Apple yesterday announced OS 4.0, it's latest iPhone and iPad operating system. This release confirms what we believed last year: that Apple is actually listening to what enterprise IT needs from iPhones. Let's review the history:
- July 2007. Apple launches iPhone with OS 1.0 as a consumer device without anything that companies require.
- July 2008. Apple releases iPhone 3G with OS 2.0 and introduces Exchange support, including remote wipe, but little else that companies need. Even so, some firms allowed their employees to bring their own iPhones and get email support.
- July 2009. Apple releases iPhone 3GS with OS 3.0 and hardware encryption and enough policy-based control to give IT professionals the ability to more comfortably support the devices, particularly in non-regulated industries. The big remaining gaps in 3.0 from our 100+ conversations with IT pros? The inability to distribute applications wirelessly, to push software and policy updates to the device, and to manage iPhones or iPads in the same way that BlackBerry Enterprise Server (or Server Express, the $0-cost version) does.
- July 2010. Apple will release OS 4.0 that includes wireless app distribution, better data encryption, more APIs for device management, and a significicant number of enterprise features that are outlined below. For other details, check out these Forrester posts on consumer functions and on mobile advertising.
So what are the important new enterprise features and what do they mean?
- Wireless application distribution. That means no more iTunes on corporate PCs. That's good news.
- Exchange 2010 support. Important for shops moving to the latest Microsoft products.
- Application data encryption. This is a big deal when putting corporate data, including attachments, on personal devices.
- Ability to launch apps to view attachments. This one means that a new market will open up to view and possibly edit Office documents and PDFs.
- APIs for better device management. Sybase, Good, and other device management companies need this badly.
- SSL VPN support for Cisco and Juniper routers. This upgrade makes it easier to open up the corporate network to these devices.
What's still missing?
- Partners like Sybase and Good and BoxTone still need to build the integration to manage the devices.
- There's no Flash support. This is a drag, and Apple seems determined to avoid support this popular media format in favor of HTML5 (which I also support because it unifies the browser experience across mobile devices including Android and Windows Phone and soon, I believe, BlackBerry). However, a number of video distribution companies, including Google, Brightcove, and Sorenson Media, are supporting video on iPhones and iPad anyway.
- No policy or software push. This is one of RIM's biggest benefits and differentiators. Apple needs to solve this problem and doesn't yet appear to have done so.
- Network bandwidth management tools. Another of RIM's big differentiators and something Apple appears to be ignoring.
My conclusion from this historical review is that Apple is listening to the needs of the enterprise and making steady progress against the punch list. From what I've seen so far, it looks like software and policy push are the only things still missing from the list in most regulated firms and governments. In other words, employees will still have to click the update button to get the latest policies and application versions. But they will no longer have to sync with iTunes. For IT, that means they have to trust employees to act responsibly. I think that's a reasonable assumption in any decently managed organization.