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Apple iOS update falls short for UC apps

The new Apple iOS update removes many, but not all, of the limitations that have hindered the use of mobile UC apps on the iPhone.

Apple's latest iPhone operating system is an improved, but incomplete, platform for mobile UC apps.

Apple's launch last week of iOS 10 made the smartphone's native dialer accessible to unified communications application developers for the first time. Unfortunately for UC vendors, the latest Apple iOS update does not go far enough in removing the limitations that have curbed the use of their apps on the iPhone.

"It looks like we'll have to wait a little longer," Michael Finneran, analyst at dBrn Associates, based in Hewlett Neck, N.Y., said in a blog post.

One remaining hurdle to widespread adoption of UC apps on the iPhone is having to make outbound calls from the app instead of the native dialer, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. Also, the Apple iOS update does not provide access to the iPhone messaging app -- the preferred texting mechanism for users -- and is not letting developers route calls over Wi-Fi unless the number is in the enterprise directory.

While the restrictions may seem small, they, along with others, are the reason why mobile UC apps have failed to gain traction on the iPhone, the most popular mobile device in U.S. enterprises, according to dBrn.

"Our research continues to show little interest in mobile UC clients because of the limitations," Lazar said.

The Apple iOS update shows the vendor starting to remove restrictions through the CallKit API that accompanies the OS. Apps built with the technology let iPhone users answer voice over IP calls when the phone is locked, instead of having to unlock the device and launch the UC app, Lazar said. VoIP calls are not automatically placed on hold when a cellular call is received, however.

Also, iPhone users can use the Siri personal assistant to place VoIP calls or launch them from the device's contact list. Calls are automatically included in the recent and favorites tabs on the iPhone.

Cisco moves quickly with Spark on Apple iOS update

Cisco, which has had a technology partnership with Apple since last year, has released an iPhone version of its Spark collaboration application that uses the features made available through the CallKit API.

Cisco, however, has not released an iOS 10 version of Jabber, the company's voice, video and instant messaging (IM) application. Finneran said Cisco erred in skipping Jabber, which has a much larger customer base.

Jabber is the most popular client for the IM and Presence server that Cisco customers attach to the vendor's Unified Communications Manager (UCM), which is a call-control platform for enterprises that want a complete UC package.

Millions of Cisco UCM users could benefit from a CallKit-enabled Jabber, while "there's almost nobody using Spark," Finneran said.

Also, UCM provides Jabber with access to the public telephone network. Adding that capability to Spark requires hiring a Cisco partner, such as IntelePeer, or deploying the Spark calling service  on a Cisco UC system, Finneran said.

Regarding adoption, Spark trails the most popular team chat application, Slack. A recent study of 40 end-user organizations found that of the 33% using a chat app, nearly 70% had Slack and 30% Spark, Nemertes Research reported.

Next Steps

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What to consider when deploying UC mobile apps

Taking advantage of mobile UC on the wireless LAN

Dig Deeper on Mobile Unified Communications Applications