WWDC: What's in iOS 12 and macOS 'Mojave' for IT?

Many of the changes and new features Apple execs talked about this week will affect business users and the IT departments that support them. Here's a rundown of some of the major changes.

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Jason Cross/IDG

Apple users got their first peek at iOS 12, macOS Mojave and watchOS 5 on Monday at the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, with Apple highlighting the features and functions that will be included when the platforms are updated this fall. The target audience, naturally, is developers.

But many of the changes highlighted this week will affect business users and the IT departments that support them. Here's a look at some of the issues IT should have on the radar.

ios 12 features Apple

Automatic system updates - thankfully, just an option

One of the changes in iOS 12 that wasn't specifically called out by Apple is a change to how devices process system updates. Traditionally, users have been the ones to initiate the install process, though devices might download an update when available to save users time. In iOS 12, this behavior may change with an option allowing devices to install system updates automatically.

From an IT perspective, this is good and bad news. On one hand, it ensures that iOS devices will be regularly updated - something that has always been hit or miss. On the other, it means that users may find their devices updated without realizing how it happened or what changes to expect. This becomes an IT problem if an update changes a major feature or impacts functionality with business tools on the device or even the networks it accesses. It isn't yet clear if Apple will give IT more control over the process, but this is an area that the company has largely walled off from IT in the past.

As a result, IT departments need to be proactive by downloading and testing the beta releases Apple will push out between now and September. As I've said in prior years, it's smart for IT departments to communicate with users before the fully baked updates arrive. Given that Apple continues to have a public beta program, IT admins should already be engaging power users and early adopters. This ensures that beta testers understand the challenges that installing pre-release software poses, and better positions them to help test apps and resources to see whether there are problems that they can be fixed before the commercial release this fall.

In macOS Mojave, it's also worth noting that Software Update has been moved from the Mac App Store to back to System Preferences, where it had been originally. This makes sense from a user experience perspective and allows a modicum of greater control for admins because System Preferences can be locked down while still allowing user access to the Mac App Store.

Time for some 32-bit house-cleaning

Last year, Apple announced that it was deprecating 32-bit apps on the Mac and that developers should begin the process of updating older apps to be 64-bit. The other shoe has now dropped. Apple has stated pretty emphatically that Mojave will be the last version of macOS to support these apps. While many commercial software vendors have already begun this transition, there may be many apps that simply get put out to pasture rather than receiving updates.

For enterprise users, this means it's time for some house cleaning. Any apps in an enterprise app store - commercial and in-house - need to be checked to ensure that they are all 64-bit compliant going forward. Apps that aren't either need to be updated, replaced or phased out. This is actually an opportunity: it allows IT admins to revisit what workers are using to do their jobs and decide whether that software is still warranted. For apps that will be replaced, IT will benefit by discussing alternatives with various user groups and seeking their input. It also means that non-enterprise apps on user devices, including those that handle work-related tasks, may be left out in the cold next year; admins can gain political capital by ensuring users are aware of the issue now.

It's also worth noting that while the clock is ticking on 32-bit apps, there's a decent chunk of time left before they simply stop working. Managed well, this shouldn't be too onerous for businesses - many of which may have done the requisite legwork already.

iOS 12 makes cracking iPhones and iPads a lot harder

Apple has made no secret of the fact that it wants to keep personal information secure and continues to improve on the privacy capabilities of its platforms. iOS 12 includes changes designed to prevent devices from being cracked using solutions from the likes of Cellebrite and GreyKey. What's good for individuals is also good for business. Apple's moves here mean that corporate data, including data from regulated industries like healthcare and finance, will be protected at a higher level, along with personal information. This is great news for enterprises and it should further strengthen iOS as the mobile platform for business.

Password creation and management get more mainstream

Along with securing devices against brute-force attacks, Apple has also raised the bar for password managers. Most users and IT pros know that complex passwords specific to each service or app are the best way to secure resources and data without implementing something like multi-factor authentication. Apple is putting easy password creation and management (even two-factor authentication based on texts sent to a secure device) into more hands. This elevates the awareness of password managers across the board. As with other security and privacy features announced this week, this is good news for businesses looking to amp up account security. Not only will it help educate users about password security, it's a practical tool that will be helpful day to day.

Porting iOS apps to the Mac

Rumors that Apple is planning to let iOS apps run on Macs the way Android apps run on ChromeOS devices have been around for years. Most recently, there was chatter that Apple may be working to move macOS off of Intel processors and onto the company's own chips. Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, offered an emphatic "no" to that speculation during the keynote. But he did reveal that Apple has been working for two years to make porting iOS apps to the Mac easier for two years; some of Apple's own apps are making the jump from iOS to Mojave in this way.

Not surprisingly, iOS and macOS already share underlying frameworks, which means the process of writing apps for both platforms is already similar and uses the same tools. Moving forward, developers will have the option to flag that they will be doing a Mac app when creating a project in Xcode. The process will involve some work, particularly involving the user experience (because of the different input methods between a touch screen and traditional desktops), but it will be much easier for developers to offer Mac as well as iOS support.

With iOS as a business platform, adding support for macOS makes it easier for companies to offer or standardize on Macs for employees as well as to reach Mac users in the case of third-party, customer-facing apps. It's likely that commercial development tools as well as Apple's Xcode will eventually support this porting process.

