Apple adds business features in iPhone OS 4.0

Apple's preview of iPhone OS 4.0 included not just expected multitasking features, but some surprise capabilities targeted at enterprise users and IT departments.

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Apple's preview of iPhone OS 4.0 included not just expected multitasking features, but some surprise capabilities targeted at enterprise users and IT departments.

Version 4 now can encrypt all email and attachments, unlocking them with a user-entered pin code. This "sandboxing" will protect email even if a lost or stolen smartphone is accessed. Among the 1,500 new APIs Apple has packed into the firmware, due for release this summer, are those for developers to encrypt data inside their applications.

Enterprises also will be able to wirelessly distribute an app from their own servers, according to Apple. But executives said users won't be able to distribute other apps outside of Apple's App Store. "Apps have to be code-signed via enterprise distribution," according to Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iPhone software.

Jack Gold, principal of J Gold Associates, a technology research and consulting firm, pointed out that this will enable companies to upload and update apps from corporate systems without going through iTunes. "This is a big deal. You no longer have to 'side-load' [these] devices through a PC," he says.

The new OS version will also support "mobile device management" but Apple didn't describe how that would be done. "The new management APIs sound like a major upgrade," says Gold. Apple lacks the systems and device management server applications offered for enterprise customers by Microsoft and Research in Motion. Through its support for Microsoft Enterprise ActiveSync, however, iPhone OS devices can make use of management and security features offered by Microsoft Exchange Server.

The new OS will also support Exchange Server 2010, enable multiple Exchange accounts on a single phone and offer SSL VPN support via Cisco and Juniper.

Enterprise users will likely also appreciate another main new feature: the unified inbox. iPhone users can have multiple email accounts, all showing up in one inbox. Version 4 will allow organisation of email threads with visual indicators, and you can open attachments with a fingertap.

The updated firmware will be available to all iPhones and iPod Touches, but only the latest models, the iPhone 3GS and third generation iPod Touch, will have the hardware to support some of the more advanced features, such as multitasking. Users of the older devices can get the new software this summer and use many but not all of the new features. Programmers can immediately access a "developer preview" of the new version at developer.apple.com.

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