Business Software

ICloud and IOS 5: New Challenges for Business

Over the air

Whether it functions exactly like iCloud or not, Apple is clearly planning to allow-over-the air access to files as part of iOS 5 and Lion Server. It's far to early to tell with any degree of certainty exactly what this will look like, but given Jobs' comments about ending the need to access the file system it won't likely involve any type of file browser.

That means any on-device or over-the-air file storage is probably going to be app-specific; Users will likely have access to files on their device, files associated with their iCloud account, and files on any other Lion Server/WebDAV "file servers" they have access to.

My guess would be that there will be another option added to the Accounts section of the Mail, Contacts, Calendars area of the iOS Settings app. Right now, if you add an account and select Other as the account type, you can add a Mail, LDAP, CardDAV, or CalDAV account (or a .ics calendar URL). It isn't hard to imagine that list including a WebDAV account, perhaps named something like File Sharing.

With one or more such accounts enabled, users would likely see app-specific document stores for each account in any app that supports off-device file storage. It isn't clear whether these document stores would have a cloud-sync capability, though I'd lay odds that they would involve some form of permissions -- most likely those configured on the WebDAV server.

Easier iOS deployment with PC activation?

Moving beyond iCloud, iOS 5 represents a major milestone in that Apple has finally decided to allow iOS device activation and setup without using iTunes on a PC or Mac. It's a step that's long overdue.

Does this mean that rolling out large numbers of iOS devices will become easier and more streamlined: almost definitely. iOS 4 introduced all the needed components for an automated setup process. Either using Apple's existing tools to create configuration profiles or using a third-party mobile device management solution, the process of auto-configuring most of iOS is already possible.

In fact, for employee-owned devices, enrollment and provisioning of security features and user account/device setup can already be almost completely automated. The Achilles' Heel has been that new devices must be activated in iTunes before any setup -- automated or not, tethered or over the air -- can even begin.

Although Apple didn't demo the setup process, I would imagine that there will be some type of option for auto-configuration. This may be something explicit that all users see, like a configuration server address field with a skip option, or it may be something more discrete -- after selecting a Wi-Fi network and authenticating during setup, iOS may scan the network for a management server and enroll the device automatically.

Most likely, Apple will offer a combination of options so that an organization can completely configure company-owned devices like iPads while also supporting more limited auto-setup options for personal devices like iPhones. In that latter case, the user would obviously play some role in the process.

Of course, this alone doesn't resolve some of the challenges involved in providing users with third-party apps related to their work. Unless Apple is planning to take the wraps off an enterprise volume licensing solution for the App Store (not likely), this will remain a fly in the ointment. It is worth noting, that Apple has taken some early steps in this direction for education institutions, so something along these lines is certainly plausible.

iOS 5's lock screen and security

Earlier, I touched on potential security concerns introduced by iCloud that could apply to PCs and Macs in an organization as well as iOS devices. One area of concern with iOS 5 has nothing to do with iCloud; it involves the new lock screen.

In every iOS release to date, you couldn't do anything from the lock screen besides view a handful of often generic notifications, unlock the device, use it as a digital picture frame (iPad-only), or make an emergency 911 call (iPhone-only). That's pretty limited -- and pretty secure. Pair those limitations with a good passcode policy and automatic/remote wipe and there's not much to worry about.

iOS 5 makes that lock screen more useful and interactive. Notifications are listed in the lock screen (useful) and you can interact with the app that issued the notification - listening to a voicemail, for example. That allows someone more access than just making an emergency phone call. Apple hasn't yet been clear on the level of interaction that will be possible with non-system apps directly from the lock screen, but it opens the door for corporate information to be divulged even with a passcode policy in place. Even if it's just hearing a voicemail, that's troubling.

Similarly, the camera can now be accessed while a device is locked without entering a passcode. This is less troubling, since only snapping photos is supported. You can't access existing images or send new snapshots. But again, there's some cause for concern since it provides unauthenticated access to a locked device. One scenario that came immediately to mind involves an employee who surreptitiously takes incriminating photos of some sort using a coworker's iPhone. The employee then reports his co-worker for stealing company data, the iPhone is searched.... You get the drift.

I'll admit these aren't the biggest concerns, but they are situations that I hope Apple addresses using extensions to the existing device management capabilities.

Scratching the surface

One thing seems clear after this year's WWDC keynote: We haven't seen everything that's coming. Apple was very clear to note that we only saw demos of 10 of the hundreds of features in iOS 5 and in Lion. With a huge number of user features being rolled out this year, along with an incredible number of new APIs for developers (1,500-plus for iOS 5 alone), I think it's clear that Apple still has some tricks up its sleeve.

For enterprise customers, tricks and surprises are rarely good things, but that's the way Apple works. And like it or not, Apple is a driving force in today's mobile industry and in the so-called computerization of IT. That said, I'm optimistic these will be largely good surprises.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Peachpit.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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