WWDC Preview: iPhone 3.0 hopes from an IT pro

As we are in the final run-up to the 2009 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), it is again time to take a look at what IT managers and developers can expect from next week’s event.

My colleague Dan Moren recently noted the public features in iPhone 3.0 OS, and that reminded me that there were quite a few items in the Apple special event for the iPhone 3.0 OS that were presented near the end.

Since quite a few of these are near and dear to IT’s heart, I thought this would be a good time to talk about a few of them. It’s worth noting that each of these items was on that slide I mentioned, but I’m not sure at this point how Apple plans to implement them, so this is where I use my imagination a bit.

LDAP

LDAP is support is important for anyone in an LDAP environment, (Apple’s Open Directory, Microsoft’s Active Directory, OpenLDAP, Novell’s eDirectory, etc.), as it allows iPhone users to access contact info that is stored in the company directory, rather than relying on their own contacts. This would allow iPhone users to not have to use third party software, (like LDAPeople) or have to copy a company’s global address list to their iPhone to have things like email addresses and phone numbers for coworkers on the device.

EAS Policies

EAS, or Exchange ActiveSync policy support could make using an iPhone in a corporate environment much easier. EAS policies help system administrators better handle remote wiping of devices and adding password protection to the device. It can also help IT manage polices like disabling the phone, disabling Wi-Fi/Bluetooth access and other functions. If you’re someone who works in IT for a company that deals with sensitive data — medical and financial records, for example — you have to be able to lock down devices. EAS policies are a great way to do this.

VPN on Demand

This can mean a lot of things, so my presmption is that Apple will introduce a method to connect your iPhone to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that you wouldn’t normally connect to. This way you don’t have manually configure VPN settings — that the VPN connection will happen automatically when you want to bring up a protected site or server. If Apple has a way to do this, it’ll make a lot of IT people happy.

Create Meeting Invites

You know, some days, I wonder about Apple. Like this one: they introduce networked calendaring via EAS in the iPhone OS 2.0, but then they don’t give you the ability to create meetings. That’s annoying. So in the iPhone 3.0 OS, you can now create meetings. I guess they had to do this, since they’re introducing CalDAV support as well. Support for multiple networked calendaring protocols and the inability to create meetings from the iPhone would be astoundingly dumb. So, I’m glad to see Apple avoided that. Finally. The only question is, what took so long?

Call Logs

Another thing that is pretty much a business-only need. For anyone in a profession where phone calls are billable hours, call logs are critical to your life, and (again, assuming that my interpretation of two words are correct) the addition of call logging in the iPhone will make it a lot more useful to those folks who need them, especially the legal world.

OTA/Encrypted Profiles

While Apple’s iPhone Configuration Utility is a decent first start, it has issues. For example, while I can e-mail the configuration file to a device, there is still a significant amount of work to be done on the device to enable that profile, and once installed, the profile info is not protected terribly well. Let’s assume for the moment that this update allows a sysadmin to push profile data out over the air without any kind of e-mail intermediary, and then encrypts that data on the iPhone. System administrators who have to provision hundreds or even thousands of devices will be able to take another look at the iPhone if this comes to pass.

Other

Quite frankly, if I’m right about these six, I’ll be a happy scooter. I love my iPhone, I use it constantly, but there are aspects of managing them, and using them in a corporate/business environment that make me want to throw the thing into traffic at times. If Apple can make improvements on the back end like with iPhone Configuration Utility, then a lot of places that couldn’t use iPhones, or were reluctant to, will have solid reason to re-evaluate their stances.

[John C. Welch is a senior systems administrator for The Zimmerman Agency, and a long-time Mac IT pundit.]

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