iOS 11 is geared towards productivity like no other iOS version before it. But what’s the story behind this? Why did Apple take so long to seriously address the business and enterprise segment? What prompted it to keep iOS separate from macOS in the first place? Was it all Steve Jobs’ doing, or were there other factors that kept iOS a pure-play mobile operating system for all these years? More importantly, why is iOS 11 now breaking that trend and bringing in features ideally suited to the corporate world?

Let’s look at the evolution of iOS and see if we can answer some of these questions to any level of satisfaction. We’re not looking at each iOS version individually. Rather, we’re trying to see if we can get a collage of snapshots over the years to explain why Apple stayed away from the business and productivity segment for so long with its second-to-Android dominant operating system.

The Beginnings of iOS

This is where we see the origins of the dichotomy between mobile and desktop, as far as Apple devices are concerned. Apple could have easily used its Mac OS X brand and versioned it for the iPhone. Instead, it used iPhone OS, only changing it to iOS after the first iPad came out in 2010. But even then, iOS wasn’t Apple’s to use. Cisco Systems had to license the trademark to Apple, since its own IOS was a core operating system for network infrastructure for nearly twenty years before Apple approached them to license the trademark.

That aside, the differences began because of several UI elements and how users engaged with the hardware. iPhone was a touch device, while no macOS device has ever gone that route. That meant a different user experience, with new input types like buttons, switches, sliders, and actions like tap, swipe, pinch, reverse pinch and so on. This is called direct manipulation using multi-touch gestures, as opposed to using a keyboard and mouse with a macOS system.

The kernel for both iOS and macOS are essentially the same XNU kernel that is also used for tvOS and watchOS, but the advent of iPhone marked something far more significant – the apps ecosystem.

Since iPhone was a touch device, the army of apps that were being developed were focused on gestures and other hardware sensors like accelerometers, gyroscopes and others that are suited to mobile devices. That was the real game-changer because it pre-defined what a mobile app should be able to do.

As a result, the current 2 million or so iOS apps on the App Store are all primarily geared towards the mobile experience, leaving macOS to fend for itself. In a way, you could say that iOS sort of killed off what little motivation developers had to keep creating new Mac applications at a rapid pace.

But it was not just this divide between mobile and desktop that made iOS a little standoffish from other operating systems. It was also the company’s undeterred focus on the individual user’s experience. Apple focused on aspects like 3D Touch, Touch ID, and now, OLED panels and bezel-less displays for the upcoming iPhone 8 that we should see finally unveiled tomorrow, September 12.

In fact, everything prior to iPhone 8 and iOS 11 has been focused on user experience. That’s still the case, but now, the user is no longer the upwardly mobile youngster (in age and at heart) with hundreds of dollars to spend on a smartphone refresh every year. The focus is now clearly shifting towards the corporate employee that’s jet-setting around the world trying to get her work done while waiting for her connecting flight.

And that’s where iOS 11’s latest features come into the picture.

But before we get into the specifics, let’s look at what every iOS version between the latest one and iPhone OS 1 had in common – in other words, iPhone OS 1.x to iOS 10.3.3.

The Focus on Individual Consumers

Rather than focus on productivity as a concept, Apple only looked at it from the eyes of the thousands of developers of iOS apps. There’s no dearth of productivity apps for iOS, but we have to understand that these are on top of what’s already accepted as the Gold Standard in productivity. In other words, they are only alternatives to what already exists, not a way for iOS itself to work better with popular productivity apps for enterprise users.

To put all those things in a nutshell, iOS lacked the the ability to please your boss as well as delight your kids and your iDevice-toting peers. It did the last two very well, but when it came to business users as a group, iOS has always been far behind.

From the very first iPhone OS version, Apple has focused too much on the individual consumer rather than the business user.

And there’s a reason for that.

