At first glance, most of the new features of the iPhone 4 and iOS 4 appear to only target consumers, but if you look a little deeper, there are quite a few features that are very important to businesses. Sure, the new gyroscope might only be used for games and entertainment initially, but I have no doubt that there will eventually be specialized line-of-business applications that will take advantage of the six-axis motion. Even FaceTime, arguable the most significant new feature of the iPhone 4, while on the surface appears to be mainly for consumers, will, I believe, actually see some significant adoption within a professional context—especially for specific verticals like consulting, health coaching, and customer service. I've even talked to a couple of businesses that are exploring the possibility of offering premium customer support via FaceTime that, if it takes off, could take many kinds of existing customer service experiences to the next level.
That being said, there are several very significant new features and capabilities that will have significant value for businesses.
While it is still up to organizations to choose the level of security to enforce on their users, the number and flexibility of policies that are offered to organizations are significantly improved. Additionally, while the iPhone 3GS offered hardware encryption, the decryption key resided on the device, which left it open to security attacks on multiple levels. With iOS 4, the file system can be formatted in such a way that the encryption key is actually based on the power-on passcode for the device. Additionally, there are a number of application-level encryption APIs that allow businesses who are developing custom internal applications to also encrypt the data stored within their application sandbox and base that encryption key on the power-on passcode if desired. While no security or encryption can ever be foolproof, there are those that would argue that this new iPhone capability, if leveraged to provide both device-level and application-level security and encryption, is as secure as any other mobile platform.
For many IT organizations, the ability to access rich Mobile Device Management functionality is extremely important, and it is finally delivered with iOS 4. Once a device has been enrolled and configured for a specific enterprise's security policies and management server, the Mobile Device Management protocol uses Apple's push notifications to trigger the device to make a callback to the company's Mobile Device Management server. From there devices can both be queried and have configuration and security policies pushed out to the device. Everything from device information such as phone number and OS version, to installed applications and security policy enforcement, can now be queried remotely. Any Configuration profile (for things like e-mail, Wi-Fi, VPN, and security policies) can now be pushed out on-demand and transparently to the users. Today Apple is only providing the protocols so a company either needs to build their own device management server, or buy one of the many server products that are bound to hit the market soon.
Over-the-Air App Deployment
One of the most eagerly awaited features by enterprise users of the iPhone and iPad is the ability to deploy internal apps over-the-air directly from corporate servers to the devices, bypassing Apple's approval for the App Store or iTunes. If your organization has an Enterprise Developer Account with Apple, with iOS 4 you can now setup your own App Catalog of internal apps that users can view to select the apps that they are authorized to install. The App Catalog, and even the internal apps themselves, can reside on a corporate Web server. Users with authorized devices will be able to select apps and install them right from their iPhones or iPod touches (and iPads as well when it gets iOS 4 later this year).
After OS 3.0 was released last year with support for third-party accessories, one of the most eagerly awaited accessories for business was a barcode scanner. For a number of reasons, it's taken nearly a year for an iPhone-compatible barcode scanner to come to market. When Apple started using iPod touches for mobile point-of-sale stations to scan products for purchase, many businesses wanted to follow suit. However, Apple developed their scanning sleeve in-house and is not offering it for sale so forward-thinking organizations have had to wait.
Finally though, a product has come to market that is surely the first in a long-line of iPhone compatible scanners. Developed by Socket Mobile, the CHS-7 ($367; socketmobile.com) uses Bluetooth keyboard emulation (supported by the iPad as well as any iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 4.0) as opposed to the third-party accessory APIs. As a result, it can easily be used with almost any iPad/iPhone app that accepts keyboard entry. On the flip side, because it doesn't have an API or SDK, it's a little trickier to develop deeply customized integration into custom apps. As compared to many other handheld Bluetooth scanners, the CHS-7 is one of the best units out there, even compared to older generations of Bluetooth scanners from Socket. The CHS-7 has addressed many of the issues that previously existed by improving scan time, adding a beep/vibration when a successful scan occurs, and most importantly, issuing a very clear audible indicator when cycling the power on and off. That last item is critically important when used with an iPad or iPhone because when a Bluetooth keyboard is connected to the device, the on-screen keyboard does not appear. If your application or workflow requires switching between scanning and text entry, this may be the most significant issue with this device (or even this whole category of devices that use keyboard emulation as opposed to a lower-level scanning API), but thankfully, the CHS-7 can be easily and quickly switched on and off and makes it very clear which mode it is in.
The form-factor of the CHS-7 is a separate unit as opposed to a sleeve-style integration. This makes it ideal for many types of applications, especially those that can be optimized for the iPad. Other apps (like point-of-sale) are probably better suited to a sleeve-style scanner, but until one of those types of devices hits the market, the CHS-7 now makes possible an entirely new class of mobile line-of-business applications on iOS devices. Even though it has its shortcomings (mostly related to lack of API and SDK for deep software integration), it is still a very good all-around device.