Apple, the iPhone, and the enterprise: What does the future hold?

Apple, the iPhone, and the enterprise: What does the future hold?

Summary: The rules of mobility market are changing, so does that mean it's time to rethink the relationship between Apple and the enterprise?


The launch of the iPhone and iPad coincided with, and perhaps even initiated, the bring your own device trend. Apple's smartphones, and then its tablets, flooded into the office environment, and the IT department could do little to stem that tide.

According to figures from analysts IDC, around 31 million iPhones were sold directly to business last year, 37 million to workers (and 79 million to consumers). There's no doubt the business handset market is small, but it's still an important one to Apple.

iPhones and iPads became business favorites because of their popularity as consumer devices and CIOs had little alternative but to accept the situation.

That means, perhaps unexpectedly, Apple has managed to sell its hardware to enterprise without talking very much to the people who used to make the buying decisions: the CIO and the IT department. From a certain point of view, Apple's dominance of enterprise mobility is accidental, or at least, a mere side effect of its consumer success.

That's both a strength, and a weakness. It's a strength, because it means Apple can sell to businesses but doesn't really have to care too deeply about what the CIO wants, and thus feels no obligation to support turgid enterprise capabilities at the expense of hip consumer flourishes.

But it's also a weakness because it means that a big chunk of Apple's grip on the enterprise is dependent on the whims of consumers, which is too fickle a base.

How deeply entrenched is Apple in the enterprise really? It's something that we're recently explored in ZDNet's Great Debate, and it's an issue that may become more pressing over the next year or two.

Six years is a long time in technology, and that's how long since the original iPhone was unveiled. Admittedly it has taken most of those six years but Apple's rivals have finally woken up to the threat of the iPhone, and caught up too, finally delivering high-end smartphones that people might actually want to use.

Getting workers to fall in love with the iPhone was Apple's route into the enterprise, but Apple needs to talk to the CIO if it wants to stay there. And it could be that if the consumer cachet of the iPhone begins to fade, Apple will want to woo the CIO some more, especially is there's something of a backlash against BYOD and management start to take a stronger line on the types of handsets that are allowed to access business systems.

Apple needs to make friends with the IT department and give them more tools and more support, especially around cost, to make Apple's devices part of the beating heart of their business.

Apple has a good story for enterprise, it just needs to tell it more, and break down some of the negative perception that has grown up around it. As one tech chief told me last year, you shouldn't underestimate the level of frustration tech professionals have with some of Apple's integration with the enterprise: the feeling Apple is hard to work with is something that Apple's rivals will be hoping to exploit over the next year.

Microsoft, don't forget, already has a two big supporters in the enterprise: the CIO and the IT department. IT departments like the idea of a set of technologies that can integrate with their existing systems, that they have the skills to support and that their users will understand: this translates into a ready market for Windows 8 tablets and laptops, and potentially for Windows Phone devices too.

While mobility is where all the excitement and most of the money is, Microsoft's decades-long domination of the enterprise desktop means that it still has huge momentum when it comes to PCs and tablets, even if its execution around the latter has been poor until now.

Some might argue that Microsoft's execution still needs a bit of work — Surface, for example, hasn't been an enormous hit so far, but could turn into a grower. And if Surface finds its feet and consumers fall in love with some of Nokia's high-end devices, things could look very different very quickly in the enterprise.

Microsoft's not-so-secret weapon here is Office. Like it or not, most businesses, whether they like it or not, are built on Office. That means if your devices (like the iPad) don't support Office, you can't dominate the enterprise — or, at least, not until Office stops being the dominant productivity tool.

That's why I'm not expecting to see Office for iPad any time soon, even if support for the iPhone has just be announced.

And, of course, it's not just Microsoft that is breathing down Apple's neck here.

Samsung wants to woo enterprise buyers and is adding CIO-friendly components such as its Knox security software to the Galaxy S4.

Buying smartphones and tablets isn't like buying an accounting system — it's a far more fast-moving and fluid market, which means that today's hero could be tomorrow's nobody. But if a backlash against BYOD might make the CIOs hand stronger, not weaker, vendors need to have deep relationships with business.

All of this makes the enterprise mobility space far more exciting than it has been for years, as much will depend on how the next crop of flagship handsets from are received by consumers — and how well the companies that make them play with businesses.

Topics: Mobility, Apple, iPhone, iPad, Microsoft Surface, Windows Phone

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  • Everyone talks as if securing the enterprise market

    is the holy grail of technology. Well, Microsoft has a lock on Enterprise, and Apple has a lock on consumer. Which company is more profitable? The need to be a success in the enterprise market is overstated.
    • Enterprise

      Probably because a lot of people on here will work in Enterprise I.T....?

      So maybe that's why the author thought to write this article. Nothing to do with profit.
      Enterprise I.T. is what we care about, because it's our jobs. Why have you turned it to be about profit?
      • It's about business needs

        It also means that when we talk about enterprise IT, it does not automatically mean Microsoft. After all, the IT exists there to server the business goals, that for almost no business is related to computers.
        • bus'n needs?

          Good luck trying to run your business these days without a computer or some other networked calculating device.
      • Because without profit, you don't earn a paycheck

        And without profit, your vendor doesn't stay in business.
    • Which market?

      From the numbers at the beginning of the article, Apple is doing pretty well in BOTH markets, and turning great profits at the same time. Sooner or later, companies like Samsung are going to figure out that offering 100 different models of smartphone with different features, and different OS versions just doesn't appeal to corporate customers. Meanwhile, Apple profits.
      • Choice is good

        The market proved Henry Ford wrong when he stated consumers can have their car any color they like as long at it is black.

