Apple unveiled a variety of new products and features at its media event yesterday. While a veritable rainbow of iPod Touch options, or re-engineered headphones might be exciting news for some, they're irrelevant to businesses or business users.
Fear not, though. Apple also revealed some good news for business users. There are aspects of the new iPhone 5, and features in the new iOS 6 that will make iOS devices more useful and effective as mobile productivity tools.
If you already use iOS devices for business, or you're considering deploying iOS mobile devices or implementing a BYOD policy that allows users to bring their own devices to work, here are seven benefits of the new iPhone and iOS that you should be aware of:
1. Better, faster connectivity
The iPhone 4S remains the only flagship smartphone of any of the major platforms that lacks 4G. Apple introduced 4G/LTE cellular with the new iPad back in the spring, and now the iPhone 5 is also getting bumped up to LTE.
This may not be Earth-shattering news for AT&T iPhone users. The HSPA+ cellular that iOS detects as 4G delivers reasonably fast data speeds. However, I have a Verizon 3G iPhone 4S and a Verizon 4G/LTE iPad sitting in front of me. They both have the same three bars of signal, but the SpeedTest.net app reports a download speed of only 0.83Mbps on the Verizon 3G compared to 11.04Mbps on the Verizon LTE. That means that my Verizon LTE is more than 13 times faster than the 3G--and that's just sitting in my home office. I've gotten speeds approaching 30Mbps on the iPad while out and about.
It's more than just the 4G cellular, though. The new iPhone also has vastly improved Wi-Fi technology. The iPhone 5 has dual-band 802.11n which means it can take advantage of both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks. Apple claims the iPhone 5 can deliver a theoretical top speed of 150Mbps over Wi-Fi.
2. Branded, locked down iPads
Business users may not be too excited about this one, but some businesses will love it. According to a blog post from Zenprise--a mobile device management company--Apple is introducing new enterprise features in iOS 6 that will enable IT to brand and lock down iPads.
Businesses that want to employ iPads without exposing their data or networks to undue risk can basically turn the device into a one-trick pony that only runs the app designated by IT. A business could deploy iPads as mobile sales or cash register tools, dedicated kiosk consoles, or other unique purposes where it makes sense to prevent users from downloading and playing Angry Birds. IT can also assign an image--like a company or product logo--as the background of the iPad, and lock it to prevent anyone from changing it.
3. New maps and navigation
Road warriors might appreciate the new mapping and navigation features of iOS 6. The current iOS has a Maps app already, but it doesn't provide voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation. There are other apps available that do that--like Garmin StreetPilot--but there's no way to designate a third-party app as the default mapping or navigation app, and there's no way to integrate a third-party maps app with Siri.
On top of having cool 3D maps and a cool fly-by feature, the new Maps app will allow users to simply ask Siri to find the nearest gas station or coffee shop. Rather than pulling up navigation directions on a map that you have to actually look at and manually step through each direction, Siri will guide you there, turn-by-turn.
When Apple initially introduced iOS 6 and developers started working with the early beta release the mapping feature got mixed reviews. However, the demonstration Apple showed at the iPhone 5 unveiling seemed much more polished and impressive. We'll have to see how the new Apple maps compare in the real world when iOS 6 comes out next week.
4. FaceTime over cellular networks
FaceTime is great. Many traveling workers use it to keep in touch with spouses, or chat with the kids and tell them goodnight before they head off to bed while they're out of town. It can also be a simple and useful tool for impromptu video conference calls with other iOS or Mac OS X users.
The major downside to FaceTime has been that it only works over Wi-Fi connections, which greatly limits when and where it can actually be used. With iOS 6, users will be able to connect and chat over FaceTime anywhere they can connect with either Wi-Fi or over the cellular network.
This is another feature that will appeal primarily to the travelers. Passbook is a central repository for store loyalty cards, rewards cards, movie or event tickets, airline boarding passes and more. Passbook can replace a wide variety of cards and printouts, and greatly simplify managing and finding them when you need them.
One of the coolest things about Passbook is that it's time and location aware. It would be nice enough to have your movie tickets or airline boarding passes stored in Passbook where you can easily find them, but Passbook also actually recognizes when you've arrived at the theater or airport and can automatically pop up the necessary "paperwork".
6. Improved Mail app
Business users will appreciate two new features of the iOS 6 Mail app--VIP and Flagged. Contacts can be designated as VIP, and any messages from them will be uniquely flagged in the main Inbox, as well as accessible in a separate VIP folder. The VIP feature should make it much easier to make sure you don't miss important emails from your boss, spouse, co-workers, or key customers.
The Flagged feature allows you to mark received messages as "flagged" so they're easier to find and address. Items marked as Flagged appear in a separate Flagged smart mailbox, so you can quickly and easily find them again without having to scroll through the entire Inbox.
7. Do Not Disturb and SMS replies to incoming calls
If you're in an important meeting, or trying to sleep at night you don't want your iPhone buzzing or playing annoying noises. The Do Not Disturb feature lets you block incoming calls and notifications for a designated period of time. Alerts and notifications are queued up and delivered once the Do Not Disturb period expires. There's also an option to allow calls from designated people through even when Do Not Disturb is activated, so you can eliminate frivolous calls while making sure you don't miss a call from your boss or spouse.
If you are in a meeting, and you get an incoming call, you may want to respond without answering it. iOS 6 has a new Reply with Message feature that allows you to send the call to voicemail, but also sends a text message to the caller so they at least know that you're aware they called, and that you'll contact them later. Alternately, you can tap the Remind Me Later option which will alert you an hour later or when you leave your current location to remind you to return the call.
These are just some of the interesting features of iOS 6 and/or the iPhone 5. There's also tighter Facebook integration, improvements to PhotoStream, and more. But, these are the features that businesses and business users should consider when deciding whether or not to deploy iPhones and iPads in the workplace, or if it's worthwhile to upgrade existing iPhones or other smartphones to the new iPhone 5.