Apple's iOS7 enterprise push

Apple new mobile operating system, iOS 7, includes a whole new bag of tricks for the enterprise user and it looks like the tech giant might be getting serious about selling directly to businesses.

Apple is due to launch its new mobile operating system, iOS 7, later this year. From the information that has already been made available it appears that this latest iteration of iOS will include a whole slew of additions to its enterprise management features, providing a greater increment of capabilities than in any previous release.

While Apple has not changed its strategic focus on the consumer market, the features included in iOS 7 demonstrate that it is getting serious about selling direct to the enterprise – and not just through the BYOD channel where Apple-owning consumers act as brand advocates in the workplace (as we first discussed in our 2011 report The BYOD Gap).

But what has driven this move? This could be a signal of the growing maturity of the enterprise mobility market. Businesses are no longer just reacting to employees bringing in their own iOS devices; they are now centrally provisioning new device fleets and beginning to proactively develop process- and role-specific applications. Apple is responding to this maturity shift.

Apple may also see an opportunity in the mobile device management (MDM) space. Although this is less likely – the margins in this space don’t add up for Apple – the features included in iOS 7 certainly make it easier for enterprise IT departments to manage iOS devices without needing third-party MDM support.

What’s new for the enterprise in iOS 7?

Apple has introduced the following features that will make it easier for enterprise IT administrators to manage iPhones and for users to use them at work:

  • Streamlined MDM enrollment: users can enroll their iPhone into their company’s device management scheme at the time that it is first activated, rather than needing to go through a separate process. Devices can also be enrolled and configured over the air, rather than through a process that requires tethering.
  • Improved app licensing management through the Volume Purchase Program (VPP):while not all of the issues with VPP have been resolved – using redemption codes and spreadsheets is not the most efficient way of distributing and managing apps – one of the major concerns has been addressed. Licenses can now be revoked and redistributed, meaning that when an employee leaves the company they do not take all their enterprise-provisioned apps with them.
  • Third-party app data protection: rather than being an optional extra for app developers, an encryption key that leverages the user’s passcode is automatically generated in all third-party apps developed for iOS 7.
  • Enterprise SSO and app-level security: instead of the need to enter credentials in order to log into every app, authentication is only required once. App-level configuration and VPN access will also be enabled.
  • Managed open in: IT admins can configure apps and accounts to specify which apps can share documents and data with each other, helping to protect corporate data and keep work and personal activity separate.
  • Activation lock: in addition to the already available “Find my iPhone” app, this feature locks the device if it is lost, displays a message saying that the device has been lost and providing a number to call, and only allows the device to be activated again with the owner’s Apple ID.
  • Improved native email: the look and feel of the native email app has been improved, and extra features such as organising mailboxes, viewing PDF annotations, and syncing notes with Outlook have been added.
  • Multi-tasking: users can use multiple apps at the same time, improving workflows and allowing for background updates to be performed.

Buying direct from Apple

The new features on offer make it far easier for enterprise IT departments to manage iPhones, but they are not necessarily all conducive to BYOD. Automatically enrolling into a device management scheme at device activation, for instance, is not going to appeal to users wanting to bring a personal device to work. However, such features provide an extra incentive for businesses looking at a corporate-provisioned mobile strategy to buy directly from Apple.

Enterprise mobility management (EMM) vendors that we have spoken with recently have also been keen to promote and embrace the introduction of iOS 7. To them it represents a step forward in their relationship with Apple and makes it easier to incorporate management features for Apple devices and apps into their overall offering.

Functions such as over-the-air (OTA) device enrollment, activation lock, and managed open in are not new to MDM vendors, which already support these capabilities on earlier versions of iOS. However, the idea that these features will make it easier for IT departments to manage their iPhone estate without outside help is not too worrying for MDM vendors. After all, their prime selling point is being able to support multiple OSs.

The launch of iOS 7 may help businesses that only support Apple devices to avoid the need to invest in a third-party mobility management solution, but in the current multi-OS, BYOD environment, those businesses are in a minority.

The Samsung equation

Samsung is now Apple’s biggest single competitor in the smartphone space. Android dominates consumer market share, and Samsung dominates Android share. More so than any other manufacturer of Android based devices, or even Google itself, Samsung is making a serious play for the enterprise.

First through the SAFE architecture program and more recently with the unveiling and impending launch of the dual-persona Knox solution, Samsung is aiming to go head to head with Apple devices as the next-generation replacement for BlackBerry in the enterprise.

While anecdotally we know that Samsung is finding it difficult to gain traction in the enterprise for at least its tablet products, part of the motivation for the slew of enterprise-friendly features in iOS 7 could be to ensure that iOS devices remain an equally attractive proposition as Samsung Android to IT departments – as well as consumers.

Richard Absalom is an analyst for Ovum's consumer impact technology division.