5 ways Apple's iPhone OS 4 is a game changer

Developers get their hands on a slew of new features, users benefit, too

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The lack of multitasking has been one of the big stumbling blocks for mobile power-users accustomed to running multiple apps at once on other mobile platforms. This makes it a huge step forward in unlocking the development potential for almost any app while at the same time breaking down one of the few barriers holding back some would-be iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad buyers.

Although multitasking might be the most obvious change coming for iPhone owners, Apple is also delivering good news to developers by opening up hundreds of new APIs that will give them direct access to many core iPhone OS features. This includes access to the calendar store (a major coup for task, event and project management apps), SMS directly in apps, and advanced camera functionality. Combined with the move toward intelligent multitasking, these additions give developers more flexibility in creating powerful and more tightly integrated apps.

2. Enterprise features

The iPhone has never been easily accepted in enterprise environments, despite a vast array of business and productivity apps that are useful across industries and professions. Truth be told, IT shops have had valid reasons for minimizing the adoption of the iPhone.

For some companies, device security has been a big issue. For others, it's the need to support iTunes for syncing. And for almost every company, there's been the question of how to manage mass deployments of iPhones because of the somewhat limited device management and deployment options. There's not really a viable option for mass deployment of applications to dozens or hundreds of devices. Although Apple has generally improved its enterprise scorecard with each iPhone OS release, it has never fully addressed these core issues.

Although Jobs didn't offer a lot of information about enterprise support during the iPhone OS 4 announcement, he did list several areas in which Apple is taking steps to offer real solutions to enterprise issues.

On the security front, the iPhone will support forthcoming SSL VPN solutions from Juniper and Cisco (in addition to its existing PPTP, L2TP and Cisco IPSec VPN support). More important, it will now offer the ability to encrypt all e-mails and e-mail attachments. Seeing as e-mail represents some of the most common confidential data on a smartphone, this is a major step forward and it follows the option for whole-device encryption on the iPhone 3GS that Apple introduced last year.

The new iPhone OS will also provide developers with encryption APIs so they can ensure all data security. Some iPhone apps already offer encryption solutions created by their developers (Agile's 1Password, the MacPractice medical suite and Good's server/app suite, which secures e-mail, calendar and contacts). But giving all developers an easy-to-integrate encryption option makes the iPhone a more enterprise-ready mobile platform.

Apple will also provide more-advanced device management features. Although it offered few details, Apple claims that a new Mobile Device Management service will offer integration with third-party servers to configure devices over the air as well as to query company-owned iPhones for status and to initiate a remote wipe of device data.

It's likely that device management options will build on the certificate provisioning and configuration profile architecture that Apple released with the first major iPhone OS update two years ago (and expanded with last year's iPhone OS 3 release). I'm hoping it will provide a flexible way to manage each built-in feature and, perhaps, features related to third-party apps.

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