        It doesn't matter if Samsung offers 100 or 1000 different models -- most IT departments are clever enough to select only the devices their infrastructure is designed to support. From a support perspective, the operating system works the same across all models, all manufacturerers. The features that differentiate one for from another are rarely corporate considerations but might be important for a given user. Choice is good; knowing what you want and then find out and obtain the device that meets your needs is good, non-lemming behavior.
    • What about Linux?

      Microsoft has a lock on the Enterprise? Apple has a lock on the consumer? What about all those Linux machines Google and Facebook and Amazon and all the stock exchanges and all the Fortune 500 companies run? What about all those Android (Linux) phones and tablets? What about all those routers and switches and printers, they're not running windows. Linux grows like weeds, and why not? My take on it is, Linux dominates as I write this, and it's market share will continue to grow. I think IT departments are going to shrink too as Google takes over their service.
      • For every back end server there are one hundred

        desktop PCs. Deal with it.
  • Trojan horse

    Executives turned out to be Apple's Trojan horse. When a VIP brings his iPad to the office and insists he wants to use it to read his e-mail, you don't tell him it's unsupported. You start shopping for active-sync clients that'll pull his mail from your exchange servers.

    The follow-up, however, is up to Apple. If Apple wants to continue and expand its presence in the enterprise it has to provide tools to allow IT departments to manage those devices (centrally enforce password policies, remotely wipe lost machines, etc). All evidence is that Apple is taking enterprise seriously. This is probably the company's biggest challenge to Microsoft as far as the enterprise goes, and Microsoft really needs to pull out the stops if it wants to head Apple off at the pass.
    • Trojan Horse implies some kind of subversive strategy.

      Since the Return of Steve, I just don't think Apple really thought that much about the Enterprise. A distaste for the "enterprise" was one of the many lessons Steve Jobs learned from NeXT.
    • Apple, though hard to work with, has the best eco-system

      Apple's strategy is to focus on the consumer while doing just enough to accommodate enterprise use. The reason is not so much dislike for the enterprise as fear of failure.

      I wouldn't say other smartphone makers have caught up, Apple's eco-system including software upgrade path and customer satisfaction are still well ahead. Where Apple falls down is being difficult to deal with. They simply won't jump because a large enterprise customer has some issue.

      When approaching Apple, be advised to present your request in terms of consumer benefits.

      I think Microsoft is partly correct when they claim it's still early in the game. At the same time, Apple is a strong competitor and will not be easy to catch.
  • Office for iPad

    What Apple needs to do is to put pressure on Microsoft to put Office on to the iPad asap. The only way to do this to to come out with iWorks that has features equal to or better than MSOffice, and to be able to save those documents seamlessly on to iCloud. If Apple can do this quickly, that will take away Surface's biggest selling proposition.
  • Apple will get there anyway...

    If you doubt Apple's ability to invade corporate ranks without caring about CIOs and their [seemingly] narrowly focused demands, go watch the keynote video from the 2013 Developers' Conference.

    Apple's ability to say NO to 1000 things, and YES to the one worth doing is what makes it great. As Steve Jobs used to say, EASY is HARD. Consumers get that. All business people are consumers on some level. Given the choice, consumers want to work with elegant tools that make life easier.

    When was/is corporate IT going to do the 900,000 things the App store offers, in a MS or even an Android or Windows Phone environment?

    The coming iWork in the Cloud apps (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) runs on Windows browsers, Mac browsers, iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch browsers, without restrictions. They'll read and work with Word, Excel, and Keynote files. This has the potential to challenge Office 365.

    What Apple does best is to offer everyone a vast, practical, useful, well-integrated ecosystem that their competitors have yet to match in any meaningful way. The elegance of their OSs *for the user* is many layers deep. The speed and responsiveness are tangibly better. Other OSs have about two layers of clarity before the geek speak pisses off anyone but a developer.

    When the CEO and the VP of Sales bring in their iPhones and iPads and MacBook Pros, demanding connectivity to the corporate network and corporate applications, what they're really saying is, they want a "no BS", seamless, ease-of-use experience. They have discovered they can get work done without thinking about the tool.

    Instead of shutting out Apple because they are "hard to work with", try understanding the very real benefits of the walled garden. You may not like it, but your job may depend on it. Easy (for the user) IS hard (for IT).
    • Right

      Executives wan a "no BS", seamless, ease-of-use experience.
      Not a Mickey-Mouse RDP into a server app, as others suggested above.
  • IOS in the Enterprise

    As much as Apple has done to be consumer friendly their attempt at making IOS enterprise friendly is far from being on par. There are big conflicts between a consumer device and enterprise device. The ability to integrate IOS into enterprises has simply too many challenges and limitations that they in their current form and capabilities will only be niche devices. I don't think Apple wants to focus on enterprises, because if they did their limited enterprise capabilities would be much more mature than they are now. I could count a long list of limitations, but I won't. The proof is in the fact that most enterprises support IOS devices for reading emails only rather than as a full blown application delivery platform.
  • Wrong question.

    If the average CIO is waiting for Apple to get 'enterprise friendly' in traditional IT/CIO terms...well they may as well give up now.
    Apple lacks the traditional enterprise support structures that Microsoft provides(at a cost)... because Apple has no dog in this race, so it ain't gonna happen. There would be zero point in Apple propping up the existing IT structure when it's pursuing a different path...a path that does not mimic the past.
    Just give up with the 'we need Apple to act like Microsoft' meme. It's so yesterday.