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Upcoming iOS 7 mobile management features affect MDM tools

James Furbush

Apple is finally listening to the enterprise by providing APIs to securely manage iOS 7 devices without hindering the user experience.

The upcoming mobile management

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capabilities in iOS 7 also mean that enterprise mobility management (EMM) vendors that have built products to fill the gaps have to change their strategies or find features in iOS 7 that they can take advantage of.

More on iOS 7

Apple iOS 7: First look

What's new in iOS 7?

Consumerization Nation: MAM in iOS 7

VMware, Inc. has altered its approach for the iOS-version of its Horizon Suite. The company previously offered a secure container and app-wrapping tool on iOS devices because it could not offer a mobile hypervisor the way it does on some Android devices.

"Our approach was around a secure container, but that won't be the case going forward," said Ben Goodman, VMware's end-user computing evangelist. App-wrapping support will be dropped for iOS in Horizon Mobile, and a better picture of VMware's mobile strategy for iOS will be revealed at VMworld, the company's annual conference in San Francisco later this month, he added.

The company hasn't fully ditched its secure containers  for mobile devices, but the technology is less relevant now because of several iOS 7 features due this fall, including single sign-on, per app VPN, which configures apps to automatically connect to a virtual private network (VPN) when they are launched, and "open in" management, which gives IT the ability to configure the list of apps employees can use to open shared files.

Apple also overhauled licensing for the Volume Purchasing Program (VPP). Organizations will be able to retain the rights to, reclaim and redistribute mobile application licenses.

The one necessary feature still missing from iOS 7 is managed copy and paste across various applications. Otherwise, with Apple's additional management features, IT administrators can manage devices, applications and data without a container or even the app-wrapping approach made popular through mobile application management (MAM) vendors, VMware's Goodman said.

Don't ditch your mobile management tools just yet

Although some have speculated that the new features in iOS 7 eliminate the need for a third-party EMM vendor, that isn't the case, said Jeremy Conkin, an iOS developer and consultant with Solstice Mobile, a Chicago-based enterprise mobility consulting firm that offers iOS 7 migration services.

The new management features are client-side application programming interfaces (APIs) and still require a server-side application to use, he added.

Not surprisingly, mobile device management (MDM) vendors agree that EMM tools will continue to have their place.

"Just because there is an API there, doesn't mean it's easy to activate or configure in mass quantities," said Blake Brannon, sales engineering manager at enterprise MDM vendor AirWatch, based in Atlanta. "You could use an OS X server and [Apple] Configurator to do a lot of this manually but you'd still need a tool for Android devices and BYOD."

Some startup EMM vendors see the pending iOS 7 release as an opportunity to stand out in a crowded market. GLOBO, a London-based company that has traditionally white-labeled its services to cellphone carriers in Europe, entered the North American market last year. The company estimates it has 60% of its engineers currently working on incorporating the changes in iOS 7 into its Enterprise Mobility in a Box product.

Other vendors will take advantage of new, but less-discussed features, such as MDM enrollment. That feature will allow MDM vendors to configure employee devices before the iOS device is even removed from the packaging. IT will no longer have to provision the devices, and most of the work of setting up employee devices will be eliminated.

Boston-based Raizlabs, a mobile development shop, is preparing a new version of AppBlade, a mobile application lifecycle product that relies on the new iOS 7 management APIs, according to James Daniels, head engineer at Raizlabs.

And with the changes to the VPP, employees will be able to add corporate productivity apps from the App Store immediately after unboxing their new Apple devices.

"Apple is setting up systems and pieces to let IT roll out iDevices en masse, and doing it in a fundamentally different way than how it's been done previously," Daniels said. "[MDM vendors] have the APIs to do MDM in a much cleaner way.

"Vendors that have already created various management features, well, those are going to feel like a weird and hacked on solution to a problem because of all these changes to iOS 7," he added.  

Still, most agree that the changes Apple has implemented in iOS 7 are a win-win for just about everyone trying to navigate EMM: large vendors, small vendors, IT admins, and employees.

"These APIs open up more opportunities for all of us to interact and engage with these devices and that's a good thing," said AirWatch's Brannon.


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