When Apple announces new iOS features each year at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, it’s the consumer ones that are highlighted in the keynote and that get the most press. The past few years saw Apple stepping up its focus on enterprise users and increasing innovation directed specifically for the enterprise. This years announcements on iOS 8 for the enterprise were no different. These often get lost in all the consumer hype though. With this year’s announcements, Apple once again improves the experience for everyone, and many of the features announced for the enterprise may actually have a bigger impact than the consumer ones. Though many of the features improve upon the native experience, with improvements to mail, calendar and other areas, this post covers the more general, technical features that will appeal to both users of iOS native apps as well as enterprise-optimized ones.
Apple has increased some capabilities for enterprise to manage data and apps using mobile device management (MDM) tool. The key ones include:
- Content Pushing–Books, ePub, and PDF documents can now be automatically pushed to user devices using mobile device management (MDM) tools and removed without user intervention.
- Data management and content filtering–IT departments can control which apps can open documents downloaded from enterprise domains using Safari. They can also set up rules for controlling which apps can open documents from iCloud Drive. This would be even better if it can be extended into any content management system!
- New policies–IT can set the device name remotely and prevent users from adding their own restrictions or erasing their devices. New MDM queries will provide more information by letting administrators see the last time a device was backed up so they know whether it’s safe to perform certain tasks. A new remote management UI makes enrolling and understanding the impact of MDM easier and more transparent for users.
One of the most important announcements Apple made was on extensions. Extensions allow apps to extend their functionality to other apps. This could greatly improve the workflow of data for business users. However, these extensions still face many restrictions in order to maintain long battery life and to keep apps secure, so no one is really sure yet what the overall impact will be, how developers use this will make all the difference. We have already done some integration of apps, this just makes it easier to develop and share data. There are six different kinds of extensions, five of which, listed here, are most interesting to enterprises:
- Notification widgets–data can now be programmed to show up in the Notification center, making it easier to view information when mobile
- Third-party keyboards–Apple is opening up iOS to support alternative keyboard styles like Swype, different sized-keyboards and alternative layouts
- Share extensions–allow apps to share data such as photos or links
- Storage extensions–link up third-party file sharing like Dropbox or ShareFile to support picking multiple docs across cloud services
- Action extensions–allow apps to manipulate or view content in other apps. Think of this as allowing iOS app mashups!
But will this be secure? iOS still supports the sandbox and erects barriers between applications, their extensions, and applications’ data in an effort to protect users and their data. The extension is a separate piece of software that runs independently when used in another app so when the app is done running the extension it closes. iOS extensions will be downloaded from the Apple App Store and must be part of a bigger or “container” app. Apple won’t allow developers to offer apps that are just extensions. Each extension has to live within a “containing app,” and Apple mandates that the containing app must offer some functionality to the user. This is different in Android where developers can offer apps that are just widgets for the notification center or just keyboards, for example.
End User Features
Apple has always excelled in providing an exciting end user experience, but certain features will be more important to business users, based on their style of usage, versus consumer users. Two main announcements in this space for iOS 8 include:
- Peer-to-peer AirPlay: iOS devices can stream content to Apple TV and allow other users to connect to this, without the need for a shared local or wide area network connection.So this allows screen sharing without connecting to a bigger network. Not sure if there is a limit to how many users can connect simultaneously, though.
- Touch-ID Extended to apps–With iOS 7, Apple introduced Touch ID to allow easy access to a locked phone without having to manually enter a passcode. It is Apple’s fingerprint security hardware and software solution that requires a user’s fingerprint scan to allow device access. It was limited though because it could not be applied to specific apps. Starting with iOS 8, third-party developers can now access Touch ID app security so even enterprises can support the use of biometrics to their proprietary apps.
Enterprises expect to have 40% of their iOS users upgrade the day a new iOS version is released and so expect zero day support from MDM and EMM vendors. What isn’t yet known is what the iPhone 6 will look like to support these great new features! (Of course, existing iPhone 4s devices and above will also be able to use iOS 8.)