by Nathan Brown

Why the industrial enterprise is moving to iOS

Mar 22, 2018
Operating SystemsTechnology Industry

Why iOS may be just the kind of impactful disruption that the industrial enterprise needs.

ios apps iphone 6 mobile
Credit: Thinkstock

It’s common knowledge that iOS was initially built for consumers, and Apple has been wildly successful at selling hardware based on this platform. One of the major reasons why consumers love it is the same reason why enterprises are migrating to it– iOS is the most secure, reliable and functional platform available today to get work done efficiently.

When I first started experimenting with the concept of iOS in industrial environments, my biggest concern was, not surprisingly, durability. Industrial facilities have a lot of concrete, dust, dirt… the kinds of environments that chew up hardware. But I loved the idea of the platform and what it could bring to the user so much, that it seemed to be worth a try.

Here is what I found:

  • With a good enclosure, iOS devices became more durable than the $3,000 brick scanners that I was used to deploying. In environments where they were used to having three to five bricks out constantly for repair, they had no iOS devices go out except in the case described below. I used enclosures from Mophie and OtterBox.
  • Those iOS devices that did break down encountered a catastrophic end, i.e.: run over by a forklift.
  • I deployed several dozen iPads into formulation environments (flour mixing and custom formulating), without a NEMA type enclosure, and not a single one has gotten fried (yet) in over a year and half of operation. These types of environments are typically horrible for static electricity and dust gumming up the internals.

For me, the results of these experiments (several hundred devices over almost two years now) were better than expected. And, they were confirmed in several sites with different environments. This was surprising to me, but it made sense when I looked at the relative R&D spend of the suppliers: Apple’s R&D budget was $10.5 billion in 2017. Honeywell, for comparison, spent $1.835 billion. And while realizing that for both companies, those budgets are spread over multiple products, the difference represents scale. The iPhone has received billions of R&D investment while the legacy “brick” style scanners have received a very small fraction of that. This is just one of the many reasons why iOS devices are becoming more prevalent.

The benefits

One of the largest advantages of iOS deployed into industrial environments is the enablement of the network of sensors that the hardware provides. These sensors are collecting a deeper, more sophisticated level of data than previous generations of warehouses. The iOS device itself becomes data-gathering eyes and ears, bringing IoT to the point of action in their business. Sensors include everything from location, gyroscope, accelerometer, high-resolution camera to a microphone, ambient light sensor, Bluetooth and barometer. These things can all be used to feed data into the enterprise ecosystem, and this data can be combined with structured system data and used to power the next wave of efficiency improvements.

Industrial providers have not yet discovered all the ways this data will be used. But before they can even look at this data, they have to have a platform that can gather it. The data produced by these platforms of mobile sensors, which will be present at key events happening in their business, is what will power the improvements and optimizations of applied data science and AI.

Off the charts usability

Data scientists at Egnyte analyzed 25 petabytes of customer data and 4 million enterprise-related activities performed by enterprise employees to figure out how businesses are working today. They found that 82 percent of work done on mobile took place on iOS, while 25 percent of work done on a desktop was via macOS.

While iOS devices age well in general, the longevity of these devices can also be attributed to their current user base. Gen X, Y, & millennials are extremely proficient when it comes to iOS as many of them use it in their daily lives. The iOS love from these generations ensure that the platforms will phase into enterprises steadily over the years.

An iOS usability study conducted in 2016 determined that 62% of survey respondents found Mac easier to deploy than PC, and 93% said iPhone and iPad is easier than any alternatives. The report cites similar pro-iOS findings for other key metrics, including security, device configuration, support, software/app development, and integration. From an IT perspective, 63% said it’s as easy or easier to support a Mac when compared to PC and 89% of respondents said it’s as easy or easier to support Apple mobile devices over others on different platforms.

Apple’s commitment to AI also makes it a strong contender for enterprises, as any enterprise that has a vested interest in data and automation should consider Apple’s innovation and early adoption of AI technology. In the new iPhone 8 and X alone, they have the new A11 Bionic chips that transfer the processing of AI functions on the devices themselves instead of sending it over the internet. This makes for faster processing and execution of AI functions.

The most secure

Apple’s walled-garden mobile ecosystem makes iOS inherently a more secure platform than any other mobile ecosystems. Apple’s tight hold over its App Store has made iOS malware a rarity. Since their inception, Apple has made device security a central mission as a company. Their device encryption is so strong, even the FBI has difficulty breaking through their strongly centralized security!

Apple has been an innovator in developing and implementing security solutions ahead of other industry players including default storage encryption, Secure Enclaves, advanced biometric authentication, multi-factor authentication and others. They also partnered with security giant Cisco to offer a first-of-its-kind “cyber insurance plan,” which proactively improves a company’s security in addition to covering expenses for companies whose systems have been compromised.

Proven reliability

Because the iOS ecosystem is managed by Apple alone, reliability is higher across the board. This is especially important for enterprises looking for safer, faster and more uniform support for their devices.

This translates to bottom line savings. In fact, in 2015 IBM allowed employees to choose between Mac or PC when upgrading their business laptops. Just about three out of four employees chose Mac and what IBM found was that even though Mac computers generally have a higher price tag, the company saved up to $535 per Mac over four years. In total, they found it was three times more expensive to manage PCs than macs.

Lower TCO

All this adds up to big savings, which is another reason for the transition. Consumers proved the platform. Businesses then began to mobilize, first in office environments and now in industrial enterprises. iOS is the new, modern system because it is proven to be reliable, secure and easy to use, and also it also lowers the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). It does more than mobilize data entry, it creates a platform for the future. It is just the kind of impactful disruption that the industrial enterprise needs.