This Week in Tablets: The three most important iOS 7 features for business and productivity

by George Jones

September 21 2013

George is a founding editor of TabTimes, and is currently chief consultant at Hit Detection


With the release of iOS7, Apple is making a few long terms bets around security, data sharing, and performance. Here’s how.

I’m going to need about two more weeks of everyday usage before I weigh in on whether or not Apple’s iOS 7 release is a good or bad thing. It's tangibly and in some ways fundamentally different, I know that much.

My initial 20-minute reaction was that I didn’t like the color schemes and white backgrounds. But over the last two or three days, I’m finding myself having a less negative reaction than I would have expected.

I do know that I do not see this release as disastrous, or a major setback for mobile computing. iOS 7 may be different, but it’s not going to push the masses to Android.

I also know that the operating system contains a few forward-thinking features that will be more and more important for business and productivity over the next few years. What’s more, in classic Apple fashion, these features embody core philosophies that in some cases run counter to the competition.

Slight tangent before I jump into this: When I started considering the key selling features of iOS7—major visual upgrade to UI/UX, enhanced memory operations built to support evolution of processors, enhanced multi-tasking—I couldn’t help but think back to Microsoft’s release of Windows 3.0 in 1990.

Windows 3.0 was the beginning of Microsoft’s absolute domination of the 1990s. Amazingly, 23 years ago, Microsoft’s success with Windows 3.0 netted the company 4 million purchases of its new OS in the first year. Apple probably saw this many downloads of iOS 7 in the first minute of its existence.  

Okay. On with the list. The three new iOS 7 features below aren’t just the most powerful for tablet productivity, they also have some interesting long-term ramifications for business use.

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Airdrop

With Airdrop, Apple solves the problem of close-proximity file sharing without having to resort to NFC. Security concerns aside, I have no significant qualms with NFC. In fact, I’m jealous of the technology every time I pay a parking meter.

It’s not practical with tablet devices, however. For some reason, it just seems odd to touch tablets in order to transfer data.

Who am I kidding? It’s weird to touch phones to transfer data as well. That’s why no one does it.

The only downside to Airdop is that, for some reason, it’s not compatible with OS X. I expect this will come in time. As speculated by MacWorld, it’s likely that Airdop functions in a manner similar to Bluetooth 3.0 + HS—although in the case of iOS 7, it’s Bluetooth LE, which permits low power modes. (All iOS 7 devices support Bluetooth LE, or BLE.) This protocol performs a handshake between two willing Bluetooth devices, and then switches the connection to Wi-Fi for data transmission.

Jumping around a little bit here: In conjunction with mobile devices, BLE is a potential game changer for businesses because of the ultra-low power consumption of the standard. What’s more, proximity sensing allows for NFC-style communications that can transform retail environments, advertising, and more.

It’s worth noting that currently, only a handful of devices support BLE, including the iPhone 4S to current-gen iPhones as well as the 3rd and 4th generation iPads and the iPad Mini.

Fingerprint security

This one’s a no-brainer for a list like this. Being able to clear first-wave security by pressing the button I would press to turn a device on anyway is great. Being able to use my thumb to confirm my app purchases or log in to any other app or system is even better.

The savings in time alone is enough to make me smile. Barring the release of some kind of hack or exploit, the fingerprint system in place for the iPhone 5s is quite secure.

We’ll almost certainly see this feature in the new iPad(s) Apple announces in mid-October. In conjunction with the Activation lock also present in iOS7—which prevents anyone from resetting your device, and will lock it up if you report it lost—iOS takes a major leap forward in terms of security here.

(Caveat: We’re already seeing the first wave of exploits that allow you to poke holes into this security, such as the security vulnerability that allows you to quickly bypass the lockscreen in order to access photos, email, and even Twitter on a locked iPhone or iPad.)

For what it’s worth, the presence of biometric security triggers some memories for me. I remember my first IBM Thinkpad with biometric security, and how cool I thought it was. Ultimately, I found myself frustrated enough with the fingerprint swipe on that laptop that I wound up just typing my password into Windows most of the time when logging in.

True(r) multi-tasking

Multi-tasking support is a fine line. If Apple flexes its muscles too much here, users become frustrated because of reduced battery life. Not enough flexing and we’re all underwhelmed and disappointed.

I’ll argue that multi-tasking is a far more important feature for the iPad than it is for phones. Have you ever watched someone do real work on an iPad? It’s a frantic dance of keyboard use and high-speed double-tabs on the home button. The goal is to move as quickly as possible between taking in data and spitting it back out.

I’m surprised at how occasionally pokey iOS 7 multi-tasking is on my new iPad, and I expect this will improve over time. Regardless, the notion that the OS will allow the apps I use the most to automatically access data services and refresh is a boon to productivity.

(By the way, if you’re still trying to figure out how to force close apps in iOS 7: All you have to do is swipe up on a thumbnail preview of the app you want to close while in multi-task mode.)

This week’s loser: Microsoft

Last week, Apple released iWork onto all new iOS devices for free. Late this week, Google decided to make its QuickOffice productivity suite free for both Android and iOS.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is still playing coy with Office for iPad and Android tablets. On Thursday evening, while speaking at Microsoft’s Financial Analyst conference in Bellevue, Washington, Steve Ballmer either hinted at the suite coming to non-Windows platforms, or was being vague enough to cover all bases.

Either way, it may be a moot point. If Microsoft were to suddenly release Office today on the iPad and/or Android platforms, the numbers wouldn’t come near what they would have been had Microsoft done the same thing two years ago. 

Given the large number of Office users on both Windows and Mac platforms in businesses around the world, I won't say the window has closed for Microsoft to penetrate iOS and Android. But it's not as wide open as it used to be. 

This week’s winner: Opera Coast

Honestly, Apple is the real winner this week. Coverage of the release of iOS 7 was literally ubiquitous.

But because I’ve spent most of my one thousand words on Apple already, I want to point out a new tablet browser that I fell in love with instantly this week. It’s called Opera Coast, and it was built specifically for the iPad by the same crew that made the Opera browser. The clean, touch-oriented UI may make you wonder why no one has thought of this approach before. 

George is a founding editor of TabTimes, and is currently chief consultant at Hit Detection

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