Apple's new mobile OS can keep work and personal apps separate, secure and managed. And the ability of multitask doesn't hurt, either.
Apple has released the latest version of iOS this week, and it is trickling down to iOS devices. We grabbed the new iOS 7 and took it for a quick spin to see if its improvements might make Apple's mobile devices more useful for government enterprises.
Most of the improvements that people will likely notice right off the bat are cosmetic, though there are a few deeper additions, too. On the cosmetic side, many of the apps that were designed to be cutesy, like a calendar looking like something that could hang on the wall, have been replaced with a streamlined, modern look. People these days know what the basic functions of their phones do, so design holdovers from earlier versions that helped to actually explain what they were have been eliminated.
The biggest functional improvement is that iOS devices can now support true multitasking, an advantage that Samsung and others have held over Apple for some time. With iOS 7, you can now fully run apps in the background without first having to open them. In fact, the OS does its best to learn your habits so that, for example, your Twitter feed is always on and active in the background from 9 to 5 every day, if that is something you use. We’ve only had the new OS for a few hours so far, so there was not much for it to learn. But if it works as intended, it could even trump some of the more clunky multitasking applications found over on the Android platform.
One of the features Apple is really pushing is the new Control Center, where you can go to make changes to your phone's settings. No longer will you need to dig down into menus to do basic stuff. Simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen and everything is right there. For example, there is a button for airplane mode, sliders for volume and brightness and you can even set your device to temporarily act like a flashlight. You can also disable your wireless from this screen, or go into Do Not Disturb mode. Access to the camera can be found here too, so there is no longer a need to keep the camera app button on your main screen. In general, this is the way many Android devices have handled a control center-like area for a long time. Apple's seems a bit more elegant, if a little late to the party.
Those features should boost the experience for any user. At the enterprise level, there are three improvements that could alleviate some of the concerns about using iOS devices in government.
You can now protect data by controlling which apps and accounts can be used to open documents and attachments. This gives managers the permission to designate work apps, and lets users keep them separate from their personal ones.
All of the managed apps can also be configured to automatically connect with a VPN as they are launched. This can protect both the agency and the individual user, as it would keep personal data from accidentally being sent over the government network, say from a different nonmanaged app, and keep government files separate as well. As part of this, iOS 7 will allow users to sign in once to their network. All of the managed apps will know that they are logged in and have permission to work, which will save users from having to reenter their passwords multiple times.
And in a move that can't be overstated, all third-party apps now have data protection enabled automatically, just like the native apps do, so information stored in apps that come from the App Store is encrypted as well. Anyone without the password would have to crack the encryption before any data could be viewed.
And one more thing, and I know this is not exactly helpful for government users, but I have to say how much I do love the new weather app, which adds cinematic flair to the normally boring time and temperature screen. Now you can see fog swirling around the text, snow or rain plopping down, lightning flashing through clouds or even hail bouncing off the text (assuming you can find some place where hail is falling). I think I spent a good hour looking at the weather around the world just to see the animations. I suppose this makes it more like peeking out a window to check the weather, so it could save you a few seconds. OK, I'm not going to try to make that argument. It's just very cool.
If your agency admins have told you that you can't use an iPhone or iPad for your work, they probably had some legitimate concerns dealing with the separation of personal and government data on the consumer-friendly devices. Or they might have been worried that there was no good way to tie all the apps into the agency VPN, or even the fact that not all data on the phone was encrypted. The new iOS 7 fixes those problems. Although things like the weather app and even the new control center will probably get all of the limelight, the new back end makes iOS devices much more government friendly. If nothing else, it's worth a second look. And in terms of the new iOS 7, there's no reason not to upgrade.