For many years, your day job is not where you have the best technology. As developers, we are somewhat of an anomaly here, but for your average knowledge worker, this is true. They usually have a locked down PC running an old version of Windows and a REALLY old version of IE. If you are lucky, you might get a rather large and clunky laptop that screams "Hey Everyone! This is my work computer"!!. No webcam, no Bluetooth, no backlit keyboard. This is a gross generalization and of course does not describe every situation, but enterprises are increasingly cost conscious and flashy technology isn't always a luxury that makes it past the year end budgeting committee.
That's why it's absolutely fascinating to see the iPad becoming a key piece of technology for many companies. The iPad is on the polar opposite end of the boring and dumbed down standard issue computing setup. Furthermore, it appears that the iPad is currently smoking other tablets in terms of enterprise adoption. Cult Of Mac reports that 84% of companies planning to deploy tablets are planning on iPad's. That's a shockingly high number.
That reminds me of another technology company that has quite a grip on the world of corporate computing.
And this is a truly different direction for Apple who has been seen as the artist / creative’s computer of choice for many years. They even played that up in their famous "I'm a Mac" ads where they have a trendy Justin Long face off against an incredibly stereotypical business type who represents the PC because he's really boring and quite clueless.
This is my personal fave.
But as Apple took those shots at Microsoft and we all laughed, Microsoft continued to control enterprise computing on a level that Apple could make fun of, but couldn't even get close to touching. I suppose you can poke fun at what you can't have if it makes you feel better.
The statistics seem to say so and Apple knows it.
They have a site that has - wait for it - CASE STUDIES. Actual stories about how companies have successfully deployed the iPad and how it has revolutionized aspects of the way they not only conduct their business, but the value they can provide to the customer as well as their own employees. Their list boasts United Airlines, GE, Hyatt Hotels and even a Police Department.
This is a shift if we have ever seen one. This presents a very interesting landscape for the adopting enterprise to navigate..
One of the things that has always been appreciated about Windows is the ability to lock it down and suck all the fun out of the experience in the hopes that users are freed up to concentrate on their work and not a new high score on Mine Sweeper. I remember when IT was removing Solitaire from everyone's default Windows installation so that they would work instead of playing cards all day.
And now we are going to give them an iPad? iPad's are quite possibly the most distracting devices EVAR.
But it looks like Apple has ensured that we can cripple the iPad as well. iPad's have the concept of profiles that you can configure, and it's a fairly robust set of restrictions that you can then roll out with your iPad deployment. You can essentially turn it into a giant clock if you want to. They key here is that you have to purchase or build an MDM (Mobile Device Management) server. There are other servers as well, but you are looking at purchasing a mobile device cop so that you can properly manage the devices. And that's just iOS devices.
To the right is a screenshot from Apple's MDM Document showing some of what is possible just in terms of locking things down. And much more than this is possible if you are so inclined.
Source: Apple MDM Document
Clearly though, the iPad is shifting the paradigm inside of big business. We're realizing that tablets and mobile devices are a critical part of doing business today. Many companies have completely blurred the line between personal and corporate computing by allowing users to purchase their own devices and then connect them to the company email system. This is a win-win because it can save the company money on devices and contracts while allowing the employee to use the device of their choice. But this doesn't come without security concerns. Can a device be effectively wiped remotely in the event that an employee turns rogue or you are kindly relieved of your device by a strange who needs it more than you? What is the encryption on the devices? Is this compliant with all audits?
App stores and apps are all the rage and they are a terrific central market for all of your application needs, but what happens when you want to write an application that should only be used internally? How do you allow certain users access and deny others?
If you're all in and you go with the MDM Server, it's no problem. You can completely control what goes on the devices and what doesn't. Including internal business applications.
They key here is that you have to be all in to really fully get the same level of control and security that you would have over your standard PC. What's the cost of being all in? In my research, I couldn't find out. I did find some other 3rd party tools like Casper Suite which is advertised for iOS 4 - 1 release behind now.
With the cost being prohibitive for some customers who want to leverage mobile devices but can't really bite off the entire chunk of Apple's deployment strategy, web applications are continuing to look stellar.
Why? Because that's something you can still control and there isn't much additional work. Make the application available only over the VPN and allow the devices on your network. Use your internal enterprise credential store (read Active Directory) to authenticate users via the mobile web application. Once your devices are on the VPN, you can even lock your application down by IP Address.
No need to deploy to an app store. No need to purchase expensive management software.
Clearly, Apple has ambitions for the enterprise that are completely on par with their friends up in Redmond. Buy our devices, buy our management server and you are completely covered. You are then also inseparably tied to not just iOS, but Apple as well.
Has Apple's enterprise domination already begun?
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Burke Holland is a web developer living in Nashville, TN and was the Director of Developer Relations at Progress. He enjoys working with and meeting developers who are building mobile apps with jQuery / HTML5 and loves to hack on social API's. Burke worked for Progress as a Developer Advocate focusing on Kendo UI.