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For Enterprises, iOS 5 Brings Wins - and Risks

iOS 5 brings a lot of interesting new features for enterprise workers. But it also creates management and security risks that need to be tackled.

Was it my imagination, but was WWDC 2011 a less event-ful event than in past years? The absence of lust-worthy new gear surely dampened spirits, but it couldn't have helped that Apple uncorked a number of new features that appear to threaten some very key partners.

Still, for those of us interested in enterprise mobility, WWDC brought some interesting news, with a mixed bag of implications. Here's my analysis:

News #1: No new hardware! This is not entirely surprising. Apple's general rule is that it announces new gear at every other WWDC.

Wins: In their personal life, IT managers love new gadgets as much as the next techie. But in their professional life, IT managers hate having to support new devices.

(Potential) Fails: A new dual-core enabled iPhone would've pumped even more life into the burgeoning 'Bring Your Own Device' movement. Otherwise, no real downside for enterprises.

News #2: The real-time iMessage communications service, aka the BlackBerry Messenger killer.

Wins: iMessage will offer many of the same features as the popular BBM - encryption, delivery confirmation, the ability to see when a message has been read or if someone is typing a reply. It could help pull employees and IT managers off BlackBerry, says one analyst.

(Potential) Fails: As a new communications service, iMessage creates a new hole through which key corporate information can leak out via texts, or attached photos and videos. Security-minded IT managers will want to be able to police iMessage transmissions and have the ability to turn the service on and off. That will be possible via mobile device management software such as Sybase's own Afaria, though only if and when Apple opens up APIs to enable fine-grained control.

News #3: iCloud, which will by default back up all files among various devices in a central server location and keep them synchronized.

Wins: Another layer of protection for precious worker, and company, data. Could be especially great for small businesses.

(Potential) Fails: It takes corporate apps and app data outside of the firewall. As Computerworld's Ryan Faas rightly pointed out, that may contravene any number of industry regulations or data privacy laws. Apple hasn't talked yet about what APIs it will provide to MDM vendors to control iCloud's features. But the more fine-tuned, and the faster they arrive, the better.

News #4: Over-the-air activation of iPhones and iPads.

Wins: MDM software (like Afaria) already can manage and update iPhones and iPads over-the-air. But they couldn't activate the devices, which still need to be initially set up by Apple via an iTunes-enabled PC or Mac. That is incredibly kludgy for any IT manager. Which is why being able to do it over-the-air is such a win.

(Potential) Fails: If, as Faas theorizes, Apple eventually enables organizations to both activate and auto-configure their iPads and iPhones, that's a huge boon. The downside is that companies may then think they can skip MDM software, thinking that ongoing management and security of those devices is a luxury they can avoid. That would be unwise.

News #5: iOS 5's lock screen is more useful. Click on a notification and you can interact with the app that issued the message, such as listen to a voicemail. Users will also be able to take photos on the phone without having to enter the password (though they won't be able to see them).

Wins: Another time-saving convenience for workers.

(Potential) Fails: Faas describes some plausible nightmare scenarios. For instance, someone who has found/stolen an iPhone could glean interesting corporate information by listening to the voicemail. With the phone, an employee could use a co-worker's phone and take incriminating photos, and then report that co-worker for stealing company data, which would be 'confirmed' by the photographic evidence on the iPhone. Again, the solution would be for Apple to provide APIs that let MDM software tighten up iOS 5's lock screen, perhaps returning it to the default settings of iOS 4.