Between WWDC 2021 and the upcoming WWDC 2022, Apple has made significant changes that affect the business community. It is worth looking back at what has changed and what moving forward might mean.

declarative management

One of the biggest changes dates back to last year's conference. Declarative management is the most significant change to Apple's MDM (mobile device management) architecture since its debut in 2010.

The benefit of declarative management is that it moves much of the policy management to the devices themselves, rather than having configuration profiles on each device that require it to connect to an MDM service and report its status. Declarative management allows the devices themselves to track their compliance against the detailed set of declarations. Only when they are not compliant or when new declarations are received, the devices must be connected. Thus, the devices can manage their state without the need for constant or repeated connections.

This is a big deal, even though many of the configuration options are extremely similar to MDM capabilities. Reduces network congestion and response time on the device. As Apple and other MDM providers transition to fully cloud-based solutions, these enhancements deliver significant savings in bandwidth and user satisfaction.

It is clear that declarative management is the future of managing all Apple devices in an organization and that the legacy MDM framework is obsolete.

It's easy to imagine that this framework will end up being outdated and unsupported. This has consequences because older operating systems (iPadOS, macOS, and tvOS) that cannot run the appropriate versions that support declarations will eventually need to be replaced. Given Apple's efforts to support older devices with current software, this may not be an immediate concern. But IT administrators need to keep this in mind.

Apple Business Essentials

Last November, Apple launched Apple Business Essentials, a cloud-based MDM service for small and medium-sized businesses.

This puts Apple in an interesting position. For 12 years, the company allowed third-party vendors to offer enterprise MDM solutions instead of offering them itself. Apple now competes with these MDM providers.

It also enables Apple to leverage iCloud and managed Apple devices for users to create a collaboration platform in the mold of Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace.

Apple Business Administrator / Apple School Administrator

These solutions are an integral part of Apple device management. As with Apple Business Essentials, Apple has moved much of the procurement process to the cloud with a tool that integrates with third-party authentication and identity platforms (think Azure AD) and/or Managed Apple IDs. Although these platforms have existed before, the focus on the cloud is significant.

Unlisted apps

Another surprising change that Apple has implemented in recent months is support for apps that are not listed. Apps not listed are downloaded through the iOS or macOS app stores, but aren't visible when you browse or search the app stores. The only way to access is through a link provided by IT services.

It seems like a bit of an odd change, but it allows organizations to deploy apps without needing to rely on MDM to provision the apps. This fits well with Apple Business Essentials and organizations that don't want to fully embrace MDM solutions. It also works well for organizations that rely on outside consultants/contractors and need to deploy internal business applications, but don't want to enroll their personal devices.

The death of macOS Server

I wrote about the end of macOS Server and how it had been on the chopping block for years before Apple's decision to retire it this spring. In the end, only a few services continued to work on macOS Server.

This move aligns with the strategies outlined above: moving device provisioning and management to the cloud instead of using an on-premises solution. Moving forward with Business Essentials and Business Manager as the new keys to Apple device management, this was a completely predictable transition.

Where do things go next?

With so much happening on the business front in the last 12 months, I don't expect to see any major business changes across Apple's various platforms. I expect most of the flow from WWDC Enterprise will focus on clarifying how things will work in this MDM cloud reality.

There are likely to be improvements in things like declarative management, user-based enrollment, and Managed Apple IDs, but I don't expect any paradigm-shifting announcements, sessions, or labs.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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