Siri Shortcuts

Siri shortcuts have the potential to be powerful tools for many users, allowing workflows to be built and triggered by voice. This is a powerful feature for users that want to put in the effort to create workflows or who want make use of Siri's ability to suggest tasks in context-aware situations - typically involving tasks a user does regularly. The concept clearly has some implications for business, though it stops short of being true Siri-based apps or skills like those available for Amazon's Alexa.

As I've noted previously, it's a forgone conclusion that voice assistants will find their way into a wide swath of workplaces (if they haven't already). Siri will be no exception and Shortcuts offers a tool for getting tasks accomplished quickly and easily. How broadly Shortcuts will be adopted, and in which situations, remains to be seen. Creating custom Shortcuts is something likely to appeal more to techies than general users.

That doesn't mean IT should ignore the feature. But it should be discussed in the context of a broader voice assistant strategy that incorporates all available solutions. One possibility, however, is that Shortcuts, once created, might be shared by users or teams. This would likely be on an ad hoc basis and would originate from some early adopters within businesses - something they can set up for others when those coworkers see a Shortcut in action. Although this isn't the ideal scenario for mass creation and deployment by IT, it shouldn't be ignored. And it may present a chance for IT leaders to see how voice is being used or can be used in the workplace.

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Group FaceTime, which supports 32 participants, will be a useful collaboration tool for Apple-using enterprise professionals.

Multi-user Face ID doesn't really mean multi-user iOS devices

There's been a lot of discussion about the coming support for a second face as an unlock option on the the iPhone X (and future Face ID-equipped devices). While the function is there, it isn't truly a feature that allows for multiple users on a device – and it certainly doesn't mean iOS devices will begin to behave like multi-user PCs in a corporate environment.

The feature can be used in small-scale setups such as allowing family members to share a single device, however, and businesses may want to adopt a policy against an employee sharing a device with non-employees when corporate data is involved. This policy would likely be an HR directive rather than a managed device exclusion.

Walkie-Talkie could be a boon in the office

In demoing watchOS 5, Apple showed off a new walkie-talkie feature in Messages that allows users to communicate by voice messages. This feature has a lot of potential for the workplace, particularly those that provide off-site services, as it provides a handy way to check in and relay information or instructions without needing to converse. Although this will be a technology that will depends on users to adopt or ignore, IT admins can promote its use if there are appropriate scenarios in which it would be feasible.

Group FaceTime versus other chat apps

Group chats in FaceTime are big news and there are some selling points for business: As many as 32 people can take part in a group Facetime chat, the interface is typically Apple slick and they come with secure end-to-end encryption. Apple may have an uphill battle getting FaceTime to be seen as an enterprise feature, however, because there are already a variety of competing products in use by companies that also offer the ability to link people from diverse platforms and to include additional meeting controls and limitations.

Screen Time and the elusive work-life balance beam

Apple fully presented itself as wanting to tame its customers' digital distraction with its Screen Time functionality. Screen Time in itself doesn't directly relate to business environments, but it can be a tool to encourage employees to disconnect after hours or on weekends/vacations. In a world where many people - and some businesses - struggle to create a work-life balance, this can be a powerful tool.

It can also be an eye-opening experience for users because it allows them to quantify not just how much they use a device, but also how much time they spend on specific apps and tasks. That information can be eye-opening. Mining this data might prove advantageous for employers, but it's highly unlikely that Apple will allow that kind of access, at least not without a user's consent. That said, other solutions, including those in the EMM space, can offer similar data tracking and reporting.

Apple Watch and Wi-Fi finally get together in a good way

All Apple Watch models have supported Wi-Fi for accessing data and can make connections independent of a user's iPhone if needed. But until now, Apple hasn't allowed users to connect to Wi-Fi networks directly from their wrists. Instead, they inherit Wi-Fi network profiles from the iPhones they are paired with. The change has potential usability and security implications because an Apple Watch might connect to unsecured public networks without the user realizing it. watchOS 5 exposes Wi-Fi connection details and settings for the first time, which can help ensure that only trusted networks are used. And it can help stop users from connecting to networks that are slow, spotty, or outside the corporate firewall.

It's surprising Apple hasn't allowed till now.

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The Medisafe app as seen through Apple's Health Record platform.

Healthcare IT has a lot to consider

One industry that iOS 12 could seriously disrupt is healthcare. Apple touted the ability for iPhones to securely exchange data with healthcare providers a while ago, but the initial beta of iOS 12 marks the first time that this capability has been available for wide-scale testing. This means that healthcare organizations and the vendors providing their electronic records systems have to decide whether or not to allow user access to some or all data included in their chart.

This may not seem particularly disruptive given that healthcare regulators in the U.S. have included access to a patient portal as a meaningful use criteria for doctors, hospitals and other providers for several years now. There have, however, been limitations on what data individuals can access and on the ability of different providers to share information among themselves about a given patient.

This has generally meant that there isn't a lot of integration of care or aggregation of complete health information for patients as they access healthcare services. In allowing access to multiple data sources with its Health app and HealthKit, ResearchKit and CareKit platforms, Apple is allowing users to not only amass such data themselves but to use their iPhone as a personal hub of shared healthcare information. That should offer a detailed and complete picture of their health that can then be shared back to each separate provider.

As a result: healthcare IT teams will need to look at what information users can presently access remotely and what information they are are willing to take from a patient's device into their medical record. Having a consumer-facing policy about this should be carefully created, regardless of the level of integration that develops, and shared with users.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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