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Version 4 now can encrypt all e-mail and attachments, unlocking them with a user-entered pin code. This "sandboxing" will protect e-mail even if a lost or stolen smartphone is accessed. Among the 1,500 new APIs Apple has packed into the firmware, due for release this summer, are those for developers to encrypt data inside their applications.
Enterprises also will be able to wirelessly distribute an app from their own servers, according to Apple. But executives said users won't be able to distribute other apps outside of Apple's App Store. "Apps have to be code-signed via enterprise distribution," according to Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iPhone software.
Jack Gold, principal of J. Gold Associates, a technology research and consulting firm, pointed out that this will enable companies to upload and update apps from corporate systems without going through iTunes. "This is a big deal. You no longer have to 'side-load' [these] devices through a PC," he says.
The new OS version will also support "mobile device management" but Apple didn't describe how that would be done. "The new management APIs sound like a major upgrade," says Gold.
Apple lacks the systems and device management server applications offered for enterprise customers by Microsoft and Research in Motion. Through its support for Microsoft Enterprise ActiveSync, however, iPhone OS devices can make use of management and security features offered by Microsoft Exchange Server.
Enterprise users will likely also appreciate another main new feature: the unified in-box. IPhone users can have multiple e-mail accounts, all showing up in one in-box. Version 4 will allow organization of e-mail threads with visual indicators; and you can open attachments with a fingertap.
The updated firmware will be available to all iPhones and iPod Touches, but only the latest models, the iPhone 3GS and third-generation iPod Touch, will have the hardware to support some of the more advanced features, such as multi-tasking. Users of the older devices can get the new software this summer and use many but not all of the new features.
Programmers can immediately access a "developer preview" of the new version at developer.apple.com.
Other key new elements in 4.0 are:
* Addition of "folders" into which groups of applications can be placed.
* iBooks, an electronic book purchase and download service, apparently identical to that offered on the new iPad.
* An online "Game Center" similar to Microsoft's Xbox Live community.
* A platform that will let advertisers and software developers embed a range of multimedia ads directly into an iPhone 4 application.