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iPhone 5 release largely converged on the device's redesigned hardware and all the new capabilities enabled by iOS 6. Somewhat overlooked--at least initially--was a feature designed to disable functionality: Guided Access. The feature can turn an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch into a locked-down, single-purpose device--a concept with obvious business applications.
The culture in Cupertino has traditionally been indifferent to "enterprise-ready" ideals--but thanks to BYOD, iOS has rapidly become a workplace fixture. Guided Access adds to circumstantial evidence that Apple is responding by slowly recalibrating its relationship with IT interests.
To market the lockdown utility, which can also disable touch functions in specific portions of the screen, Apple has offered examples geared toward educators. Pearson Education has already declared intentions for Guided Access.
But on Wednesday, a Zenprise blog expressed enthusiasm for the new iOS function's clear enterprise use. The post claimed Zenprise's MDM products could combine with the new Apple feature, which it called "App Lock," to "offer mobile devices in kiosk-mode together with perimeter-based security, data protection, and compliance." As an example, it described a theoretical hospital in which physicians work efficiently and securely by accessing patient records via Zenprise-equipped iPads.
[ Sales of the iPhone 5 are strong, but the device is not sold out. Read iPhone Preorders Set Brisk Pace. ]
Ramon Llamas, a senior analyst with IDC, said in a phone interview that App Lock is a "great idea," citing such potential business applications as restaurants that use single-function iPads instead of traditional menus. Gartner VP John Pescatore agreed that opportunities abound for health care and retail. He also remarked that content providers might use the function to protect their intellectual property. A video might only be viewable in Guided Access mode, for example, making it more difficult for a user to execute illegal downloads.
App Lock's premise is not necessarily novel. Several MDM providers--including Zenprise--already supply products that include Guided Access-like app management functions and more. Still, mobile developers will look to improve their respective portfolios by building on top of the App Lock foundation. The Zenprise blog post, for example, promises "more… in the coming weeks."
Even so, with many businesses already invested in MDM services, is Guided Access truly a shake-up?
Larry Ponemon, founder and chairman of the Ponemon Institute, an information security think tank, agreed that App Lock "could be a really good thing" and said that the typical elegance of Apple design probably has third-party vendors excited. "I don't think it's that novel, but I think it's interesting because it's Apple," he said, adding that the company has been "pretty silent on the security front" but is "starting to get into it." Indeed, last August saw Apple appear at Black Hat for the first time, supporting the notion that Apple might be giving IT considerations more than a casual glance.
Pescatore stated that "most MDM vendors can do this kind of application control." He added that App Lock is "catching a lot of attention because Apple has been so unfriendly to IT admin."
But he also said that something like the rumored iPad Mini has a form factor that would, unlike the current, full-sized editions, be easy to handle in one hand. Because Apple's tablets are so versatile, he asserted, a business could deploy dozens of different purpose-driven variations while investing in only one type of hardware. "Why have a dozen hardware vendors?"
Gartner VP Dan Blum said in a phone interview that App Lock's IT-friendliness comes after "Apple's been criticized for not having any real engagement with the enterprise market." Both vendors and enterprise customers would appreciate "more of a road map," he stated.
Blum also remarked that Apple presents a "paradox" to businesses because iOS has proven "pretty secure" but "has very limited hooks" for enterprise-grade manageability. Apple's security record isn't untarnished--but compared to Android devices, iPhones and iPads have been in a different class.
Pescatore said that App Lock could be a great cost-effective solution for smaller companies, but that "most enterprises are not gonna trust the platform to secure itself." Even if iOS vulnerabilities have not been a problem, mission-critical environments require granular control over the devices accessing their private data. It remains to be seen how MDM vendors will utilize iOS 6's injection of additional hooks--but with iPhone 5 sales set to explode, new products will reveal the answer soon enough.
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