iOS 6 device management: What companies should know

Apple's new OS takes evolutionary steps toward better mobile management

While virtually every detail about the iPhone 5 was known before last week's launch event, Apple managed to keep details about iOS 6 (other than those highlighted at its annual developers conference in June) quiet. Until yesterday's release of iOS 6, virtually nothing was known about the kinds of things enterprise users are interested in, especially the mobile management capabilities of the OS update.

Now, with iOS 6 out in the wild, it seems pretty clear that it's an evolutionary step forward for mobile management. Apple is clearly making it easy for businesses and IT departments to secure new iOS 6 features and is ramping up security in key way. But this update, for better or worse, is far from a complete overhaul.

That said, here's a look at what enterprises should focus on.

Three mobile management approaches

Apple is often regarded as a key player in the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement that is sweeping across IT. Most people think of the arrival of the iPhone and iPad - and the ensuing desire by executives and employees to use those devices for work - as a fundamental beginning of the BYOD movement. Apple was able to capitalize on that by building mobile management features into iOS.

Today, devices in the workplace are typically seperated into corporate-owned or employee-owned, with the owner ultimately responsible for the hardware. Corporate devices tend to be heavily managed, with IT in charge of buying them, provisioning apps, configuring them for business use and applying security and management configurations. Employee-owned devices, on the other hand, tend to be more lightly managed, though they may still be enrolled in a management system that requires better security and may limit some features.

The third category: shared devices that are managed more tightly. These devices often function as digital kiosks -- an electronic restaurant menu, in-room hotel concierge system, in-flight entertainment, sales tools in a car dealership or shared devices in a classroom. Since they aren't personal and need to serve specific functions, they are largely locked down.

Apple seems to have considered all three of these approaches with the additions it's made to iOS 6's security and management capabilities. The company offers a handful of new policies that any mobile management vendor can implement and it has developed a series of more stringent policies that build on the Apple Configurator tool launched this spring.

Lets look first at the simpler BYOD-style management features new to iOS 6.

Handling shared PhotoStreams

iOS 6 offers a range of impressive new features that will be attractive to business users and consumers. Some have security implications and Apple has fortunately built in the ability to restrict access them. The first such option is the ability to disable shared PhotoStreams. Apple launched PhotoStream last year as a way for users to sync photos across all their Macs and iOS devices (including the Apple TV) with iCloud. As with other aspects of iCloud -- automatic device backup to iCloud and document/information sync -- iOS 5 allowed you to disable PhotoStream as a mobile management feature.

For security reasons, IT staffers can disable PhotoStream syncing across an employee's devices as well as PhotoStream sharing.

This year, Apple is extending PhotoStream functionality in iOS 6 by letting users create shared PhotoStreams, essentially letting a user pick specific photos and share them via iCloud with one or more iOS or Mac users. Shared PhotoStreams, which are very similar to the old MobileMe PhotoCasts, let family members build a library that includes all of their digital photos and makes it easy to share a large number of images with friends and relatives.

The change heightens the security implications of PhotoStream. Now, not only can business data or images be synced to devices and computers outside the corporate network, they can also quickly and easily be transmitted to specific people. To combat that prospect, IT staffers can disable PhotoStream syncing across an employee's devices as well as PhotoStream sharing. It is, of course, worth pointing out that iOS 6 includes plenty of other photo-sharing options including email, iMessage, MMS messaging, Twitter and Facebook.

Securing Passbook for mobile pros on the go

Passbook is another feature that has security implications. In this case, it's about business-related items being displayed while an iPhone is locked. One of the great features of Passbook is that you don't really need to think about it, thanks to location awareness: QR codes for movie tickets appear on the screen when you reach the theater, for instance, and boarding passes pop up when you arrive at the airport.

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