It takes a long memory to recall the last time Apple had an enterprise strategy that went beyond occasionally producing a server. Indeed, so low-profile is the company's long-trousered computing activity that its Xserve page on Wikipedia has had obvious mistakes on it for weeks on end: imagine that happening for any other class of Apple product.
It's time the company reconsidered this. In the current climate, it doesn't take long for a consumer darling to become a company with a dangerous dependency — and Apple is beginning to look vulnerable. The MacBook Air is a champagne laptop in a beer economy; the buzz is already dying, even as the units hit the shops. But it's the iPhone which is most diagnostic of a year that may not go Apple's way.
For a start, analysts estimate that nearly one in four iPhones — well over a million worldwide — haven't been registered. That's getting on for half a billion dollars of revenue not making the bottom line; it's also a million Apple users electing to take the risk of unlocking their phone rather than pay for the official deals on offer. That's a serious thumbs-down for the company.
Then there are reports — dismissed as "speculation" by O2, but not denied — that prior to Christmas, iPhone sales in the UK were abysmal. Between the launch hype and the Christmas burst, it wasn't unusual for stores to sell just one a week, informed sources say, and that's before the traditional January drought. Perhaps it's coincidence that as the month-end figures begin to crystallise in spreadsheets, O2 has engineered a massive reduction in the iPhone tariffs.
And in 2008, nobody needs another iPod.
What's particularly frustrating is that Apple has plenty of technologies that fit well with the enterprise, especially now that the move towards cloud computing is gathering speed. Its hardware designs are excellent and competitive, it has a desktop Unix that's better than Windows, it understands wireless, and it has a cachet that's more than capable of surviving a transplant into the workplace. It's even got some nifty servers, although you wouldn't know it. You'd have to be a marketing dunce not to be able to parlay that into profit — and only moderately bright to find margins and service revenues that wouldn't disgrace any company. Apple's far brainer than that.
How about it, Apple? The bloom's coming off the consumer peach, but there's still time to grow some other kinds of fruit. Last year would have been better — and next year may be too late.