Top iOS 7 Features for IT Pros

Updated: 9/10/2103, 11:30am MT – Added official iOS 7 release date (9/18) from Apple.

According to Apple, the upcoming iOS 7 release “is the most significant update since the original iPhone.” With Jony Ive now in charge of iOS software design, it’s quite possible this isn’t just marketing hype. Ive has been responsible for the hardware design of all things “i” since their inception. The iPhone and iPad both have Ive to thank for their physical aesthetics. He’s long desired a simpler, flatter, more industrial design for iOS and now it appears he’ll deliver it. The question for IT pros remains the same as it always has been: How will iOS 7 improve deploying and managing iPhones and iPads? Let’s take a look at some of iOS 7’s key enterprise features.

[Editor’s Note: Apple announced that iOS 7 will be publicly available on Wednesday, September 18th.]

1. Managed Open In: Separation of Church and State

iOS 7 gives hope that Apple is finally embracing the enterprise and realizing the need to keep separate personal and corporate data. Case in point is the new ability to control iOS’s open in functionality. IT admins can now configure what apps appear in the sharing panel. This may not seem like much, but consider this example: A user receives an email with a corporate confidential file attached. I’m talking a file that’s absolutely hush-hush. They tap and hold the attachment, the sharing panel opens, and they choose to open it in Filebrowser. Using Filebrowser, they save the document to their home network and that confidential file has now just left IT’s control. Using managed open in, this problem goes away. IT will simply configure iOS 7 so that Filebrowser does not appear as an open in option for the corporate mail client. In short, managed open in keeps corporate data inside of, and personal data outside of, corporate apps.


(Image via AppleInsider)

2. Per App VPN: On the Down-Low

IT admins need to make sure the security of corporate data isn’t compromised by allowing it to travel out in the open on an insecure network. This is pretty much the whole impetus behind VPNs in the first place. Prior to iOS 7, VPNs were kind of an all-or-nothing thing – either the VPN was connected and available to all apps or it wasn’t. iOS 7 introduces per app VPN connections allowing IT granular control over how apps access the corporate network. Admins can configure allowed apps to automatically connect to the corporate VPN whenever they’re launched. Data stays secure traveling only within the VPN tunnel. Likewise, unmanaged app data is kept off the corporate VPN, so a user’s Words with Friends game isn’t consuming even a single byte of corporate network bandwidth.

3. App Store VPP Improvements: Sensible License Management

Organizations have been able to enroll in Apple’s Business Volume Purchase Program for quite a while. Participation allowed businesses to purchase iOS apps for their users saving the hassle of a user purchasing the app themselves then asking for reimbursement via an expense report. The problem is that’s just about all the VPP program did. Once you gave a user a code for an app, that app effectively became theirs. If the user left the company, the app left right with them. C’est la vie right? Not any longer. With iOS 7 businesses can purchase apps and assign them to users over-the-air. The user installs the app and gets to work. How’s that different than before you ask? Businesses can now revoke the license at any time and then at their discretion reassign it to a different user. No more buying the same app over and over just to watch it walk out the door. Improving the VPP even further, Apple now allows organizations to purchase Mac apps and even books through the program. The VPP for Business program has finally grown up to include license management capability.

4. Keeping things safe: Security improvements

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Mobility is all about security. Therefore, I believe any upgrade to a mobile OS has to include security enhancements for it to be considered enterprise-worthy. iOS 7 doesn’t disappoint. The inclusion of third-party app data protection and single sign on capabilities are welcome additions. App Store apps now have data protection enabled automatically so any information stored in them is protected until the user unlocks the device with their passcode. Enterprise single sign-on (SSO) allows a user to authenticate with their enterprise credentials once then access all apps configured with SSO. This significantly simplifies the user experience while keeping enterprise authentication in place for managed apps.

5. MDM Enhancements: Management Loves Management

As mobile devices continue to proliferate throughout the enterprise, so does the need to manage them effectively. It’s no surprise then that Apple is baking some mobile device management improvements into iOS 7. Corporate-owned devices can now be enrolled into MDM during activation. This streamlines getting the device ready for users by allowing IT admins to skip a number of basic setup steps. The net result is that IT saves time and reduces configuration errors adding up to bottom line savings for the organization. The MDM improvements don’t stop there, however, as iOS 7 includes a number of new commands and options MDM software can leverage. A few of my favorites: the ability to setup managed apps wirelessly, configure AirPrint printers, and whitelist AirPlay destinations. I doubt it will take long for third-party MDM vendors to update their systems to include these new functions.

6. Caching Server 2: Saving Internet Bandwidth One Download at a Time

We’ve talked about improvements to VPP allowing organizations to better manage licensed apps and content. Depending on the size of their mobile workforce, pushing this content could be quite a bandwidth hit. For instance, forcing 10,000 iPad users to use corporate Internet bandwidth to connect to the App Store and pull a software update just doesn’t make sense. IT can prevent this problem by caching purchased content on a locally deployed Mac running OS X Mavericks Server. Caching Server 2 allows content purchased through the App Store, Mac App Store, iTunes Store, and the iBookstore to be deployed to iOS devices right across the corporate network. Users get faster downloads and precious Internet bandwidth is freed up for other valuable tasks.

A Step Forward for Enterprises

These are just a handful of the enterprise grade improvements Jony Ive and his team at Apple have planned for iOS 7. Personally, I’m pleased to see Apple is acknowledging the need to compete for the enterprise mobility space if they’re going to win the hearts and minds of business users and the IT pros that support them. iOS 7 gives IT pros supporting iDevices reason to smile. Now, if they would only enable Active Directory integration…