While iPhone aficionados may have to wait three to four more weeks to get their hands on the new iPhone 5, Apple officially released it latest mobile operating system, iOS 6, today. And that meant federal IT executives had yet another new mobile issue to contend with as they began in earnest to evaluate how the new operating system, which boasts 200 enhancements, might impact the growing use of Apple devices across the federal government.
“I think it’s safe to say that these continually improving and expanding features are a key reason why government workers find consumer mobile devices in general – and iOS devices in particular – so compelling for use in accomplishing their missions,” said Dr. Rick Holgate, assistant director for science and technology and chief information officer for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF).
For Holgate, who also co-chairs the federal government’s Federal Mobility Strategy Task Force, Apple’s new operating system, like other system upgrades, presents a new set of opportunities, as well as operating issues that need to be assessed not only at the enterprise level, but across the federal government.
According to the White House’s Digital Government Strategy, released May 23, the federal government spends approximately $1.2 billion annually for wireless services and mobile devices for approximately 1.5 million active accounts. The sheer number of devices, and the diversity of applications they use, is one reason why federal IT officials, working with the General Services Administration, are in the process of establishing a government-wide mobile device management platform by next May.
But iOS 6 also offers a number of promising new or enhanced capabilities for mobile federal workers as well.
“We haven’t done an exhaustive review of all the features, but with the exception of digital vouchers, which probably run afoul of policy and security concerns, are all valid areas we’ll be exploring,” Holgate said.
“The other factor with new OS releases is that we’ll need to ensure that our mobile device management software is ready to manage all the new configuration/service options before we roll out the new OS,” he said.
Joeseph Klimavicz, chief information officer for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is one of the federal government’s more aggressive adopters of Apple’s mobile operating system. He has been weighing the potential impact of the iOS at NOAA since details about it started becoming available when it was introduced to developers in June.
“We do not anticipate any significant changes,” he told Breaking Gov. “As with any new or enhanced technology, we intend to evaluate the capabilities the new iPhones and iOS may bring to our organization.”
“Any tool or technology that can make our employees be more productive in meeting mission requirements and enhance the services and products we deliver to our organization and the public we serve,” NOAA will look at, he said.
While Klimavicz sees the consumerization of IT in the workplace as a positive development, he, like most federal CIO’s, is also mindful that with each new iteration of mobile devices and operating systems comes a new wave of mobile device management (MDM) issues and renewed attention toward the government’s evolving Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies.
“We are pursuing an enterprise approach to establishing a robust and highly scalable MDM architecture,” Klimavicz said via email. “We are initially focusing on Government-provided mobile devices to ensure we have a manageable risk footprint,” he said.
“In the future we intend to review all options for a BYOD program consistent with federal guidelines and initiatives. Our MDM solution will be hardware and operating system ‘neutral’ so we can scale it to accommodate a variety of mobile platforms,” he said.
In the near term, the new operating system is expected to deliver a number of new enhancements with a minimum of disruptions for Apple users — in large part because iOS 6 is compatible with iPhone’s 3GS, 4, and 4S models, the iPad2 and the new iPad, with the 4th and 5th generations of the iPod touch.
Tom Suder, president and founder of Mobilegov, which specializes in mobile developments in government, foresees services such Facetime chat on higher volume 4G broadband “will be a potentially a great feature. The only way Facetime chat will work with current iPhones and tablets is if you have a wi-fi connection,” he said.
“The issue with 4G is that for applications like video, and others that consume a ton of bandwidth, will be very costly!” he added.
Among other enhanced features on iOS 6, according to Apple’s website, that are expected to be of interest to federal employees:
- iOS 6 makes it easier for people with vision, hearing, learning, and mobility disabilities to get the most from their iOS devices. VoiceOver, a screen reader for blind and low-vision users, is now integrated with Maps, AssistiveTouch, and Zoom. And Apple says it is working with top manufacturers to introduce Made for iPhone hearing aids that will deliver a power-efficient, high-quality digital audio experience.
- iOS 6 also improves web browsing. Using iCloud, users reading web pages on one device can pick up where they left off, on whatever device is handy. Safari now saves web pages – not just links – in a users’ reading lists, so they users can read pages even when not connected to the Internet.
- Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled information valet, now understands more languages and works in more countries, which will come as good news to many federal employees stationed overseas. And it does a better job retrieving information such as the latest sports scores and statistics.
Other changes may come as mixed news.
Apple has dumped Google Maps, replacing it with Apples own system-level mapping resource. Apple Maps offers an impressive 3D mode with flyover effects and turn-by-turn voice-guided directions for selected markets, a service that will be familiar to Android users. However, as one reviewer at TechCrunch, also owned by AOL, noted, Apple Maps “doesn’t feel nearly as complete as Google Maps” and lacks “built-in transit directions, opting instead to use third-party folks to take care of that.”
Another new feature, Passbook, will likely be a hit with consumers, but as ATF’s Holgate notes, will likely require special scrutiny for use by federal employees. The new service makes it easy to use your iPhone to electronically check in for a flight, get into a movie, or redeem a coupon.
Readers: Tell us what you like and don’t like about the new iOS 6 operating system in the workplace, using the comment box below.