Apple is working more closely with ISVs and EMM vendors. Great, but what are they actually doing?

Over the last several weeks we've heard a few times that Apple is working closely on mobile app management with a number of ISVs and EMM vendors, including AirWatch and MobileIron. What are they actually up to?

Over the last several weeks we’ve heard a few times that Apple is working closely on mobile app management with a number of ISVs and EMM vendors, including AirWatch and MobileIron.

What are they actually up to? We don’t have many details yet, but by taking a look at what the EMM vendors have said so far and comparing that to existing Apple EMM technologies, we can make an educated guess at what the effort is all about.

What do we know?

The first mention of this came back in April on Apple’s Q2 earnings call. Tim Cook mentioned that they are “working closely with more than two dozen other leading business software and solution providers including Box, Docusign, Microstrategy, Revel, and ServiceMax to bring a broad range of innovative mobile solutions to more customers on iPad.”

In May, MobileIron announced an effort called MobileIron OneTouch. The OneTouch website mentions that “IT can quickly deploy and secure iOS apps as a bundle instead of one-by-one,” and that “provisioning, configuration, and authentication are automated.” MobileIron has also mentioned working with Apple and ISV partners.

In June VMware said that it is “furthering its commitment to Apple and the iOS platform with the development of application configuration templates and vertical solutions, in industries like healthcare, airlines, education and others. This will provide users a ‘single-touch’ configured solution, for a wide variety of apps, and facilitate faster on-boarding of mobile devices in the enterprise.”

What’s this pointing to?

These announcements clearly refer to a few specific Apple technologies:

One of the key concepts is what’s known as managed app configuration. Managed app configuration uses MDM to push libraries to managed apps; and feedback can also be relayed back to MDM servers. This makes it possible to automatically configure apps instead of having users do it manually. Apps must be specially-developed and managed with MDM to take advantage of this feature.

Managed app configuration is a central part of the AirWatch-sponsored ACE (App Configuration for Enterprise) program, and MobileIron confirmed that OneTouch will take advantage of managed app configuration, too.

The other key technologies here are the Apple Device Enrollment Program and the Volume Purchase Program. These are getting more comprehensive every year—you can read about improvements that Apple made in 2014 and in 2015.

So what does this mean?

So Apple, the EMM vendors, and ISVs are getting together to encourage the use of managed app configuration, and—we can safely infer—the Device Enrollment Program and Volume Purchase Program, too.

They could have a few more things up their sleeves (the vendors I spoke to weren’t able to say much else at this point), but for right now all of these things map directly to extended enterprise use cases.

By extended enterprise, I mean users and devices that are generally outside the office—field workers, mobile devices that replace embedded devices, kiosks, retail, etc. While many office workers can get a pretty decent mobile experience with just email and a small handful of general apps, the extended enterprise is going to be a huge area for new mobile efforts.

In particular, these efforts also map to corporate-liable devices. The Device Enrollment Program is meant to keep iOS devices from walking out the door, lock them down, and automate as much of the configuration as possible. (It still takes a lot of manual effort to deploy a fleet of devices, but it’s getting there.)

Since managed app configuration requires MDM enrollment, that also points to enterprise devices. Of course using MDM for BYOD is quite common (though not a completely settled issue), but there are plenty of situations where IT either cannot or wouldn’t want to enroll a device in MDM. This includes the extended enterprise use cases, too—for example partners and contractors where you just want to give them a free-standing app, not enroll their whole device.

Even though managed app configuration isn’t for everyone, it will still be a big advantage for those that can use it. The other good thing is that it truly is an open standard—even EMMs that aren’t working as closely with Apple can still take advantage of it.

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I'm sure I am not alone in hoping my users will soon be able to open our application catalog and click one button to install ALL of the Office 365 Apps at once instead of individually.