WWDC is only a few days away and the event is shaping up to be filled dramatic announcements. Expectations include an Apple HDTV, a new Mac lineup that includes an updated Mac Pro, the unveiling of the next iPhone, iOS 6 with Siri support for the iPad, updates to Siri’s functionality, and load of additional details about Mountain Lion.
Whether all those expectations are met or not, WWDC and its keynote will pack lots of information for developers and IT professionals as well as various Apple product announcements and previews. The big announcements may be the best part of WWDC for most Mac users and Apple fans, but the event is, at its heart, a giant powwow for developers. It also offers IT professionals and CIOs their best glimpse at Apple future plans and the new technologies that they will need to support and/or manage.
So what are IT leaders and business professionals going to be looking for at WWDC? Here’s our IT wish list for this year’s WWDC.
Clarity on Apple’s enterprise plans – Apple isn’t known for tipping its hand with product roadmaps, a fact that can easily frustrate many IT leaders. WWDC does offer attendees a great deal of insight into Apple’s plans. The keynote, however, usually does give a direction of Apple’s plans for the immediate future and Apple has used WWDC keynotes to highlight or introduce new enterprise features. With Tim Cook at the helm of the company, we might see a little bit more attention paid to enterprise users and functionality.
A clear indication of where Apple is taking OS X Server – When Lion Server launched last summer, it took many of Apple’s enterprise customers and consultants by surprise. Lion gutted core tools like the advanced Server Admin app. The focus clearly moved to the new Server app (known as Server Preferences in previous releases) and its simplified administration options, which appeal primarily to the small business market. At the same time, much of functionality from Leopard and Snow Leopard Server were still included. I think everyone who works with OS X Server is hoping that Mountain Lion will settle the mixed message or identity crisis that Lion Server represented.
How Apple will merge iOS and Mac management – As we noted a few weeks ago, Apple seems to be pushing for a greater use of iOS-style Configuration Profiles as a Mac management solution instead of its longstanding Managed Preferences approach. The company introduced Configuration Profile support in Lion and it seems very likely Apple will build on it in Mountain Lion. That leaves a range of questions, including these: what will Configuration Profiles be able to manage, will third-party mobile management companies embrace the approach, and what will be the fate of Apple’s other Mac management technologies in Mountain Lion and future OS X releases?
Mac deployment and patch management in a yearly release cycle – One of the big and somewhat understated changes in Mountain Lion is Apple’s decision to move to an annual OS X release cycle like the company does with iOS. That raises a number of potential challenges including refreshing systems more frequently, the potential of older systems and apps to get dropped as Apple moves forward with higher system requirements, and it could increase the overall software deployments and updates needed by an organization. It also brings with it additional needs for training updates for new releases (for both users and IT staff) and the potential for additional help desk calls around each new release. Those are challenges that Apple needs to address, and where it needs offer to guidance to IT professionals.
Siri integration and/or management – Siri has gotten a mixed response in the business and IT world. Siri doesn’t offer a lot of business features (and least not yet), though iOS dictation is the one bright spot around Siri for business users. Offering developers the ability to integrate Siri into their apps could change that significantly. On the other hand, businesses like IBM are concerned that Siri could be a security risk. The best way to address that dichotomy would be for Apple to provide much more granular options when it comes to iOS device management so that IT departments could tailor Siri to user needs while ensuring data security.
Enterprise integration with and/or more specific management options for iCloud – iCloud is in much the same boat as Siri when it comes to enterprises. It’s a great feature with lots of business potential thanks to its ability to sync data and files, but that makes IT leaders wary because it represents a way that critical and confidential information can leave the company network. Right now, IT has very limited options when it comes to iCloud – disabling iCloud information and file sync, disabling Photostream, and disabling iCloud backup. A more granular option, or even integration with IT systems, would be a much better approach.
Shooting for the moon, I think Apple would do well to create a private iCloud option for Mac and iOS users in business. That would expand the use of webDAV servers in Lion and iOS 5 as remote file stores for the iOS versions of Apple’s iWork apps.
More granular device management options for iOS – On the iOS management front, Apple would be wise to use iOS 6 to expand mobile management options. The current set of options hasn’t really changed that much over the past two years. The current capabilities focus more on device management than app or information management. As more companies look to app and information management as a better and more secure option than locking down individual devices, Apple’s current options are beginning to seem a little stale. Providing a better mechanism for secure on-device data storage and integrating it with app management capabilities would be an amazing push forward by Apple.
Enterprise app store functionality – Speaking of app management, Apple could and should expand the concept of an enterprise app store – a place where users can choose the iOS or Mac apps that they need at work. Curated app stores for business are available from third parties for iOS, but Apple could offer more support for the concept. More importantly, Apple should bring its volume purchase program to the Mac app store. That move would create an excellent hands-off app and license management option for businesses. Apple has even highlighted ways such a process could work in one of its whitepapers on Lion (PDF link).
Social enterprise tools – Apple has flirted with the idea of enterprise collaboration systems with the wiki service built into each OS X Server release since Leopard. That feature remains available but hasn’t gained a lot of traction. Apple could revamp it into a secure intra-enterprise social network like Jive. That would fill a growing need in many businesses.
The ability to push ebooks to iOS devices or create private bookstores – To date, only JAMF’s Casper Suite allows organizations to push ebooks to the iBooks app on an iPad. That capability is great for education and it shows that this is a valuable feature. Schools and colleges would probably jump that the ability to push ebooks and create internal bookstores for textbooks or reference guides. The effect would be similar to a curated enterprise app store model and it could offer a mix of private and iBookstore titles. The approach could also work very well in business if used for instruction guides, reference data, and company policies.
Will Apple deliver all of these items? Probably not. At best next week’s WWDC keynote will address a few. That said, with Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets hitting the market later this year, anything Apple can do to make its products more business, enterprise, and IT friendly will go a long way to ensure Apple has a place in the business world.