Steve Jobs was so obsessed with the individual user that he did not see the bigger picture. Literally, in one case. In 2013, Apple executives realized that lack of bigger screen size options for iPhone was one of their customers’ main complaints. That’s why iPhone makes bigger screen sizes today, because that’s what consumers obviously want. They don’t necessarily want a bigger device, just a bigger screen, which is why Apple is going the OLED way with the almost non-existent bezels on all three sides except the chin of the iPhone 8.

The other thing Jobs was wrong about was that iPhone truly can be a consumer device as well as a corporate one, well suited for a different family of applications that is geared towards productivity and the enterprise audience.

And that’s where iOS 11 comes into the picture with its productivity features. Granted, they’re more suited to the iPad rather than the iPhone, but it’s a great start in the right direction. And it’s a start that Apple should have made long, long ago, when it started offering screen sizes larger than 4 inches. Or even while they were at the original 3.5 inches, for that matter, because 3.5 inches was BIG when iPhone was launched.

iPhone screen sizes

But Apple failed to catch those nuances, and today it is scrambling to be relevant in the enterprise segment. iOS 11 could be a way in, but it could also be too little too late.

However, I don’t think it’s too late for Apple to start focusing on productivity as a pivot point in its mobile operating system’s evolution. With iOS 11’s new features, the iPad suddenly becomes a productivity monster fit to rival Microsoft Surface tablets.

So, what are the features that make iOS 11 such a powerhouse for iPads?

Until iOS 11, Apple has gone about promoting its devices to business users the wrong way. In fact, there’s never been any real clarity to their strategy towards this goal. Aside from promoting iPhone and its business applications to audiences of Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal, there has been little coherence in their marketing approach.

But they were just going about it the wrong way. Instead of rebranding an existing device and operating system to the enterprise segment, which was redundant in many ways, iOS 11 takes a different route, representing what Apple should have done in the first place. And that’s to bring in some real productivity capabilities right into the OS, not into thousands of applications that could theoretically replace the ones that already work for most desktop and mobile users – the Microsoft Office suite of applications being just one example.

Instead of trying to take Microsoft head on in the productivity segment the way they’ve done in the past, with iOS 11, the approach is entirely different. It brings productivity right into the OS mix like never before. That means Apple devices with iOS 11 – or, more specifically, iPads with iOS 11 – will be better able to interact with mobile versions of applications like Microsoft Office and its cloud-based cousin, Office 365.

Here are the key features that make that happen:

Multi-tasking with Split/Slide View: Multiple windows is at the core of the productivity experience. You don’t want an app switcher to help you move between different applications – you need to be able to have them sit side by side while you do your thing. This is one of the basic features that even Android has successfully brought in, but Apple is only now doing it with iOS 11.

The real power of computing comes from multi-tasking, so this is an important step towards making iOS a more productive operating system for mobile devices. Since Apple has already decided to keep iOS separate from macOS, this is the only way to go.

Drag and Drop: Any desktop user knows that this is a powerful productivity feature because it makes you more efficient, and it makes the experience a lot less mundane. A simple feature like this is perfect for the mobile format, where cut-copy-paste is not the most convenient way to move content from one place to another.

In tandem with the multi-tasking feature, the drag and drop feature provides the kind of efficiency tools that make applications like Office 365 a breeze to use. Taking content from a spreadsheet open in a split window and simply dragging it over to a PowerPoint window right next to it gives you the feeling of a desktop, but on a mobile device.

And it’s that experience that’s the real value addition here. It is the ability to manipulate content with the same kind of ease on a mobile device that a keyboard and mouse provide in a desktop setting.

I’m just using Office 365 apps as an example here, but this could just as easily refer to content being moved from the web to Photoshop, and so on.

Mac-style App Dock: This version of the app switcher is far more efficient because it gives you quick access to everything you need in a single, neat row. Whether you want to work with several pairs of apps in Split/Slide View or just prefer to have an app handy when you need it, the dock feature takes a big page out of the desktop narrative and its ability to support efficiency.

