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Since the release of the first beta release to developers in June 2013, iOS 7 has been making news in the tech world. With the public release just a few weeks old, reactions from end-users and tech pundits have been mixed. Change is hard for some and iOS 7 is loaded with changes. While the most obvious of those changes are cosmetic, several make iPhones and iPads more friendly to enterprise use. Those changes are the real story behind iOS 7.
There are dozens of new features aimed at business use, making this the most enterprise-friendly release of any iOS incarnation to date. Most of these features require that apps incorporate them into new releases and so will take months to become evident to end-users.
Though it is currently the norm, over the long-term, few businesses will build their own apps from scratch. Thus, the five iOS 7 features highlighted below are those that have the greatest positive impact on business because they increase the security and utility of both purpose-built corporate apps of today and the third-party apps of tomorrow.
- Single sign-on: Apple is incorporating a shared keychain capability that takes advantage of MIT’s widely-used Kerberos protocol to allow apps to manage federated credentials with a single point of authorization. Applications that use the shared keychain for storage of credentials can rely on a one-time authorization challenge to gain access to the device. Using the feature means that users will no longer be required to repeatedly enter credentials in order to move between multiple applications.
- Automatic third-party app encryption: This is a stealthy move that makes data stored by all apps automatically encrypted on the iOS file system using a derivative of the end-users passcode or fingerprint token to define a unique key. Incorporating this feature makes bring-your-own-app a less risky proposition for corporate data security by removing the need to trust third-party developers to handle encryption duties. By making the platform more secure by default, Apple is removing a tremendous amount of overhead for app developers, and making it more feasible for consumer developers to make the jump to enterprise developers.
- Managed open-in: This feature makes it possible for IT to mandate that attachments to corporate email accounts be opened only within approved applications. By restricting what applications an employee can use to open an emailed file, IT can block users from sending attachments to Box or Dropbox applications. This prevents pushing potentially sensitive information into unmonitored, personal cloud storage. It might also be used to ensure that applications which cache file contents locally have the ability to encrypt files in the iOS file system and support remote wipe functionality. This opens up a new area for existing app developers to differentiate themselves to security-sensitive IT buyers.
- Per-app VPN: Corporate IT can use this feature to use mobile device management software to designate which applications are required to access network resources through a globally-defined VPN tunnel. The apps themselves need not be modified to work with the new VPN feature, which will make plug-and-play third-party app purchases more feasible for enterprise software purchasers.
- Meet iBeacon: This capability, added to the Core Locations framework, will allow applications to detect the position of the device relative to other iBeacon-enabled devices. Other devices can include both other iOS handsets or tablets and dedicated devices that might be used to mark areas of interest within a physical space. Applications can exploit the ability for iBeacons to report their positions relative to each other to embed positional intelligence in a truly granular fashion. Such iBeacons could also be used to alert employees when a customer is nearby or to allow staff to locate medical equipment in the 3D space of a multi-floor hospital environment. None of these use-cases could be supported with the degree of location resolution available through existing GPS location features.
As the weeks and months unfold for business users, it will be fun to measure the impact of iOS 7 and the new batch of iOS devices showing up in boardrooms and airport lounges. I’d love to hear if you think iOS7 will have as big an impact on productivity as the first iPhone did. Of the many business-oriented features that I did not choose for my list which are you most excited about?
Tim Panagos is the former Chief Architect of Accenture and current CTO of Point.io.