iPhone OS 4.0 shows Apple is serious about the enterprise

However, Apple has dropped support for the 2G iPhone and may ban Adobe's anticipated Flash compiler

Apple senior vice president of iPhone software development Scott Forstall explains the new enterprise-focussed features in iPhone OS 4.0

Apple senior vice president of iPhone software development Scott Forstall explains the new enterprise-focussed features in iPhone OS 4.0

Apple's planned upgrade to the iPhone OS will bring a swag of features suited specifically to the enterprise.

The mobile operating system is used on many of Apple's mobile devices, including the iPod touch, iPhone and iPad. The iPhone OS 4.0 upgrade is the fourth major iteration of the operating system and, according to Apple, includes more than 100 new features. Most notable among these is restricted multitasking support, the ability to sort apps into folders, and an iPhone version of the iBookstore.

The new operating system also brings support for Exchange 2010 and SSL VPN networks, a unified email inbox as well as improved device management and passcode security.

Multitasking support will allow apps to provide audio, location information, notifications and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) while running other applications. Apps can also run until they finish a task, or hibernate so that they return to their original state when re-opened.

Multitasking will only be available on the iPhone 3GS and iPad.

Apple has also added "Wireless App Distribution", allowing enterprises to distribute in-house applications directly to its iPhone fleet, effectively circumventing Apple's own App Store. While this allows enterprises to securely tailor apps for a specific function, it may also mean they won't be tied down by Apple's strict submission restrictions and rules on use of private APIs. Apple hadn't replied to comment on this at time of writing.

Apple's smartphone has become a popular choice in many companies, particularly for employees who aren't provided phones. This influx has continued despite security concerns, the lack of enterprise-grade features and general reluctance by IT managers to support the platform.

"The iPhone is making huge in-roads into the enterprise. Already more than 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies are using iPhones," Apple's senior vice president of iPhone software development, Scott Forstall, said at the iPhone OS 4.0 media conference.

"That's really been the trend for the last 18 months to two years, where devices like the iPhone and BlackBerrys like the Pearl and the Curve have become quite popular in the enterprise even though they're aimed at the consumer," Gartner analyst Robin Simpson said.

Speaking to Computerworld Australia before Apple previewed the new operating system, Simpson said the vendor would be likely rest on its laurels on the enterprise but perform well due to its success in the consumer market. While Simpson said he wasn't expecting a dramatic change in support for the enterprise, the new features appear to show Apple's attempts to crack the enterprise space.

Though third party companies like Sybase and MobileIron provide some form of mobile device management for iPhone fleets, Forstall said at the media conference that the work was already done for enterprises in iPhone OS 4.0.

However, Apple has also tightened rules on App Store submissions. According to blogger John Gruber, the updated iPhone Developer Agreement released with the iPhone OS 4.0 software development kit restricts applications built on code bases not supported by the iPhone. This may include Adobe's software compiler for the iPhone, which would enable software developers to effectively write Flash applications in the upcoming Flash Professional CS5 suite for the mobile device. Apple has not yet responded to the claims, but a post on Adobe's Twitter account indicated the company was looking into the issue, and would "continue to develop Packager for iPhone OS".

The new smartphone operating system will be available to iPhone 3G and 3GS, second and third generations of the iPod touch as well as the iPad, which is set to hit Australia toward the end of the month. However, Apple has notably dropped support for the first generation 2G iPhone, which wasn't sold in Australia but imported by many eager early adopters. First generation iPod touch users also miss out.

Apple has already released the iPhone OS 4.0 beta and software development kit, and expects to release the firmware upgrade to iPhones in winter. iPad users will be able to upgrade sometime in spring.

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