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Apple is including an “app lock” feature in the new iOS 6 platform that will lock the device, allowing only one application to run. In a blog post, Apple partner Zenprise explains that app lock (also known by the less restrictive-sounding name “Guided Access”) is designed to allow users to provide their workforces with “purpose-built iOS devices.”

Fencing in Mobile Data

Zenprise provides “geo-fencing” technology that will automatically wipe the data from a mobile device if it passes through an “electronic fence” around a particular facility or area. By combining app lock with geo-fencing, Zenprise says organizations can “offer mobile devices in kiosk-mode together with perimeter-based security, data protection, and compliance.”

Zenprise gives a hypothetical example of a hospital being able to replace large mobile kiosks containing sensitive medical data with iPads, knowing that the protected health information stored on them cannot leave the premises. 

Who Gets Priority – Consumers or Corporations?

Although Zenprise describes app lock as a relatively benign feature that enhances the security of data stored on mobile devices, other industry observers are not quite so ready to call app lock a pure force for good. Commentary in Wired warns that “the halcyon days of (business iPad users) loading whatever the heck you want onto your tablet may be coming to an end.”

As the article explains, app lock allows an iPhone or iPad to only run a single predetermined application and prevent users from installing new software. In addition to potentially preventing employees from downloading game or social media apps on their corporate iOS devices, Wired says app lock will also “pave the way for a new generation of iPads that will work more like cash registers than tablets.”

According to Wired, Apple founder Steve Jobs initially thought designing products to appeal to corporations over consumers was “uncool,” but in a trend that has accelerated since his death last year, Apple is providing more and more features aimed at corporations who may buy hundreds or thousands of devices for their employees to use on the job. Wired concludes app lock is “simply mean.” Apple has not publicly commented on app lock yet.

‘Helpful’ Features Draw Skepticism

Public doubt about just how “helpful” app lock really is parallels for most iOS users the controversy about why Twitter really put recent changes to its API in place. Twitter says the new, more restrictive API is intended to prevent misuse and gain a better understanding of the API environment, as well as encourage application development activity in areas such as social CRM, social analytics and social influence ranking, while limiting certain use cases for traditional Twitter cases and syndication. However, many observers have speculated the move is really to ensure Twitter makes a profit at the expense of third-party developers.

Like Twitter, Apple will undoubtedly weather any controversy regarding app lock and continue to produce whatever product features it thinks best serve the needs of the market, whether that market consists of consumers, the enterprise or both.