This is one feature that I personally feel could be brought into iOS a long time ago: specifically, when iPad was originally launched. It’s a far simpler way to have all the important apps at your fingertips. But I can understand the reluctance to give up valuable screen space on a mobile device to have such a feature. Not everyone would have loved it at first sight. But, now that iPads come in a variety of screen sizes going right up to almost 13 inches and bordering on a base-size MacBook screen, it makes so much sense to bring this into iOS.

Screenshot Annotations: This might not seem like such an important feature, but for someone who works with visuals or someone who collaborates with another member of a team, it is a crucial one. The ability to snap an image, add your thoughts and pass it on to another person is no less critical than the other iOS 11 features I’ve highlighted above.

In the creative industry, this is a must-have. Teams are constantly sharing documents, ideas, images and other content between members, and having the ability to quickly add a note to a piece of content can save precious time.

App Switcher with Split/Slide Apps: When you’re working on several pairs of apps side by side, it saves a lot of time if you don’t have to open up those specific pairs manually each time you need to work on them. This new feature allows you to simply move between pairs of apps that have been opened in Split or Slide views.

Come to think of it, such a productivity feature doesn’t even exist on desktops. On a PC, if you want to work with pairs of windows/apps, you’ll need to keep all of them open, which highly reduces the amount of screen space per window/app. The other option is to have multiple monitors, but there’s still no way to do this on a one-monitor desktop system.

Files App: This is a mere housekeeping feature, but it helps you be a lot more organized. Using the new Files app on iOS 11, you can keep tabs on what goes where, and you can, at a glance, see how your work is organized.

It sounds like a simple enough feature, but from a productivity perspective, it’s a tremendous value-add when you can see all your available resources and where they live.

Document Scanning: This is very obviously an enterprise-focused feature that’s coming on iOS 11. The doc scanning feature on iOS 11 is more intuitive, and you’ll find it as part of the Notes app. If you’re in the habit of scanning documents and sending them over to a colleague, you’ll find it much easier now. That’s because scanning, annotating and signing a doc have been brought under one umbrella.

How Will This Impact Apple’s Fortunes?

The knock on effect of iOS 11 will be extensive, because it does several things.

First of all, it positions the iPad as an ideal enterprise mobility tool. With a keyboard case, a stylus and iOS 11, iPad will now pack quite a punch as a productivity device. As I mentioned earlier, these new features and functions on iOS 11 will allow iPad to compete on an almost even level – but not quite – with Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablets running Windows 10.

Put another way, a regular Apple user will no longer need to contemplate owning a Surface Pro just to be able to use Microsoft’s applications. The same convenience and ease-of-use has been brought into iOS 11 for iPad. That makes a strong case for customer retention.

The second reason that iOS 11 will have a long-drawn effect on Apple’s fortunes is that, to a certain extent, it negates many of the advantages that Android has had over iOS with each of its recent iterations, foremost of which is Android 8.0 Oreo that’s coming on Google Pixel 2 and to existing Nexus and Pixel devices. later this year.

Apple needs a head start over Android this year because Samsung is still at the top of the smartphone market. And in key markets like China, Apple is already far below the likes of Huawei. Even Xiaomi, which ceded ground to its peers in 2016, has come back strong in 2017, overtaking Apple in terms of sales for the second quarter of 2017.

All of this points to a need for Apple to refresh not only its devices lineup, but also its mobile operating system that runs on the bulk of its products. iPhone sales still account for about 60% of the company’s revenues, and laying the groundwork to enter the enterprise segment in a big way is part of CEO Tim Cook’s strategy to get back on a strong growth path.

iOS 11 is not going to make all of that magically happen. It is one piece of the puzzle, albeit a critical one. There’s a lot more work to be done on future iterations of iOS 11, but Apple has done a great job of recognizing its weakness and addressing it in a bold and meaningful way.

iPhone 8 officially gets its unveiling today, September 12, and iOS 11 is probably the most critical OS release for Apple. Big things are yet to come.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Erm… you can actually have sets of side by side apps on desktop with a single monitor. Windows 10 has had multiple desktop support since release. Linux has had it for considerably longer.

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