Mobile Management Guide to iOS 4.1 and iPhone Configuration Utility 3.1

This week Apple released iOS 4.1 for iPhone and iPod touch. The update provided fixes for common problems, introduced FaceTime for the new fourth-generation iPod touch (which began shipping to customers this week), and introduced Apple's social gaming framework known as Game Center.

In addition to the much-anticipated iOS 4.1 update, Apple also updated iMovie for iOS with support for the new iPod touch. With much less fanfare, the company also updated its iPhone Configuration Utility (now abbreviated IPCU). Here's an outline of the key factors that will impact mobile management.

What iOS 4.1 means for consumers, mobile management

The biggest news about iOS 4.1 was Apple's attempt to correct known issues. The most well known problems include the proximity sensor on the iPhone 4 (already the subject of complaints over its external antenna), which would prevent the iPhone's touchscreen from sleeping when held to a user's ear, and significant performance problems with iOS 4 running on iPhone 3G models. Apple also offered bug fixes to Bluetooth support and its FaceTime video call feature and patched known security holes in both the OS and Safari browser.

Apple's bug fixing efforts have met with mixed results. Although some users have reported improvement with the proximity sensor issue and/or complete resolution of the problem, others maintain that the problem persists. It isn't clear exactly what the cause of the issue is or why certain users or iPhones seem to be affected while others don't. It may be that the issues is as much a hardware flaw in either the design or some models as well as a software-related issue.

When it comes to the iPhone 3G, Apple has managed to increase performance over iOS 4.0.x but performance still lags other models and the experience of iOS 3.x on the device. Lower performance should be expected relative to newer models as the iPhone 3G has both a slower processor and less onboard RAM than either of its newer counterparts. This is part of the reason that several iOS 4 features (multitasking, custom homescreen backgrounds, and native video recording in the Camera app) don't work well. However, for most day-to-day use, the experience of iOS 4.1 is noticeably improved on the iPhone 3G over the earlier revisions. While some actions and apps may be slower than they were under iOS 3, the overall feel of launching apps and switching between multiple homescreens is markedly better.

Beyond the major (and minor) bug fixes, iOS 4 brings a handful of new features: access to Apple's Ping social network has been added to the iTunes app as has support for TV show rentals through iTunes on all devices; access to Game Center on the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and on the second-, third-, and fourth-generation iPod touch; the ability to upload HD video from the iPhone 4 and fourth-generation iPod touch over Wi-Fi; and the capacity take high dynamic range (HDR) photos on the iPhone 4. It also introduces FaceTime calling on the new iPod touch.

All of these features offer improvements, though the most significant across the iOS lineup are Ping and Game Center. Overall, however, the addition of FaceTime as well as still- and video-recording on the iPod touch comprise the most significant development.

With the new iPod touch, Apple is expanding the user base for FaceTime and making the feature available to users in a low-cost device that doesn't require a contract with any particular cell carrier. Paired with a MiFi card solution and service (including Virgin Mobile's new unlimited $40/month data plan ), the iPod touch becomes a low cost iOS solution for consumers. That combination is also significant for businesses (particularly SMBs) and schools that want to invest in a low-cost mobile device with video calling capabilities either onsite or on the road.

Key iPhone Configuration Utility 3.1 updates

Alongside the update to iOS, Apple updated the iPhone Configuration Utility, which is used to create and deploy configuration and provisioning profiles. These profiles are used to pre-configure an iOS device's settings, for instance, to set up in-house applications and security certificates, or to set up security policies such as required passcode unlocking or to restrict access to some features of the operating system.

The configuration utility update is not a particularly dramatic one. It includes support for some of iOS 4/4.1 features (including restricting access to Game Center online gaming and ability to make or receive FaceTime calls). This version can only be used to create profiles for iOS 4 devices. Apple has also updated the documentation and placed it in its iOS Reference Library. The reason that this update is worth noting is that Apple updated the configuration utility and documentation right alongside iOS itself.

With iOS 4, Apple strengthened its iOS management tools with its new mobile device management (MDM) service. The company also focused on the third-party vendors that it has worked with to create a full-scale management console for iOS and other mobile platforms using that service. As I've discussed previously, this approach offers a number of advantages, including the ability to perform initial device enrollment. Mobile managers can also deploy configuration and in-house app updates over the air, along with real-time monitoring of devices.

The various management solutions all have significant benefits over the limited deployment capabilities offered by the iPhone Configuration Utility in previous iOS releases. However, for a small business or school with limited resources, or even a larger organization interested in a small iOS pilot project, some management consoles might be cost and resource prohibitive (at least initially), particularly if there are only modest management needs and those needs are limited to only the iOS platform.

That Apple is aware of this -- Apple has quietly stepped up efforts to reach the small business market with resources on its website and business specialists in its retail stores -- and is providing the same basic management features alongside its partners in iOS management, is an important point. It shows that the company understands that iOS devices are being used in organizations of all shapes and sizes and it providing a range of management and support options.

Overall, iOS 4.1 and the update of the iPhone Configuration Utility continue to illustrate the blurry line between Apple's intentions with its mobile platform. Aside from bug fixes, iOS 4.1's new features are largely consumer-oriented, yet are also part of a platform that can be used for entertainment, education, or business. Apple seems perfectly OK with dichotomy and so do a lot of iOS users.


iPhone, Apple, iOS 4, IOS, mobile management