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Apple may not have targeted the enterprise directly yet with the iPhone and iPad, but for some time, enterprise users have nonetheless chosen Apple products to use at work. It's therefore in the Cupertino, California-based technology giant's best interests to start catering for the needs of those in business, particularly if it can ultimately add to the company's bottom line.
With the expected release of Apple's next iteration of its mobile platform, iOS 7, later this year, what can we hope to expect to appease the burgeoning number of enterprise users?
Here are 15 suggestions that would bolster Apple's relationship with its enterprise customers.
BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion) hit the nail on the head with BlackBerry Balance, giving business users the ability to switch between "personal" and "work" modes by separating work and personal apps, settings, email and IT policies.
Apple could include a similar feature that could, with a handy shortcut from the home screen, switch modes that enforce the enterprise's mobile device management (MDM) policies while connected to the corporate network.
More and more enterprise users are switching from in-house solutions to outsourced services, such as Google Apps or Microsoft's Office 365. While Apple already has Gmail and Microsoft Exchange (of which Office 365 is a cloud-based version), Apple has already catered for a wide audience.
That said, the iPhone and iPad maker has left a lot to be desired. Many of the features that these services offer are absent from iOS — even the ability to mark messages as different colors. Many third-party apps for the iPhone and iPad already offer this very basic functionality.
One of the major gripes many enterprise customers have is the ability to quickly access core system features of the iOS-powered device, such as wi-fi or, even more crucially, virtual private networking (VPN). Ordinarily, these features are only two or three buttons away, but having an extra bar in the Notification Center — which is accessed with a simple swipe down from the top of the screen — would be positively received by power users.
Apps are updated all the time, and in many cases at least once or twice a week. While it can be annoying having to update all the time, this causes a fragmentation problem among enterprise users. Some iPhone and iPad users will be using one version of an app, while others will be using a newer version because they took the time to update. This can lead to security problems for IT managers.
It makes sense to allow automatic app updating, particularly if this can be set as a policy by the corporate MDM service. Of course, it would make sense to have this enabled over wi-fi only, so as to avoid "bill shock", particularly if the purse strings on the IT budget are particularly stretched.
iOS' search engine Spotlight is currently limited to searching the device, the web, and Wikipedia. The latter two are near pointless for users who need to search their corporate domain — such as SharePoint, Google Sites, Google Docs, or any other search-enabled service within the firewall. It would make sense for those hooked up to a business or enterprise network to be able to quickly search custom domains for the content they need quick access to.
iOS has a privacy problem. There are numerous options available for displaying incoming messages and notifications on the lock screen. For those dealing with particularly sensitive or personal work, it makes sense to display these items, but in a privacy-conscious way.
Apple could include an unread-count-only feature that would only display simply the number of unread emails, SMSes, missed phone calls, and suchlike in the lock screen, without displaying the first line of the message or the caller's name.
Apple has seemingly taken a backseat on location services with its mobile platform, while rival mobile platform makers have taken full advantage of APIs and functionality. It would, for example, be very useful for business users to detect when they are in the office or read a calendar entry setting, and have the phone automatically switch into "silent" mode depending on where they are.
On the topic of location-aware features, a feature that many would love to see is the ability for the iPhone or cellular-enabled iPad to switch on wi-fi networking if they are in certain places. Because wi-fi can't turn itself on, it would make sense for iOS' location features to detect when a user is in the office or at home, and switch on wi-fi to cut down on data bills. This geo-fence technology is already used in iOS' Reminders app, and should be expanded to other areas of the mobile platform.
Particularly for those who own iPads and have kids, for instance, those who institute the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model at work and must comply with corporate IT policies could benefit from having a "guest mode" for their device.
Apple already implemented this feature in iOS to lock the device into an application until an "administrator" (or parent!) unlocks the device for full use again. That said, the ability to log in with guest user accounts would be a plus. This is already provided by third-party applications (notably jailbroken iPad apps).
Often, there aren't any networked cloud or local storage solutions available, particularly in small- to medium-sized businesses. Many users are stuck resorting to emailing their files to one another. If there were multiple iOS-powered devices on the same network — in many cases, companies either go all in or all out with iPads — Apple could include its desktop OS X-based AirDrop file-sharing service in iOS 7, benefiting those who need to share company files between devices.
iOS currently provides two kinds of password security on the lock screen: A complex alphanumeric password, or a simple four-digit PIN code. In the case of the latter, most wannabe hackers are more than able to memorize a simple pattern, thus rendering the simple PIN code useless. And many owners don't want to use the longer alphanumeric password, because after a while it becomes tiresome when picking up their iPhone or iPad after only a few moments, in spite of company IT policies.
Enhancing the simple four-digit PIN code by a few extra blocks, such as seven or eight, would vastly improve security and simplicity for the end user. Everyone can remember a four-digit PIN code, but not everyone can memorize an eight-digit code.
After the Maps disaster, Apple apologized and recommended rival services to use in its replacement. Google Maps shot to the top of the Apple App Store within hours of its release. Along with this, there are plenty of alternative apps for Apple's own in-built features, not limited to maps, browsers, and email clients.
Apple can't control the monopoly on this anymor, and should instead embrace its own ever-expanding App Store by allowing users to set default applications. This makes even more sense with sideloaded apps provided by corporate customers.
Apple may have been accused (and accused others) of stealing ideas, but instead the industry should take a leaf out of each other's books and embrace common ideas. With the iPad in particular, Apple could allow users to multitask easily by embracing a feature first seen in Windows 7, allowing users to "snap" two apps side by side — like the Surface.
The iPad has a large enough screen to do this in portrait mode, and could allow a FaceTime or Skype call on one side of the screen while being able to make notes on a Pages document on the other side.
Mentioned already, many businesses offer their own sideloaded apps that effectively replace the pre-installed apps on the iPhone or iPad. It would make more sense to allow IT managers — using MDM services — to remove unnecessary apps that aren't needed, particularly for enterprises that aren't yet BYOD ready.
While some apps and features might be necessary for iOS to function properly — these would obviously not be made available for removal — what good is it having a Mail or Safari app if a third party is already provided?
For those who need to make business trips in places they are unfamiliar with, the first place they will look is their maps application. For those who are traveling abroad or roaming, chances are that these data-intensive apps will churn up the data bills. It would make more sense to allow users to select and download high-resolution aerial street data over wi-fi on their home turf before they travel abroad. This cuts down on data bills, and ensures that the user isn't left stranded in a place where they don't know their way around.