At VMWorld, this week VMWare showed of Horizon Mobile for iOS – an enterprise solution that separates business apps and content on an iOS device from a user’s personal apps, documents, and data. It’s an iOS version of a tool that VMWare previously demoed, but hasn’t yet shipped, for Android devices. While the name and the goal of Horizon mobile is essentially the same on both platforms, the company is taking a vastly different approach for iPhones and iPads.
Not only is the iOS approach different, it’s also nowhere near as revolutionary – other mobile enterprise companies have using similar approaches for a while and the one truly distinctive feature is one that Apple might not approve for distribution.
Horizon Mobile for Android is designed around the concept of virtualizing Android. The virtual instance of Android on a mobile phone (or other device) is configured and loaded with Android apps by a company’s IT department. The virtual instance of Android operates independently of the Android instance that is actually installed on the phone – different set of contacts, different apps, different files and documents – even a different phone number. The result is a completely separate and secure user experience – one that can be managed by IT and wiped off the device without touching personal content. The catch, VMWare announced Horizon Mobile for Android last year, but still hasn’t shipped it.
The iOS version uses completely different approach – one that is partly borne out of necessity. A swarm of flying pigs over every major city is, after all, far more likely than Apple letting VMWare virtualize iOS. Another reason for the different tactic that Ben Goodman, VMware’s Horizon evangelist, described to ConsumerizeIT’s Colin Steele is that creating an Android solution required finding a way to handle the fragmentation of Android devices and versions. Virtualizing Android and giving IT a consistent OS to manage seemed the logical approach.
How does the iOS version work? It creates an encrypted on-device storage area or workspace. Good Technology and Bitzer Mobile already use the approach to create secure storage on iOS devices. Both companies also provide secure apps as part of their solutions and Good has developed its own SDK that allows other iOS developers to integrate their apps into its secure storage model. Both companies also prevent data from being accessible outside the secure workspace and disable the ability to copy and paste into external apps.
It’s also worth mentioning that Apple actually introduced developer APIs related to security and encryption for on-device secure storage in iOS 4 a little over two years ago.
That’s why VMWare’s approach seems a little stale as an iOS solution. It almost seems like the company is playing catch-up to a certain extent.
The one feature that VMWare has created that does seem unique is the ability to install iOS apps, including apps from the App Store, into the secure workspace. According to Goodman, iOS doesn’t even see these apps.
That’s a pretty incredible feat, but it raises a big question that no one seems to have answered yet – what will Apple think of it? This certainly seems like something that Apple wouldn’t approve for release in the App Store because of the way that the secure workspace handles apps and that it requires installation apart from the App Store and possibly outside of Apple’s Volume Purchase Program.
Overall it’s hard to judge the impact VMWare might have with Horizon Mobile at this point, but as the demo video below illustrates, it could solve a lot of problems associated with BYOD (bring your own device) programs.
At this time, neither Horizon Mobile for iOS or Android are shipping products. More information can be found on the VMWare Office of the CTO blog.