Apple dreams of an iPad cloud for enterprise zombies

No amount of new shiny tablets from Cupertino are going to change the fact that the iPad and its iCloud are unsuitable for the future of real enterprise applications.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

All Hallow's Eve is soon to be upon us, dear readers. And there's nothing spookier or more bone chilling than a middle-aged tech writer trying to force bad horror film analogies into yet another iPad launch post-game analysis.

I watched, of course, along with everyone else the Apple launch event, which, among other things, brought us two shiny new tablets: The iPad Air and the long-awaited iPad mini with Retina display.

I'm not going to go into the purely spec-oriented and technical aspects of the devices, as well as an analysis of what this might mean for the competition's offerings in the consumer market. That would be a repetitious waste of time.

This has already been written about ad nauseam by our own resident vampires and all the other ghouls who have already successfully leached the life out of your grubby mouse-clicking fingers in order to give them drops of your precious pageviews.

Frankly, I'm not interested in the consumer market. What the kiddies and the pond scum do with their torture toys has no bearing really in what I write about, and frankly, neither should it matter to any IT decision maker or anyone who has to deal with line-of-business applications in a large enterprise.

And unless you've been a troll sleeping under an old stone bridge, you're probably aware that there's a trend to move those line-of-business applications increasingly toward the cloud. Clouds that will not only host enterprise applications and data, but also provide services in the form of APIs which devices will consume.

Earlier this year, I paid some attention to what this service-oriented landscape currently looks like, mostly from the consumer perspective. And the more I look at it, the more I realize that Apple's service-oriented strategy is increasingly mirroring its developer ecosystem: A walled garden in a creepy castle.

Cupertino is going to need really tall plants to keep the zombies from escaping.

Sure, lots of people currently bring iPads to work. They use messaging and calendaring services through the iPad's excellent (licensed) Exchange connectivity, and they connect to web applications as well as critical line-of-business Windows applications through Citrix and now even through Microsoft's native RDS.

And while Apple doesn't provide these tools itself, there are excellent corporate MDM solutions for managing iOS devices from a number of industry players, including Cisco, Citrix, Microsoft, and Good Technology.

Today, the iPad is an active participant in the on-premises world, most of it due to enterprises and third-party vendors having to do the heavy lifting to accommodate them and create workarounds for a device that is not inherently tailored for business. But just how long is that going to persist for?

We know the future of line-of-business applications is not going to be strictly with on-premises applications, and that it is going to be with clouds and software as a service (SaaS) — more immediately, we're going to see a transition towards hybridized, "mashup"-type scenarios, where organizations pick best-of-breed SaaS and web services living at different cloud providers and mix it with data providers on- and off-premises.

So while the iPad lives comfortably within the enterprise as a tolerated device squatter today, the future is not so certain. Apple has already shown from its most recent display of "free" software bravado that it wants productivity users to use iCloud and iWork, as opposed to Office or other alternatives.

The kicking and blood curdling screams from Apple's user base have already started.

While Apple has shown essentially zero interest in creating a canvas for enterprise users, leaving this to the developers to fill the void, it will eventually become intolerant to other parties stepping in on their limited squishy turf.

As we know from history, the company is an absolute control freak when it comes to the end-user experience, and will not permit "duplication of functionality" and anything else it can shove into its Developer Agreement in order to protect that creepy walled garden.

Apple begrudgingly tolerates Amazon, Google, and Microsoft apps that use their own respective cloud services on iOS today. But we know that this could change at any time if Apple feels its position is threatened in any way.

If the tone of Tim Cook's comments during the first moments of his opening speech at Apple's most recent product launch is of any indication, the company absolutely does have considerable insecurities about its competitors moving into its space.

Cook, a former IBMer, should know better. Enterprises aren't consumers. They don't like to be told by vendors what they can and cannot do, and they hate having restrictions imposed on them. They want their data to be portable, they hate lock-in, and they may have their own special requirements that may prevent them from using a one-size-fits-all cloud.

As Apple faces more competition from the companies that actually know how to run public clouds that cater directly to the enterprise — Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM, as well as from other large providers that will create competitive or specialized cloud services — the value of Apple's DNA-bottlenecked platform and ecosystem diminishes.

For Apple to have its devices and services not be handicapped within the enterprise, it needs to embrace standards for interoperability and data portability, as well as an ongoing willingness to play nice with other cloud providers, a subject that I touched upon two years ago but is becoming much more of a concern today.

I don't foresee Apple playing nice in a cloud and service-oriented world. But hey, enterprises. Take your chances. Trick or Treat!

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