Apple caused a bit of a stir in its keynote at WWDC yesterday, with the introduction of several new features developed with enterprise IT users in mind. During the keynote, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi said that iOS 8 would be a “huge hit in the enterprise”, as the company finally comes to recognize that its products are used by 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies in one way or another.
This is a big deal for enterprise users, as it means many of the iPhone and iPad’s features will be tailored specifically for them, as opposed to Apple’s traditional consumer-oriented focus. The new features (detailed by Apple here) include enhancements to security and a new Device Enrollment Program that’s supposed to make it easier for IT departments to integrate Apple devices.
One feature that’s sure to have an impact with business types is the ability to use third-party document providers as a storage option. This means users can now store data to their company’s own servers, as well as Apple’s iCloud. More importantly, the Device Enrollment Program allows each iOS device to be automatically provisioned so ITs don’t have to configure each device manually.
Another handy new enterprise feature is VIP Threads, which gives precedence to corporate messages so these show up on the lock screen when they arrive. Meanwhile, email, contacts and calendars can all be setup to corporate standards.
Apple’s also making some changes to app security. Notably, individual apps can now be configured to offer extensions that allow inter-app communication and data sharing. The method leverages the sandboxing that has always been at the heart of the iOS app design architecture. That means that the functionality should be fairly secure.
Smaller businesses stand to benefit from the next two features. First, iCloud is being enhanced, with its drive capacity now matching that of Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. Apps for iOS devices can be saved directly onto iCloud, in order to be accessed by other Apple or even Windows devices. Second, Apple’s adding a new Continuity feature that improves communication between iOS and OS X devices, so these can move tasks between one another. It also adds the ability to make calls from your iPad or Mac via your iPhone.
Apple’s final frontier?
One question that Apple’s execs failed to answer is why the sudden enterprise focus now, after so many years? In fairness, iPhone and iPad’s have always proven useful to corporate users even though they were built to be consumer’s toys. But now it seems that those corporate users have grown so dependent on Apple’s toys that the company feels the time has come to cater especially for them.
Perhaps Apple is worried about the resurgence of Microsoft too. Redmond’s launch of the Surface Pro 3, combined its recent announcement that its sold more than 200 million Windows 8 licenses is a definite threat to Apple in the enterprise space. It seems that laptops, hybrids, tablets and phones running Windows 8 are starting to gain some traction at last, and these are aimed squarely at business users, packed with all the enterprise goodies that Microsoft’s become known for. To maintain its growth in this arena, Apple has no choice but to start catering to corporate users as much as it does regular consumers.
Chances are good that Apple will be successful in this endeavor. For one thing, its devices are already widely-used in the enterprise, and fanbois generally don’t switch to something else unless they have a damn good reason to. Now that Apple’s stepping up its efforts to support these customers, it’s unlikely they ever will.