In the seven years since the first iPhone and Apple's then-new mobile operating system arrived, iOS has morphed from a consumer-centric OS into one with a wealth of enterprise-worthy features. Ground-breaking as it was, iOS didn't originally support third-party apps and offered no management or security functions. Since then, however, it has grown into a robust platform that boasts one of the biggest productivity app catalogs on Earth and a variety of features that IT can use to configure, monitor, manage and secure iPhones -- and since 2010, iPads -- with relative ease. It was an evolution no one saw coming when Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in January 2007.
The changes Apple made to iOS -- coupled with the bring-your-own-device trend of recent years allowed the company to quietly penetrate the workplace thorough the proverbial backdoor as employees brought in their own phones and tablets for work.
Now, Apple is looking to move into the enterprise in an even more assertive way -- with IBM as a partner. That partnership, unveiled on Tuesday, is just the latest in a string of moves Apple has undertaken to build credibility as a serious enterprise player.
Here's a look at how iOS -- and the devices that use it -- have evolved over the years.
2007: The original iPhone shipped and it was as far from an enterprise device as you could get at the time. The iPhone supported no third-party apps, no corporate mail or messaging, and supported only 2G data connections.
2008: Apple launched iOS 2 along with the iPhone 3G. In addition to building out the iPhone feature set with GPS, 3G networking and the App Store, Apple delivered the first iOS enterprise capabilities. Most significant was support for Exchange ActiveSync, which allowed access to Exchange for email, contacts and calendars as well as basic Exchange passcode policies and the ability to remotely wipe a lost or stolen device. Apple also released the iPhone Configuration Utility, which allowed IT departments to create configuration profiles to manage some device features, albiet without a reliable method for distribution.
2009: Apple introduced the iPhone 3GS with support for hardware-based encryption.
2010: There were several important enterprise milestones for Apple this year.
The first was the introduction of the iPad. Although initially seen as a toy or purely a content-consumption device, the iPad quickly began to pop up in a number of workplaces. One of the first professional groups to bring iPads to work was physicians.
Just weeks after the iPad went on sale, then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs hosted an Apple event to preview some of the features of iOS 4. The event included a brief section on enterprise features, including expanded VPN support, email encryption, encryption and data security APIs for developers, and expanded device management capabilities.
Apple launched iOS 4 a couple of months later with an extensive mobile management framework that allowed true over-the-air management and the ability to remotely wipe devices without relying on Exchange ActiveSync. In a surprise move, Apple opted not to build its own enterprise management server for iOS devices and allowed third-party companies to development their own management solutions. The move helped jump start the enterprise mobility management (EMM) market we know today.
2011: iOS 5, which launched alongside the iPhone 4S and Siri, included another handful of enterprise management additions, including the ability disable Siri and iCloud as well as set limits on voice and data roaming. The biggest enterprise move, however, was the launch of Apple's Volume Purchase Program, which allowed companies to bulk purchase apps from the App Store and distribute them to users. The program was far from perfect with its Achilles heel being that app distribution transferred ownership of the app to the user; that meant companies would have to re-purchase the app if a user left the company.
2012: This was another year with multiple enterprise milestones for iOS.
Early in the year, Apple launched Apple Configurator, a free utility that allowed for the configuration of multiple iOS devices and app distribution. Along with this utility, which was Mac-only and required devices to be connected by USB, Apple introduced the concept of "supervised devices" -- a moniker that provided greater management of a device than MDM. These features grew in iOS 6 and 7 and were designed to provide greater control over devices that are institutionally owned.
iOS 6 arrived with still moe enterprise mobility features. Apple also launched the third-generation iPad, the first iOS device to feature LTE connectivity. Apple later in the year introduced the iPhone 5, the iPad mini, and a fourth-generation iPad, all of which could support LTE networks and all of which used Apple's new Lighting connector.
Apple also began allowing for the configuration of Apple TV devices deployed in business and education settings.
2013: This year saw the biggest iOS enterprise gains since iOS 4 launched in 2010.
The biggest news was iOS 7. In addition to completely revamping the look and feel of the OS, iOS 7 delivered a host of new enterprise capabilities, including the separation of work and personal content; automatic data security features for all apps; enterprise single sign-on; per-app VPN; managed app configuration; silent app update and installation; and the ability to configure AirPlay and AirPrint settings.
Apple introduced the iPhone 5s and Touch ID as well as the A7 chip. In addition to being a 64-bit chip, the A7, which also powered the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display, includes the Secure Enclave, a powerful encryption and security component used by Touch ID and other security components of iOS 7.
Two years after launching VPP, Apple introduced Managed App Distribution, which allows organization to license iOS apps. Those apps can be distributed to users via mobile management solutions with access to the apps revoked and reassigned if a user leaves the company.
To facilitate content sharing, Apple also introduced AirDrop, a feature that allows any two iOS users in close proximity to exchange content without needing any network or Bluetooth configuration changes.
Apple also introduced the Activation Lock feature in iOS 7, a kill switch that prevents a lost or stolen device from being reactivated unless the owner's Apple ID credentials are entered. Police departments in some major cities credit Activation Lock with a drop in iPhone theft.
In OS X Mavericks Server, Apple also introduced Caching Server, a feature that allows an organization to mirror frequently accessed content from the App Store, such as apps deployed to users as well as app updates.
2014: This year has already seen a few major iOS enterprise milestones in addition to the Apple-IBM deal announced Tuesday.
In February, Apple released enterprise-oriented iOS documentation including a detailed guide to iOS security. The company also announced its Device Enrollment Program, a zero-touch configuration option for company-owned iOS devices and that offered IT administrators access to a range of "supervised device" management options without using Apple Configurator.
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 CITEworld.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).
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