Could iOS 9 be Apple’s greatest gift to enterprise IT?

Credit: Jon Gold

Apple’s latest announcements for its mobile ecosystem had plenty to do with the enterprise: It announced a dedicated for-work tablet in the form of the iPad Pro, and a partnership with networking hardware giant Cisco signaled a greater focus on the enterprise from a company that has traditionally worked to please the consumer market.

[ Related: 7 tips and tricks for iOS 9 ]

But it’s the release this week of iOS 9 that might have the most far-reaching implications for enterprise users. The latest version of Apple’s mobile platform includes several workplace-centric features designed to make the company’s devices more useful to corporate users and the IT departments that have to manage them.

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The new features range from simple quality-of-life changes like the ability to easily mark up and edit Mail attachments, multitasking for iPads, and six-digit (rather than four-digit) screen unlock PINs for extra security; to powerful new oversight tools that help keep information secure and manage app availability. And that’s not even counting the improved Microsoft Office support that saw the erstwhile bitter rival demonstrating new capabilities on stage at Apple’s announcement event earlier this month.

The focus on the enterprise, however, might not be all that new, according to Sean Ginevan, a senior director of strategy at mobile device management provider MobileIron.

“[Apple’s] been quietly improving enterprise feature sets year over year going all the way back to iOS 4,” he says. “The idea here is two-fold: First, a great user experience that’s going to drive BYOD – but if we don’t enable any corporate security features, then IT’s going to say ‘no, you can’t bring that to work.’”

Specific new features in iOS 9 are aimed at addressing specific user experience pain points, Ginevan said. For one thing, in the past, users would have had to re-install any apps they already had on their devices if they wanted to use them to access corporate data. The new ability to turn apps downloaded from the consumer App Store into managed apps obviates that need.

Similarly, the ability to limit VPN access to specific apps – so that, for example, the company’s network can connect with a sales rep’s Salesforce app, while keeping the traffic from Twitter or Tindr off of corporate servers – is going to please the IT crowd, according to Ginevan.

“With the introduction of UDP support, you can install those [business] applications and they can get back to the corporate servers that they’re trying to connect to,” he said.

While IT departments have a lot to look forward to in iOS 9, users are taking their time upgrading – statistics from mobile advertising analysis company Tapjoy suggest that iOS 9 adoption isn’t moving nearly as fast as that of iOS 7. As of 18 hours after iOS 9’s release, just over 6% of users had made the upgrade, including 7% of iPhone users and 4% of iPad users.

What’s more, predictive analysis from Crittercism, another mobile intelligence provider, indicated that the rate of adoption will remain lower than even that of iOS 8 – the launch of which was plagued by technical problems – through at least the first week of availability. Once users are more secure in the knowledge that iOS 8’s problems won’t be repeated, however, the upgrade rate should go up sharply.

That doesn’t leave much time for IT departments to prepare – Crittercism’s estimate is that iOS 9 will hit 50% adoption within 25 days of release.

This story, "Could iOS 9 be Apple’s greatest gift to enterprise IT?" was originally published by Network World.

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