The iOS architecture has always been fairly secure because it sandboxes apps, which prevents them from writing files to one another. For some enterprises and institutions, however, "fairly secure" isn't good enough.
"The bottom line is, Apple has a structure that works pretty well [but] it's not enriched with all the functionality that high-security environments want," said Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney in an interview.
[ What does Apple have planned after iOS 7? Read Apple's Big Reveal: 5 Things We Won't See. ]
Mobile device management (MDM) vendors have stepped in to fill gaps, and Apple has gradually given them more tools to work with. Dulaney said that from the enterprise's perspective, iOS 7 is the most substantive upgrade since iOS 4.
Apple still isn't allowing BlackBerry-like control. Having built its reputation around a tightly-controlled user experience, the company is unlikely to ever go this route. In fact, most of the enterprise features in iOS 7 can be used only with an MDM agent. Nonetheless, the new OS addresses many of IT's biggest complaints and should expand its already formidable presence in the workplace. Here are six reasons iOS 7 is an essential enterprise upgrade.
1. iOS 7 includes beefed-up security, and a better balance between personal and corporate data.
Companies already can connect iOS devices to VPNs, which securely connect end users to corporate servers. Unfortunately, doing so involves a brute-force method that enables the entire device. This approach needlessly chews through both battery life and bandwidth.
iOS 7 changes this by allowing IT managers to designate which apps are allowed to use the VPN, meaning only business content will be routed through enterprise infrastructure. This approach not only keeps corporate content secure, but also helps in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environments, by imposing barriers between personal data and business data.
The update also will include additional tools with which MDM vendors can give IT control over specific families of apps. The enhancements should allow apps to interact with one another without violating iOS's sandboxed structure. They should also further enable companies to manage their assets while leaving personal content alone. iOS 7's additional security enhancements include third-party data protection, which encrypts data in third-party apps with a user's pass code until the device is unlocked.
2. iOS 7 enables single sign-on and other productivity boosters.
iOS 7 enables single-sign on (SSO) authentication to multiple business apps that IT can define via an MDM agent. This enhancement should save employees from juggling a variety of passwords. By making it more convenient to access corporate material, SSO also should improve employee productivity.
According to PJ Gupta, CEO of MDM vendor Amtel, SSO's convenience will also encourage users to adopt corporate policies, which will in turn compel enterprises to push out more business apps. He said users and IT will have "more confidence" about iOS devices at work.
iOS 7 also includes support for Hotspot 2.0, which should enable easier transitions between cellular and Wi-Fi networks -- another potential productivity booster. AirDrop, a new peer-to-peer file-sharing feature, could also help increase office productivity. In his report "iOS 7 Offers Major Improvements for the Enterprise," Gartner analyst Dulaney noted that the research firm has "never been a fan" of such methods for enterprise collaboration, however, and that Gartner expects most enterprises to disable the feature.