Why iOS 5 Matters to the Enterprise

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The collective response to the October 4 introduction of the new Apple iPhone 4S has been huge but there are rumblings of even more interest in iOS 5 announced at the same event. iOS 5 is a significant upgrade of Apple’s mobile operating system (with some 200+ new features) Made available on October 12, word is that it runs on all iPads (both original iPads and iPad 2) and most iPhones (though it brings a reduced feature set to older iPhone 3GS). 

“There are huge advantages for IT in iOS 5," said Ahmed Datoo, CMO at Redwood City, CA-based mobile management firm Zenprise. "We are telling our clients to urge their users to upgrade as soon as possible. There is a lot in this OS for IT to get excited about.”

According to press reports, early issues with iOS 5 bricking phones and causing other headaches have calmed in recent days.

Datoo predicted that one feature alone will save substantial enterprise dollars: going forward, iOS 5 users will no longer be tethered to an iTunes installation on a computer for OS updates and backups. They instead will be able to go directly to Apple's servers. “This will save a lot of help desk calls."

iTunes, it turns out, may be second nature to Mac users but, for the Windows folks in corporate America, it has proven to be a bafflement so Apple has cut it out of the user experience.

Datoo also predicted Apple will likely pick up many new users who want iPad as a true laptop replacement and now, with no need for iTunes, the device will indeed be able to function as a standalone tool.

That is just the start of iOS 5 features; many of which win applause, but a few of which raise worried IT eyebrows.

Case in point of an IT plus: iOS 5 builds in new apps push and wipe tools for admins, said Brian Reed, CMO of mobility management company BoxTone in Columbia MD.  “No user intervention will be needed,” said Reed, who called these functions “the killer two for IT.” 

Note: apps will still need Apple Apps store approval so no change there but, with iOS 5, admins get the ability to add and delete to devices registered to them and, as Reed indicated, this is a function IT has long clamored for. It is not a cure-all, however, because there won’t be push/delete capability to unregistered devices (that is, iPhones owned by employees) even if they are on the network, suggested Citrix Chief Security Strategist Kurt Roemer.

iCloud, the new backup/storage service in iOS 5, also worried Roemer.

“Enterprise needs to monitor and set policies about backup of enterprise data to iCloud,” he said.

Companies that are highly security conscious probably will flat out ban putting enterprise data in iCloud but, said Roemer, “How do you monitor that?”  The best solution probably is employee education; advising them on why avoiding this is important.

Also buried in the iOS 5 fine print is a substantial data encryption upgrade, said Christopher Harget, a product manager, at ActivIdentity in Freemont, CA, who explained that the operating system will provide encryption for data “at rest and in motion.”  This just might bring a higher level of security for users of public WiFi networks.

“This could be a real upgrade,” he noted.

Another much touted iOS 5 feature is iMessage, a new Apple SMS service (similar to BlackBerry Messenger), that is positioned as a way for users to eliminate SMS fees from carriers. 

More worrisome to enterprise, say some experts, is that iMessenger emerges as an unmonitored communication tool and at least in regulated industries (such as financial services), this is a problem. That is why many mobility experts are suggesting to clients that, for now, they turn off iMessenger.

Anoter probable turn off is a new feature that is built into iOS 5 that will let an admin “find” a user using GPS and other location services. BoxTone’s Reed said that tool will have significant appeal to some parents but he predicted many enterprises and their users will opt to shut this down. 

Getting the picture that iOS 5 is important to enterprise in particular? The take-away is that, immediately, savvy organizations will write and distribute a policy on iOS 5 adoption and implementation because, plainly, iOS 5 offer a lot for just about every company. Some will praise the OS, others will condemn it, and that is why it is crucial to write that policy now before iOS gains even more ground since it's October 12 release.

As a busy freelance writer for more than 30 years, Rob McGarvey has written over 1500 articles for many of the nation's leading publications -- from Reader's Digest to Playboy and from the NY Times to Harvard Business Review. McGarvey covers CEOs, business, high tech, human resources, real estate, and the energy sector. A particular specialty is advertorial sections for many top outlets including the New York Times, Crain's New York, and Fortune Magazine.