Apple's recent announcement of iOS 8 at the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) not only impacts users at the consumer level, but it sends ripples through the corporate sector as well with the largest number of enterprise features we've seen to date. In keeping with the growing BYOD movement, iOS 8 brings with it a breadth of new frameworks and kits for developers to hook into when developing their applications. Additionally, Apple has now allowed the use of several core technologies by 3rd-party developers by including access to APIs for Camera and Touch ID, to name a few.
Let's dive in and take a closer look at 10 of the new enterprise-focused features included in iOS 8.
AirDrop is an often overlooked but incredible piece of software. Enabling Wi-Fi or Bluetooth-based file transfers between two devices in close proximity is a lifesaver when email or SMS just aren't possible. AirDrop has now acquired the ability to share documents between Apple computers running the upcoming OS X 10.10 (Yosemite).
iOS 7 introduced iMessages, Apple's integrated messaging application. iOS 8 adds further functionality to the existing SMS app by including a range of features tailored for group messaging, such as add/removing individual users to the group, assigning titles to threads to keep the conversations grouped accordingly, and the ability to send pictures, video, and voice messages directly from the Messages app without having to switch back and forth between applications. Additionally, small touches like being able to view thumbnails of all the media content that's been shared throughout the history of a particular conversation, or sending out GPS location data to colleagues you're meeting with, can all be accomplished through the touch of a single button.
3. iCloud Drive
iCloud brought with it the ability to centrally store Contacts and Email for simplified access and sharing through Apple's cloud infrastructure. It also included limited support for documents, so only 1st-party Apple applications could really make the greatest use of this feature. Without any real file manager in place, documents could only be accessed directly from the app where they were created. iCloud Documents and Data has received an overhaul, bringing it more inline with other cloud-based solutions, such as Dropbox or Microsoft's OneDrive service. iCloud Drive allows for any document to be saved, retrieved, and edited from any OS X 10.10, Windows 7 (or later), or iOS 8 device. By implementing a file structure, documents may now be saved as individual files or grouped together in folders by application.
Do you ever wish you could send/receive phone calls right from OS X? I've lost count of the numerous times over the years that I could have benefitted from a feature like this. Fortunately, it's now a reality when pairing your iOS 8 device and an Apple computer running OS X 10.10. This form of continuity between all devices, Apple also has the added benefit to extend into supported applications like Safari, Mail, and Numbers, as long as developers have included support for this feature. For example, you'll be able to begin reading this article on your laptop, and then pick it up right where you left off on your iPad.
5. Keyboard customization
The keyboard has remained the same since, well, iOS 1.0 back in 2007! However, Apple has completely revamped the keyboard for iOS 8, making it predictive in its text selections and choosing autocorrect substitutions. QuickType, as it's called, is more intuitive, since the word or phrase choices presented to you are based on your previous conversations and your particular writing style. By doing so, it can adjust between casual conversations one might have with a friend and a more serious tone when emailing a business partner. Customizing the iOS keyboard has meant choosing your preferred language and, to a lesser extent, whether you'd like autocorrect on/off, while competitors like Android allowed for keyboards to be upgraded with functionality by simply installing it as one would any other app. iOS 8 now adds support for full keyboard customization, including installing 3rd-party keyboards like Swype.
6. Touch ID API
Since Apple designed the iPhone 5S with Touch ID, the concept of being able to unlock ones devices or make a purchase in the App Store with nothing more than a fingerprint was mind-blowing. Yet sadly, the experience was limited to only those functions. Ideas of unlocking other applications without using a passcode, authenticating credentials on a network for access to shared resources, or even making a contact-less purchase have a been something many users have been clamoring for. This is now a possibility since the Touch ID API has been made available to 3rd-party developers for integration with their apps. The premise of Touch ID will remain the same: to secure data and privacy through the use of a secure, biometric control instead of relying on passwords which get reused, forgotten, or lost more often than not.
7. AirPlay peer-to-peer
AirPlay is Apple's proprietary protocol for streaming audio/video content between OS X and iOS-based devices. With iOS 8, AirPlay no longer requires Wi-Fi connectivity to stream content to/from devices since peer-to-peer (P2P) technology is used to establish a connection between devices within proximity to each other. This is great for impromptu meetings with prospective clients and business partners or streaming the latest episode of your favorite TV show. It can also be incredibly handy when having to display a presentation on the fly.
8. Device security and management
The proliferation of iOS devices in the workplace is astounding and continues to grow quarter over quarter as evidenced by Apple's Q3 2014 earnings. Simply put, the numbers don't lie. While the large numbers bode well for Apple's bottom line, it doesn't have to spell doom for system admins who are tasked with managing devices across the enterprise. iOS 8 adds a wide range of network, security, and management frameworks in addition to application-specific features that further harden security on iOS devices. Enabling finer control over email encryption, passcode protection for 1st-party productivity apps, and added gestures are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
IT departments leveraging MDM solutions for device and content management have new tools to allow them to push documents — plus apps and settings — and revoke access to content or completely remove it from the device remotely. Also, new data management and content filtering lets admins decide what types of files can be opened on iOS 8 devices, right down to which applications are allowed to open specified files. All of this dovetails nicely with upgraded support for MDM capabilities, which helps IT admins set device information remotely and prevents end-users from erasing or otherwise setting their own restrictions on devices.
9. Wi-Fi calling
This is frequently requested feature that hasn't been supported on iOS devices until now. Wi-Fi calling has been around on other cellular devices for years, though not many devices in the US support it, nor do all of the service providers (only T-Mobile as of this writing). With iOS 8, however, all iPhones from 4 on will gain this feature. This is a boon for anyone who travels a lot or for corporations with reinforced exteriors, because they tend to act as a Faraday cage, effectively neutralizing cellular signals. With Wi-Fi hotspots being as ubiquitous as they are, one could manage to stay in communication through Wi-Fi calling until they are within range of a cellular tower.
10. App extensions and document sharing
Since iOS 7 introduced app extensions and document sharing, the reliance on multiple copies for documents handled by multiple applications diminished. Think of a photograph that is taken with the Camera app and then edited using Diptic. The resulting file is then published on Instagram, yet instead of opening each app and toggling back and forth or making multiple copies of the file, one simply extends the file from Camera to Diptic by sharing the file, which in turn gets shared again between Diptic and Instagram. iOS 8 opens app extensions and document sharing to all developers to enable apps to share data between them and allows the end user a greater choice of apps to choose from when opening and editing documents.
This is just a sampling of the over 4,000 APIs, kits, apps, features, and details that have gone into upgrading iOS in this next iteration. The creation of Swift, the new programming language from Apple, will no doubt further extend the iOS ecosystem with a number of custom applications designed by enterprises, tailored to their specific operating needs. While several of the features noted above — such as Touch ID and AirDrop — were introduced in previous versions of iOS, iOS 8 has gone to great lengths to expand their functionality or increase their impact exponentially — far beyond the initial implementation. One thing is for sure, Apple's aim to allow end users to utilize their personal devices for work-related tasks has received a much needed boost, resulting in a harmonious work/life balance.
Note: All features reviewed above were based on a developer preview build of iOS 8 Beta 4.
What features are you most excited about in iOS 8? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
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Jesus Vigo is a Network Administrator by day and owner of Mac|Jesus, LLC, specializing in Mac and Windows integration and providing solutions to small- and medium-size businesses. He brings 19 years of experience and multiple certifications from several vendors, including Apple and CompTIA.