubt accompanied by a new set of devices—iOS 8 will be made available for free to users of reasonably current iPhones, iPod touches and iPads. And while it may look at lot like the current reason, there are a lot of interesting features for businesses.
I recently discussed the iOS value proposition for businesses in Apple in the Enterprise, so this article will mostly assume you're familiar with what's available today in iOS 7, and with the various apps that Microsoft has created for this powerful platform. But one point bears repeating: The popularity of the iPhone in particular is, I think, almost solely responsible for the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend that is currently revolutionizing the way we think about mobile devices in the workplace. So it is perhaps not surprising that Apple—a company that has traditionally been far more comfortable dealing with consumers—is trying to step up its efforts in this area. And succeeding.
At WWDC, Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi provided rousing presentations of the firm's new Mac OS X Yosemite, iOS and developer offerings during the day one keynote address. And a bit over an hour into the keynote, he had a bit to say about the enterprise.
"It turns out that iOS is a huge hit in the enterprise," Mr. Federighi noted, showing a list of big name companies that are using iPhones and/or iPads. "98 percent of the Fortune 500 uses iOS. And we're going to get the last 2 [percent]."
Part of the reason for this success is some great enterprise-class mobile apps, most notably the recently-released Office for iPad suite, which includes first-class versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and OneNote. But Salesforce.com, Roambi, and ScrollMotion apps were also briefly shown.
But Apple has also quickly outfitted iOS with the features and functionality that enterprises expect. VPN on demand and per-app VPN. Exchange auto-discovery. Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). Passcode policies including complex passcode requirements. Managed settings. Mobile Device Management with automated MDM enrollment. And much more.
Federighi highlighted a feature that actually debuted earlier this year—I think it was part of an iOS 7.1.x release—called the Device Enrollment Program. This lets businesses deploy iPhones and iPads to their users in their unopened, shrink-wrapped boxes and have the device automatically configure itself during initial Setup with accounts, policies, enterprise apps, and more. What this means is that IT doesn't need to rip open each box and laboriously connect them to some PC and make those provisions manually.
With iOS 8, Apple is taking its enterprise functionality to the next level.
From a security standpoint, iOS 8 expands data protection to more apps, with passcode protection on apps like Calendar, Contacts, Mail, Messages, Notes, Reminders and compatible third party apps, helping to keep your corporate data safe. It includes per-message S/MIME protection for email messages.
On the productivity front, the iOS 8 Mail app—which is excellent, and supports multiple accounts and most Exchange features—has a new feature called VIP Threads that will alert you—including via a lock screen notification if you're not signed in—when an important message has gotten a reply. Mail finally adds an Exchange-compatible automatic reply as well. The Calendar app can show Exchange-based free/busy information so you can see meeting attendee availability when scheduling and find a time that works for everyone. And as is possible already with Windows Phone, there's a new "running late" feature that lets you email meeting attendees when you're a bit behind.
And the OS now support third party document providers, which is Apple's way of saying third party storage services, which includes OneDrive (for consumers) and SharePoint/OneDrive for Business. If you're already using Office for iPad (or Office for iPhone), this isn't necessarily a huge deal as these services are integrated already. But this functionality means that your documents can be accessed by Apple's own productivity apps now—Pages, Numbers and Keynote—as well as third party apps. And you can of course enforce which services your users can access via policies.
The iOS management features are already quite mature, so the gains in this area are a little more modest: you can manage which controls are available in Calendar, determine which apps can open files downloaded via the Safari web browser, books and PDFs (which I assume is through iBooks and thus mostly applicable to education), and configure device names through MDM. Apple has also updated its MDM management tools.
Apple iOS 8 is currently in beta, and the early first release I've installed on my iPhone 5S is a bit buggy to recommend, though the firm has a history of quickly fixing problems in the build-up to the final release. (You need to be in Apple's developer program to gain access at the moment.) Apple will ship the final version of iOS 8 this fall as a free update to users of iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPod touch 5th generation, iPad 2, iPad with Retina display, iPad Air, iPad mini and iPad mini with Retina display.
And while Apple didn't discuss this at WWDC, the firm is also expected to deliver at least one larger-screen iPhone this fall as well, possibly concurrently with iOS 8. This expected iPhone 6 could have a 4.7- to 5-inch screen (or perhaps both, some rumors suggest there will be two models), finally ending the key complaint about today's models, which have relatively tiny 4-inch screens. Such a device running iOS 8 could provide serious competition for Android and Windows Phone, and not just in the enterprise. I'm very curious to see what they come up with.