Without a new iPhone 5, iOS 6 became the mobile star of Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference keynote today.
Over 200 new features are in iOS 6, due in the fall. Here are the ones that stand out as being important for businesses.
Facetime over Cellular has the most obvious impact, in the area of field service. Now, live video isn't used much. But that's more due to the inadequacies of today's ruggedized devices - which tend to be expensive, underpowered AND ugly - than video's lack of usefulness.
Imagine a repairman at a remote utility substation who wants to get his boss or co-worker's help in diagnosing problems with a malfunctioning machine. Or an emergency medical technician treating a bleeding patient who needs immediate advice from a physician before arriving at the ER. Or a property inspector at the site of a foreclosed home who wants help evaluating damages to the property from someone back at corporate.
In all of these scenarios, live, interactive video could be extremely helpful - certainly far more so than static images or even video clips embedded into reports after the fact. The big question is how well Facetime will perform in remote areas when 4G LTE is unavailable and 3G is spotty. But that may be an edge scenario. I expect field service app vendors like my employer SAP to start leveraging Facetime in their offerings. This could accelerate the move away from ruggedized devices to consumer ones fitted with an Otterbox or similar tough case.
More detailed, intelligent Maps in iOS 6 is also an enterprise-worthy feature. Companies will be encouraged to stop equipping their delivery drivers or their vehicles with dedicated GPS devices in favor of iPhones and iPads that will now have real-time traffic capabilities, spoken turn-by-turn navigation and courtesy of Siri integration, the ability to find and route destinations using your own voice.
Speaking of Siri, Apple didn't open up the Siri API, much to the disappointment of developers, including enterprise ones. Instead of swiping through multiple pages of a massive spreadsheet on a tiny iPhone screen, imagine being able to ask your iPhone to find exactly the data you want? Or crunch a new result for you? Or build a dashboard for you on the fly? Obviously, that's sophisticated stuff that, considering Siri's less-than-perfect abilities today, will take awhile to work flawlessly. But as with Apple's other ecosystem-creating moves, expect this to be a big push forwards to the future of the talking computer - including the car computer.
The 'Lost' mode lets users immediately lock a missing iPhone or iPad with a 4-digit passcode and send a message displaying a contact number. It will also track the device geographically. That won't deter a hardened, determined thief, but it will make it easier for good Samaritans to get you back your iPhone or iPad without having to potentially snoop at your private or corporate data.
Passbook isn't an enterprise feature, exactly. But anything that makes the life of business travelers - who are the main adopters of enterprise mobility today - easier is important in that sense.
Stay tuned for more technical info, especially around APIs aimed at third-party developers and makers of Mobile Device Management (MDM) software, to trickle out from Apple via posts to Apple.com and elsewhere.