The iPhone 5 at work - How companies should prepare

The iPhone 5 at work - How companies should prepare

A detailed look at the steps your company should take

Now that Apple has officially unveiled the iPhone 5, the big question for business users and IT professionals is how it -- and to a broader degree, iOS 6 -- will affect them and their companies.

Let's start with the iPhone 5 itself, which became available for pre-order yesterday. (Shipping times quickly rose to two weeks, indicating that sales are already quite brisk.)

Most of the details about the new iPhone were pretty much known long before Apple CEO Tim Cook and oher execs took the stage at the Yerba Buena Center on Wednesday. Some of the features have a direct bearing on the iPhone as a business tool: LTE capabilities with support for countries beyond North America; a larger (or more accurately, longer) screen and form factor; a new Apple-dubbed 'Lightning' port that replaces the traditional iPod dock connector; a faster A6 processor; and improved battery life.

LTE support

The arrival of LTE wireless capabilities is a big plus for business users. In most areas where LTE is available, that means they won't need to worry about finding public Wi-Fi hotspots when outside the office. It's a big advantage, but something of a double-edged sword: The faster speeds may make users less inclined to use public Wi-Fi and could lead them to use more data simply because they can access more information and resources faster than before. Both can translate to larger mobile costs.

To handle these mobile data challenges, there are a range of telecom expense management options available for business. They provide real-time analysis of mobile use and expenses, and help companies revise mobile plans and contracts to be more cost effective. Some companies, like Tangoe, can even help companies negotiate better deals with their carrier(s).

It's worth noting that while LTE and its potential expense may be new to the iPhone, they're not really new in enterprise mobility. But given the iPhone's continued popularity, businesses with a lot of iPhone-equipped workers should prepare for the iPhone 5's LTE support.

Among other possibilities, businesses should:

  • Revise policies related to mobile data use on company-owned smartphones to encourage users to rely on Wi-Fi, potentially with some penalties or incentives to ensure users don't go beyond data limits.

  • Use mobile management to try to limit LTE use, although unless Apple expands the iOS mobile management functionality in iOS 6 (more on that in a bit), there aren't that many options for curtailing data use. That said, some mobile management solutions can track data use and alert an administrator and/or user when excesses occur.

  • Consider investing in telecom expense management tools or services. A baseline look at your options now can help streamline them before numerous iPhone 5s enter your company and can be followed-up with periodic adjustments as needed in the coming months.

  • Consider working with your accounting department to streamline the processing of mobile accounts so you can spot trends quickly, perhaps reviewing them before reconciling/paying them.

  • Set a limit on data service expenses or adjust existing an existing limit -- especially if your company uses a BYOD program where the cost of service is shared between the employee and employer.

  • Work with departments where employees will be upgrading the iPhone 5 to determine which carriers deliver the best coverage and performance. Even if your company is a BYOD-only shop, you can provide this information to users choosing to upgrade on their own.

The new form factor

For the first time in five years, Apple has modified the screen size of the iPhone. The old model had a 3.5-in. screen, the same size the original iPhone had in 2007. The move to a 4-in. screen (which has an 1136-x-640-pixel resolution) forced Apple to make the device just a bit longer, and it meand that any iPhone-oriented tools may need to be revised to take advantage of the extra screen real estate. This isn't as big an issue as adopting the iPad's screen size and existing apps and mobile content will display fine on the new iPhone. But as new in-house native apps and web apps are developed or updated, it's worth considering.

The new Lightning connector

The decision to discard the iPod/iPhone/iPad dock connector and replace it with a newer and smaller port is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, the old connector involved technology that's almost a decade old, but it was also a consistent standard across all of Apple's mobile products. That means iPhone 5 owners will be replacing accessories or buying adapter cables.

Apple has already caught some deserved flack over the pricing of its adapter cables and for not making it clear that the new connection won't deliver all of the functions offered by the old one.

While updating to a new standard may not seem like a big deal for consumers, it is going to be a big deal for many organizations, particularly K-12 schools and districts that have invested in thousands of iPads. As additional iPads are purchased, new cabling and possibly even storage and charging systems will need to be purchased or updated. Businesses that have standardized around certain existing accessories, including custom solutions for healthcare, agriculture, industrial companies and even retail operations will all be affected by the switch.

