Apple ramps up its enterprise push

At its Worldwide Developers Conference 2018, Apple talked made a range of announcements that should be on the radar of enterprise IT chiefs, particularly as enterprise deployment of its platforms continues to increase.

1. Enterprise-focused enhancements

The company clearly has such deployments in mind. At WWDC it introduced its own mobile device management suite, Apple Business Manager in the U.S. Designed with ease-of-use and fast set-up in mind, this is a web-based portal through which IT admins can manage devices, applications and employee permissions.

Apple also showed it understands quality of service considerations are becoming an important part of the enterprise IT story, announcing new quality of service controls for iOS devices that will prioritize business-critical network traffic.

Apple’s decision that iOS 12 will be supported on devices back to 2013’s iPhone 5s will surely be a relief to budget-conscious CIOs eager to stretch the most life cycle they can from their existing Apple deployments.

2. iOS apps on Macs from 2019

Enterprises making deep investments in customer or internal-facing iOS apps take note. In 2019 Apple will introduce Marzipan, new tools that make it much easier to build Mac versions of iOS apps – it says this will take “minimal effort”. This is because Apple is building some iOS frameworks inside the macOS and much of the heavy lifting (user interface elements, for example) are handled automatically, while enhancements can also be made using Apple’s development environment, Xcode. Apple also stressed that it has no interest in merging iOS and Mac devices.

3. ARKit 2: a big step for virtual kind

Apple also introduced new developer tools that should unlock new business and deployment opportunities for the enterprise. Along with a built-in measurement tool, AR Kit 2 now offers multi-person support and a brand-new imaging format called USDZ (developed with Pixar and supported by Adobe), which means it will be easy for your potential customers to share AR representations of your products with others. Other enhancements include better face tracking, rendering and 3D object detection – useful as retailers look to AR as a way to test, try and advertise their products. Education, product support and other verticals will likely be looking to explore this platform, now supported by hundreds of millions of active devices.

4. Macs as an AI development platform

Apple has put a lot of effort into improving Siri. New in iOS 12, Siri Shortcuts will let users create complex workflow patterns that can be initiated with a verbal request. As part of this, Apple introduced new APIs app developers can use to make sure their software is compatible with this feature – most enterprises will likely look to evolving their existing apps to support this. With a huge and dynamic platform behind it, Apple’s answer to Alexa Skills will likely see its voice assistant used for real tasks.

Apple also introduced Core ML 2 and CreateML frameworks. Built in Swift, CreateML lets developers use drag-&-drop programming tools like Xcode to build AI models. Core ML 2 lets developers integrate a wide array of machine learning model types inside apps. It also supports deep learning, and a range of commonly used learning models, such as tree ensembles. Enterprise developers looking to explore the opportunity of machine intelligence will be reassured to learn this also lets machine learning models run on the device, so data doesn’t need to be transmitted anywhere else.

What’s critical is that Apple has developed its machine learning tools so that they are fast to deploy and quick to create. It claimed the developers of a language-learning app were able to train a machine learning model using Apple’s solution in just 48-minutes, rather than the 24-hours it previously took. That’s significant, and with Google’s recent move to introduce a tool that converts TensorFlow AI models into Core ML compatible files means AI development on the Mac has now become a reality.

5. Passwords and privacy

Apple continues to protect privacy – an essential requirement, particularly in regulated industries. The next iterations of the iPhone operating systems will block tracking code in comment threads, and will make it much, much harder for marketing companies to gather and track essential data about users. That’s bad news for online marketers, but pretty good news for everyone else. Apple has also introduced restricted USB mode, which prevents the contents of iPhones being hacked via the USB port, meaning cybercriminals will find it much harder to steal valuable enterprise data when they get their hands on a lost or stolen iPhone.

Apple has made it much easier to use two-factor authentication, including automatic submission of SMS-received dual factor codes in AutoFill, and rolling out searchable passcodes, along with warnings to ensure you don’t use the same code twice inside iOS 12.

6. Health APIs, Group FaceTime and auto updates for Microsoft Office

Apple’s decision to introduce a Health Records API to developers should unlock more opportunity in the digital health sector. That’s because while limited to the U.S., Apple’s Health Records solution is encouraging health and fitness app developers towards adopting common standards, the lack of which has been a stumbling block to industry evolution in recent years.

Group FaceTime will let up to 32-participants collaborate using voice and/or video. That’s useful as FaceTime communications are highly secure but will be of limited use to mixed platform enterprises given it is only compatible with Apple’s systems.
Grouped notifications means we’ll be able to manage incoming messages much more effectively, while better notification controls mean knowledge workers become better able to handle digital distraction.

In other news: Microsoft Office is coming to the Mac App Store, it will now be possible to set iPhones and iPads to install software updates automatically and the new Screentime tool will help employees manage how they use their device.

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Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.