For years, PCs running Microsoft Windows operating systems have dominated the world of business. They still do in fact—88 percent of desktops deployed in a work capacity are Windows machines. But that is starting to change, partly due to the transforming technology landscape in the workplace, where tablets, notebooks, and mobile phones have seen wider usage. Gartner predicts a 20 million unit drop-off in PC shipments this year, with increasing tablet shipments led by iPad and iPad Mini models. There are other factors fueling a heightened Apple presence in the workplace as well.
IBM and Apple’s “MobileFirst” partnership driving enterprise iOS applications
The Apple and IBM partnership, called MobileFirst, a directive aimed at serving industry verticals like banking and finance, travel and transportation, retail, insurance, telco and government, has begun to bear fruit. In the first month after rollout of the first Apple-IBM apps, Citi has deployed Trusted Advice in its client-facing financial operations. Air Canada crews use the travel app Plan Flight to track fuel management, and another one called Passenger+ to manage customer service. In all, 10 apps have been released thus far.
The prospect of landing corporate users drew excitement from analysts when this “landmark” partnership was announced in July, because Apple has been an afterthought in the enterprise realm for so long. This partnership should be a significant boon for Apple in the SMB space as well, where analysts contend that IBM and Apple have solved the problem of addressing the unique needs of a huge number of potential SMB clients by crafting customizable apps with multiple uses.
“For Apple, [MobileFirst] relieves the pressures of customers looking for custom-developed solutions, something Apple traditionally doesn’t make a habit of doing,” says Benjamin Levy of Solutions Consulting, an LA-based firm that focuses on Macintosh products. “It’s a genuine win for both sides, and the enterprise will surely benefit.”
Eventually, too, app developers will take advantage of IBM’s pre-built development platforms and backend-as-a-service offerings, which should bring app development costs within reach for SMBs to create their own custom iOS applications. Levy, who services mainly SMBs, says that what his users want most: “Companies I work with have typically been looking for solutions that are either custom to their specific work—or general user education to make users savvier with regularly available apps.”
AppleCare for Enterprise Emerges
Apple is hoping to gain additional inroads to business users via AppleCare for Enterprise, which soft-launched in November 2014. Backed by IBM’s global support network, the service grants Apple enterprise customers 24/7 phone support, priority onsite repairs, and personal account management features. AppleCare for Enterprise can be attached to the AppleCare iOS Direct Service Program as well, which allows businesses to replace damaged or malfunctioning hardware without having to wait for a technician.
Apple continues to set the pace in MDM
Mobile device management (MDM) is where Apple products first gained a foothold in the enterprise arena, when iPhones and iPads jumped the gap between consumer use and business use, ushering in the advent of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement in the workplace. Since then, Apple has built a reputation of responding well to the security and deployment challenges of the new paradigm. “There’s a solid need for MDM solutions, either internal or external,” Levy says about his client base.
“We’ve seen a steady march-out of enterprise features that get better and better with each version of iOS,” says Jack Madden, an MDM consultant and tech blogger. “On the Android side it’s been a bit more fragmented— the inherent implication is that we live in a live in a multi-OS world, and the field does leave Android users out in the cold.”
Network and server infrastructure keeps Windows in for the long haul
There are still significant hurdles for Apple to clear for more mainstream business adoption. One place Apple has yet to infiltrate is networking hardware. The general feeling is that while MacBooks and iMacs will operate nicely on a Windows network, Windows machines offer more control and support and tend to do a better job with fewer resources. From a networking perspective, in a situation that’s not BYOD, there’s no real reason to deploy a mixed OS environment.
There’s also the question whether cloud-based enterprise applications can outclass server-deployed equivalents. Microsoft designs production tools that run on Microsoft SQL databases that operate over Microsoft networks—managed by technicians with Microsoft certifications. Here lies the inertia in the enterprise application space. Whereas a few years ago it was common for software to lack cross-platform functionality, that has started to change.
“There can be specific applications that don’t have a Mac version, but it’s a simple enough matter to spin up a Windows VM or a terminal server for those rare occasions when it’s needed,” Levy says. “If a company chooses not to serve the Mac market it’s likely an indication that that company is not paying attention to its market as a whole and that’s a good sign that it’s time to find a different software package to accomplish that function.“
Additionally, subscription-based production software like Microsoft Office 365 and Google for Work are viable cloud based options that are expected to grow in popularity, especially among SMBs, in the coming years. It makes sense that Microsoft offers Mac users the Office same user experience as Windows users—as this keeps a mature piece of software like Office relevant.
“For most users today, Office is a very expensive option to something for which there are countless less expensive and even free alternatives,” Levy says. “I don’t see offering iOS users free use of Microsoft Office as an olive branch, unless that branch is to be used to pull Office back to shore before it drifts off into a sea of irrelevance.”