If there's a silver lining here, it's that this can be a phased transition. As new iPhones are purchased, accessories can be bought alongside them. The same will follow with iPad updates.

Businesses can prepare for this transition by looking at their existing set of iOS devices and accessories. One critical thingfor is to determine whether needed functionality will be present when using an adapter - something manufacturers should be able to tell you. Beyond that, it's worth looking at future mobile device purchase plans to decide whether you can stick with dock connector devices for a while. It might be more feasible to slow the transition to Lightning devices like the iPhone 5 and delay buying additional devices like iPads until Apple has fully transitioned all its mobile products to the new connector.

Overall support

The new Apple-designed A6 processor and improved battery life are both great value-adds for business users, though they don't really affect IT departments and mobility policies.

The iPhone 5 probably won't generate many problems, but it may generate a number of questions from employees. Those questions are most likely to center around the device's LTE support -- with cost and coverage concerns being the key questions IT needs to answer -- and around migration from the traditional dock connector to the new Lightning port. These issues are probably going to be more common in BYOD environments, with questions about LTE coverage and carrier choices the most common. Preparing a user guide for would-be iPhone 5 owners is a great opportunity for IT to offer up resources and answer questions that might otherwise filter in through other channels such as the corporate helpdesk.

iOS 6

While the iPhone 5 itself was the big news during Apple's event, iOS 6 is the bigger enterprise question for most companies. The update, which will be rolled out next Wednesday, includes a range of new features, several of which are excellent additions for business users. But it remains something of a mystery from an IT and mobile management perspective.

Apple didn't really show much in the way of new iOS 6 functionality during its media event this past week. There was a recap of things like expanded Siri functionality and the new Maps app, but those were already featured during the WWDC keynote in June.

Mobile management innovation or stagnation?

For businesses and IT professionals, the big iOS 6 question is how Apple is expanding its mobile management capabilities. Apple introduced basic mobile management in iOS 2 with support for Exchange ActiveSync, but it was really two year ago with iOS 4 that Apple began offering a true mobile device management (MDM) architecture. At the time, Apple's feature set was pretty current - not as broad as, say, RIM's management features, but good enough that it made the iPhone and iPad enterprise-capable devices.

Apple hasn't really updated its mobile management functionality since then. There were a couple of additions in iOS 5, largely centered around managing new iOS 5 features like iCloud and Siri and with a heavy-handed all-or-nothing approach. Overall, however, Apple hasn't innovated in the mobile management arena.

That's a concern because over the past two years, the mobile management landscape has changed dramatically. Two years ago, IT departments were still in the BlackBerry mindset of locking down every possible part of a mobile device's hardware and software. Partly as a result of Apple's moves, IT departments began to realize that the all-or-nothing BlackBerry approach was no longer an option. The BYOD trend helped push the conversation past device management and into other areas like app and content management -- areas that Apple hasn't really dealt with on iOS devices.

When it comes to app management, in fact, Apple is particularly limited in its approach. The company's Volume Purchase Program lets companies and schools buy apps in bulk, but doesn't support over-the-air installation of those apps beyond asking a user if they'd like to install an app. That's the case with both public apps from the App Store and private in-house apps. Ironically, Apple's subsidiary FileMaker has used this as a way to present its database solutions as a more manageable platform for corporate app development.

While many vendors have taken Apple's mobile management functionality and delivered excellent solutions, each of them has essentially the same set of capabilities - those that Apple permits. That means keeping pace with the needs of the IT community is limited to what Apple chooses to provide.

It's hard to judge whether Apple is going to innovate in its mobile management capabilities -- or at least catch up to the industry. The company has been pretty tight-lipped about iOS 6 in the enterprise, meaning we could see some really progressive features when iOS 6 ships or we could see a very limited range of enhancements.

At this point, the best many companies can do is to look at what's new in iOS 6 and develop policies around options like the Do Not Disturb feature or Siri's expanded capabilities. Hopefully, Apple will at least deliver the functionality to enforce those policies.

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