Does Apple still care about the enterprise? Just enough

Music, television, fitness, and fashion have grabbed Apple's attention, but it hasn't forgotten about business needs

Care not coddle: Apple finds a balance with business
Credit: Martyn Williams

Smartwatches that emphasize fashion and fitness tracking. A music service based on the Beats Audio business. No significant enterprise mobile management capabilities since 2013's iOS 7. Now rumors of a new Apple TV purported to be revealed next week, and perhaps a move into original TV and movie programming à la Netflix.

After a brief public dalliance with enterprises in 2012 to 2014, it seems as if Apple has returned squarely to its consumer focus, shades of its initial move into consumer electronics with 2001's iPod and iTunes. Enterprise and business innovations? Not so much lately, aside from a vague partnership with Cisco and laptoplike features for iPads in iOS 9 that borrow much from Windows and Android tablets.

It's clear that Apple under CEO Tim Cook is very much focused on its entertainment and personal-technology businesses, where a huge number of happy, loyal customers live. That makes sense: They buy lots of products, replace them every couple years, and look forward to getting more. They also happen to love the Apple brand.

When it comes to business, especially enterprises, Apple has long come across as pretending to like it but in reality avoiding it as much as possible. Former CEO Steve Jobs didn't bother to pretend after enterprises ignored first his Next Cube and the original OS X, which started as a server OS for businesses. Only in his last years did he let Apple reengage the enterprise market, though quietly, such as through secret visits to Fortune 500 companies and unpublicized Business Apple Store offerings.

Enterprises have often been openly hostile or at least dismissive of Apple technology and products. Early stereotypes around price, compatibility, and wasteful networking protocols remain in the collective memory: A mention of AppleTalk still causes shudders in IT, and Bonjour remains unliked -- not to mention all those proprietary connectors and formats!

Remember: All those iPhones and iPads came into businesses in the first five years over IT objections, not with IT help or approval. iOS devices, like Macs, are still considered pricey toys by many in IT, who refuse to see the world as it is today and think a Dell PC running Windows XP and an HP sever running Windows Server 2003 were the pinnacles of technical innovation and all anyone really needed. Yet now we have Macs, Windows 10, iOS, Chromebooks, Android, cloud services, and a slew of new, powerful technologies that warrant an honest assessment and consideration.

The relationship has long been uneasy, tentative, and untrusting. Why wouldn't Apple turn its attention to the consumer market?

Even after Apple engaged with enterprises, IT organizations have not embraced the enterprise products Apple has provided, from the conference room features in the Apple TV to the management framework in iOS 7 and OS X Lion (which Microsoft adopted in Windows 10, but we won't speak of that). The highly promoted deal between Apple and IBM to develop and promote powerful enterprise apps doesn't seem to have gained much traction; IT still wants people to want PC tablets, never mind that even PC tablet fans use them as laptops, not as tablets.

The reality is not as dire as it seems from such appearances, however. In truth, Apple has provided enough security and management capabilities in OS X and iOS -- they're both more secure in most respects than the devices they compete with -- to satisfy IT's needs. IT simply needs to actually take advantage of them.

IT is starting to do more than roll its eyes when Apple devices find their way in, even if it doesn't like to admit it. The iPhone is the standard corporate smartphone (the beloved BlackBerry is all but dead; not even IT shops buy it any more), and the iPad is the standard corporate tablet.

Macs haven't replaced PCs, but they are now established enough in businesses that the old-school vendors who serve IT are adding Mac and iOS support to their products. They are now an established minority that must be at least accommodated.

It may be a Windows world for the foreseeable future, but it's not a Windows-only world any more. And everyone knows it. Some companies have even embraced Apple technology and been delighted by the result.

Apple could certainly do more to satisfy IT organizations. Though it will hardly coddle IT, Apple will continue with moves that make its devices corporate-safe -- like getting fast lanes on Cisco networks for iPhones or having IBM promote its Macs and create compelling software for its iPads. Apple may not love enterprise, but it loves ecosystems it dominates, and it needs to be a significant player in enough of the enterprise to accomplish that goal.

Both enterprises and Apple will continue to engage with each other to keep their relationship alive, even if there's no love between them. There doesn't have to be -- after all, it's only business.

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