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Apple gets serious about business: iOS 7 and enterprise adoption

iOS 7 in the enterprise? Don't scoff, Android and Windows fanboys and girls.

Major tech companies are taking the idea very seriously since Apple announced new business capabilities in iOS 7, many of which focus on making iOS gadgets a better fit with companies' Mobile Device Management (MDM) strategies. Apple is finally serious about making iOS a plausible mobile business option, and Microsoft in particular should take heed.

Here’s a quick rundown of iOS 7’s new enterprise features…

Single Sign On (SSO): With Enterprise Single Sign On, a business user has to log in only once to access corporate apps. A white paper from Mobile Iron, a mobile IT solutions company, noted that SSO in iOS 7 will only work on a trusted network with a Kerberos Domain Controller. What does that mean? Essentially, this means Windows Servers and environments, though other operating systems, like Mac OS X and Red Hat Linux, also include the Kerberos protocol for user or service authentication.

Per App VPN: VMware's Srinivas Krishnamurti explained the enterprise capabilities of the Per App VPN feature in a blog post. Before iOS 7, enabling VPN on an iPhone meant the entire device would have access to the corporate back-end via the VPN connection – posing some security risks as well as transmitting an employee's personal data to the corporate network. With iOS 7 and any supported VPN product from vendors such as Cisco and Juniper, VPN connections are launched at an app level: IT can configure apps to automatically connect to the company's VPN only when they are launched. This is a good way to separate business from personal use on an employee's iPhone and gives IT more granular control over what is connecting to the corporate network.

Open In Management: Krishnamurti noted that the Open In feature helps prevent data leakage because IT can now control which apps an iOS 7 device uses to open a document, through managed apps. Previously, iOS users could pretty much use whatever they wanted to open a business document, raising the potential threat of data compromise. You don't want an employee to snap an image of a confidential company document and post it to Instagram, for example.

Managed Applications Configuration: With a third-party MDM solution such as one from Mobile Iron, IT can configure apps with parameters specific to geographic regions, divisions, and/or security requirements. With such an MDM product, IT can push configurations, such as server name, username, and password, to managed apps on iOS 7 devices.

Third-Party App Data Protection: Third-party apps use iOS 7 encryption by default, rather than depending on the app's developer to include that encryption.

Other enterprise-oriented features include business licensing management of apps from the App Store, improvements with Mail and integration with Microsoft Exchange server, as well as faster downloads and access to content using Mavericks Caching Server 2 and iOS 7.

iOS 7 fever

Big tech companies are elated over these new key business features. VMware plans to release a new version of Workspace, its mobile management platform, which will add iOS support for managing applications and preventing data leakage by leveraging iOS 7 APIs.

Cortado, an enterprise mobility solutions company, recently announced the upcoming launch of Cortado Corporate Server 7, which will be fully optimised for iOS 7 to offer users productivity within a secure environment. Citrix has also just announced that its Citrix XenMobile is introducing zero-day support for Apple's newest operating system. A product update for Citrix XenMobile is now available to provide support for all iOS 7 devices.

Expect to see a continued frenzy over iOS 7 in the business community – as well as commentary about Apple's iOS morphing into Windows Phone 8. The big advantage Windows mobile devices had over iOS was the ability to integrate well into the corporate environment. Now Apple has upped the ante and delivered key enterprise functionality.

Is it enough?

However, there are areas where Windows still has the upper hand. One major area is that of security. Microsoft has just announced that Windows Phone 8 achieved FIPS compliance – a key government security certification. With other security mechanisms such as BitLocker, and the ability to apply granular corporate policies and firewall rules to Windows mobile devices, many organisations may still see Windows mobile devices as the more secure option for the corporate infrastructure.

It will be interesting to see how Apple and Microsoft battle it out in the enterprise mobile space since Apple just threw down a heavy gauntlet. And of course, Android always looms large.

For more on iOS 7, check out our full review of the operating system. You might also want to see our article on how iOS 7 ensures the iPhone is more secure than it’s ever been, and our piece entitled iOS 7: Is your organisation ready for Apple's new security features?