So you've heard some news about the iPhone OS 4 that was unveiled last week. Beyond obvious improvements like limited support for multitasking, the ability to set custom wallpapers and create folders on the home screen, what are the actual features that you can exploit for your small and mid-sized business?
Based on the keynote by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, I highlight the pertinent ones here.
Improved Mobile Device Management
One notable improvement is the ability for wireless distribution of applications through corporate systems - without having to go through iTunes. This is a big deal, as analyst Jake Gold from J. Gold Associates pointed out in an e-mail. "And the new management APIs sound like a major upgrade," he added on the device-management aspects of the new operating system.
Of course, deploying applications without iTunes is already possible through the free, but not-so-well-known iPhone Configuration Utility, though it does sound like the new capabilities makes it significantly easier for businesses to deploy and maintain a fleet of iPhones. Of course, more information will be needed before a proper comparison to competing platforms can be made.
While I doubt this sounds exciting to most consumers, the revelation that the iPhone OS 4 encrypts the data files containing e-mails is extremely important to business. In the past, e-mails on an iPhone could be accessed simply by jailbreaking it to circumvent device passwords. Encryption erects a robust barrier to protect confidential company information from hackers.
Equally important, developers can now tap into security-related APIs to easily encrypt data from within their own applications.
Support for Multiple Exchange Servers
Apple clearly made an effort to enhance the Mail functionality on the iPhone OS, which includes a unified inbox to Mail and the addition of threaded message view. In addition, Apple says the iPhone OS 4 will support the latest version of Microsoft Exchange, Exchange 2010.
One interesting feature where the benefit is less clear is its support for multiple Exchange accounts. You see, Microsoft has always maintained that one Exchange mailbox is enough for a user, and has designed its flagship Microsoft Outlook messaging client around this philosophy. Sure, you could "switch" to other Exchange mailboxes. This is fairly troublesome, however, and involves closing your current Exchange mailbox and restarting Outlook. Only one mailbox can be used at a time.
The new iPhone OS makes great strides toward the enterprise, especially in security and device management. Of course, detractors will point out that Apple is merely playing catchup on features that were long available on competing platforms like the BlackBerry smartphone.
When it comes to the iPhone though, it must be remembered that the typical scenario has employees wanting to bring it into the office, but meeting resistance from IT departments. Viewed in this light, the new features could well be the additional push needed to open the floodgates to iPhones in the corporate network.