What iOS 4 does -- and doesn't do -- for business

The new OS for the iPhone and iPod Touch appears to do less than you may think

After all the hoopla since its April announcement, iOS 4 -- the new name for the old iPhone OS -- is now here for newer iPhone and iPod Touch models as a free download via iTunes, with iPad availability scheduled for "later this year." So what does it actually do?

For business users and IT, not that much -- yet.

The biggest new capability -- multitasking -- is for all intents and purposes not available, and it won't be until individual apps are updated to take advantage of it. That's because iOS 4 leaves the multitasking not as a general OS capability automatically implemented as Windows or Mac OS X does it, but as one that must be explicitly used by the application. Over time, the addition of multitasking should make using apps singly and in concert much easier on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. But right now, it's just a promise.

[ Get the best iPhone and iPad apps for pros with our business iPhone apps finder. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

The other big new capability for IT is the set of APIs that allow BlackBerry-like management of the iPhone, such as auditing of policies and apps, over-the-air provisioning of apps without iTunes, and over-the-air configuration and policy management. That set of capabilities too remains a promise, as the various mobile management tools that have been reworked to take advantage of the new iOS 4 capabilities won't be available until July or later.

So what does that mean for users and IT today?

For IT, it means getting familiar with the upcoming mobile management tools (including an update to the iPhone Configuration Utility that should be available this week), learning the new user capabilities, and perhaps stepping up corporate iOS development in preparation for the iTunes-less distribution capability.

For users, it means mostly learning how the new email and related capabilities work, as well as understanding how a few of the UI changes may effect them.

For both, it means knowing how to handle a couple issues that have cropped up. First, iPhone 3G owners need to back up their devices, then restore them with iOS 4, rather than update their iPhone 3Gs, to get the new OS to work properly. Second, Gmail users whose domain is set via Google Apps and who set up Gmail to sync via Exchange ActiveSync may find that their iOS devices automatically lock up after 1 minute. This is due to the security settings used by Google for ActiveSync.

Email works more as it does on the desktop
Business users will mainly like how iOS 4 handles email. If you use Exchange, you can now  set up multiple Exhange accounts. If you're wondering why you would need multiple Exchange accounts, keep in mind that any application that uses the Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) protocol counts as an Exchange account. You could easily have a Microsoft Exchange mail account at work and an EAS-based Gmail personal account, for example.

Apple has made much of iOS 4's unified inbox, which lets you see all your emails in one list, as well as switch to specific accounts to see just their emails. The unified inbox is fine, except for a big flaw: You can't tell what account each message was sent to. If you reply to a message, it'll be sent from the account where you received it, but that's not the same as knowing upfront. And the unified inbox shows only what's in your main inbox, not what's in any subfolders, so its utility is really just to see what's new.

You also get a list of your individual inboxes and of your individual email accounts. What's the difference? The inboxes show just the contents of the main inbox folder for that account; if you want to see any folders, you need to go directly to the account. Frankly, Apple should junk the list of individual inboxes -- they're unnecessary. Going to your account by default shows you the contents of the inbox and the folders. I have five email accounts set up on my iPod Touch, so I now have to scroll to get to them, which wasn't required before. A reveal/hide control for folders would have been more sensible an approach, so your accounts would be listed just once, and you could hide or show the folders as desired.

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