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. 3. iOS 7 app management is more precise.
iOS includes a variety of new MDM tools, highlighted by its "open in" management feature, which lets IT dictate which apps can open given documents. This ensures that sensitive documents can't be exposed to security flaws in unapproved apps.
Another potential benefit of this feature: It, too, reinforces the business-personal balance. Before, if a user opened a file such as a PDF in an app that IT did not control, iOS would keep a copy of the file even if IT wiped the device of corporate content. With iOS 7, enterprises can circumvent this problem by requiring that users install a dedicated, IT-controlled PDF reader. IT can then use "open in" to prevent users from opening corporate documents with non-approved apps.
iOS 7 will also introduce features that allow IT managers to provision devices more quickly.
4. iOS 7 will be easier for enterprises to license.
In the past, when enterprises purchased apps for employees' iPhones, the licenses lasted only as long as the employee stayed with the company. If someone left the company, her business apps couldn't be reused by a new employee. With iOS 7, Apple introduces a new model where the enterprise controls corporate app licenses, and IT can transfer them as necessary. Dulaney said the new policy is an example of how Apple doesn't directly engage with enterprise users but still "kind of wanders in and gets it right over time."
5. Apple is going to sell a ton of iPhone 5Cs.
Much has been made of the iPhone 5C's prospects in budget-conscious emerging markets, where iOS gets resoundingly trashed by Android. In fact, the iPhone 5C could be a huge seller everywhere. An Ask.com survey found that 46% of its iPhone users plan to upgrade to an iPhone 5S as soon as it's available, but that just over 60% would opt for the cheaper 5C if it is also available. That's just one online survey, but analysts are optimistic, too, especially about the device's role in the enterprise.
Many businesses provide employees with the aging iPhone 4 for free but require that workers chip in if they want to use newer, more expensive models, pointed out Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi in an interview. The iPhone 5C is unlikely to cost much more than the allowance enterprises are already offering, she said. The 5C might not have other iPhones' metal build, but it should boast snappy functionality that could sway many users. Milanesi expects the 5C to increase iOS 7's penetration of the business market. Dulaney said he expects iOS to be the top enterprise smartphone platform until at least 2016.
6. The iPhone 5S's fingerprint scanner could offer substantial security enhancements.
In his report, Dulaney noted that some of iOS 7's enhancements might still fall short in high-security environments. For instance, the update adds third-party app encryption -- but the feature still relies on the user's pass code, which is based on only four characters. The iPhone 5S could help enterprises overcome lingering trepidation, though, with its fingerprint scanner. The feature is expected to allow apps to use biometrics for authentication. If this functionality can be married to the enterprise tools, the dual authentication could keep sensitive content doubly secure. As a result, businesses could have much less to fear from lost or stolen devices.
Learn more about BYOD, MDM and other topics by attending the Interop conference track on Mobility in New York from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.