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  • Apple and the Enterprise: A New Focus?

    April 29th, 2008

    How well I remember the claim, years ago, that Macs weren’t really business computers. The interface was simply too cute, and you had to use a genuine PC to get real business chores done. Of course, they forgot that Microsoft Excel actually premiered on the Mac platform before it was ported to Windows. The same holds true for Word.

    At the same time, the Mac has always been the preferred platform for content creation. Whether creating pages for a newspaper, or building fantastic special effects for movies, you’ll find that Macs have historically done the job better.

    Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve always regarded publishing and the entertainment industry as businesses. You develop a product or service for which you are paid for your labors. So how does that differ from the person who enters data in spreadsheets and gets a paycheck as a result?

    Well, forgetting that distinction without a difference, Apple also made moves over the years that favored consumers, educational institutions and small businesses far more than the enterprise. It’s even fair to say that they didn’t have much of a sales force regularly calling on large companies in an effort to get some big deals or any deals. In fact, I gather a large portion of enterprise sales are made through third-party resellers.

    Regardless, with Apple’s sales soaring, again you wonder if Apple really cares about the enterprise, and I think they do. However, they aren’t necessarily doing it directly, but through the backdoor.

    Consider, for example, the company CEO who buys a new Mac or iPhone. Now maybe the IT department has standardized on, say, Windows PCs and the BlackBerry. But the company’s leader won’t care. He or she will admonish the system administrators to make it happen, period. Once they do, they usually discoved that Macs aren’t so difficult to integrate into a multiplatform environment. In fact, there are a growing number of suggestions now that IT people need to begin to learn how to manage Macs too.

    When it comes to the iPhone, Apple is being far more proactive. They licensed AppleSync from Microsoft for seamless integration with Exchange email servers. What’s more, there’s an Enterprise-level developer program for iPhone software, which would allow a company to build their own custom apps for use with this hot-selling gadget.

    Those two initiatives alone can result in a significant uptake of iPhones, but just as important, it would encourage businesses to look more carefully at the rest of Apple’s product line.

    Believe it or not, Microsoft is evidently doing their level best to help Apple here, at least as far as the iPhone goes. They earn far more money from Exchange licenses than Windows Mobile. And, when a company buys Macs, you can bet many will probably get seats for Office for the Mac and perhaps Windows licenses to use along with Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion. All in all, it’s a big win for Microsoft.

    This is not to say that Apple’s strategy, which isn’t always obvious and probably hasn’t fully played out, is the best approach to take. Apple appears to be embracing the enterprise from the bottom-up, using growing consumer acceptance of their products as a wedge to get more businesses to adopt them too.

    At the same time, you wonder just how far Apple will go to appeal to businesses. Right now, most Macs have consumer-grade features, such as the built-in Web cam on the note-books and the iMac and the bundled copy of the latest version of iLife. However, the remote control is now an extra-cost option, so you have one less device to lose.

    Businesses are not necessarily going to embrace such toys. Sure, I can see some uses for iLife at the office, but the camera may only encourage employees to goof off. Or at least that’s a fair assessment a business owner might make in deciding whether Apple’s product line is suitable.

    Other than my ongoing campaign for a mid-priced Mac minitower, the so-called headless iMac, perhaps they ought to offer a special order business version of some of their products sans Web cam and Wi-Fi, perhaps, for a few dollars cheaper. Well, I can see where note-books need it, but the iMac?

    Certainly, when a company orders new personal computers by the thousands, that can ring up a significant savings.

    Now I know some of you think Apple ought to also play in the bottom-end of the PC arena, with basic boxes that eschew most of the frills of a mainstream computer. But PC companies don’t make much in the way of profits from those products. They are often used for bait and switch, to entice you to buy the more expensive model that has the features you really need to get actual chores done.

    In the end, I think Apple’s stealth marketing to business is going to pay off, even if a more overt upfront approach might yield greater gains in the short term.

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