Role reversal: Apple's the corporate standard for mobile

Neither Apple nor IT was looking for the iPhone to be the standard business smartphone, yet that's exactly what it's become

For years, "Apple" has been a dirty word in IT shops across the world, no more than tolerated in design and marketing departments. Real computers ran Windows and BlackBerrys, and in some segments, Windows Mobile devices could be conceived for use in messaging. When the iPhone came out in 2007, it was laughed at as a misguided toy from a consumer company that didn't get "real" business. The same was said in 2010 when the iPad was announced.

But 2011 was the tipping point. iPhones now have more users than BlackBerrys within corporate environments, and Aberdeen Group mobile analyst Andrew Borg notes that many organizations have figured out how to handle the Apple security model comfortably, lessening the dependence on BlackBerry Enterprise Server outside of a small percentage users with special security requirements. Additionally, iPads became the corporate standard, with Windows-like market share, for tablets the same year. In fact, Aberdeen Group says that 96 percent of businesses have at least one iPad in use. Who'd have thunk it?

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IT certainly didn't drive for that outcome. I don't believe Apple did, either. After all, it took three major OS revisions before Apple brought business-level security and manageability to the iPhone. I've long thought that Apple wanted the iPad to be its entry into the business computer market, but I'm less sure after a recent conversation with Oliver Bussmann, SAP's CIO.

Bussmann recalls SAP chairman Hasso Plattner saying when the iPad was announced in February 2010 that SAP should be a first mover in supporting it upon release that spring. Plattner's prediction: It would become a corporate standard. However, when Bussmann followed up with Apple, he detected no desire for it to position the iPad as a business device. (He detected no opposition to business use, either.)

It was users -- executives, marketing pros, salespeople, even some IT pros, and others who valued connectivity and lightweight computing -- that brought first the iPhone, then the iPad into business. The BlackBerry stayed essentially the same as the iPhone continued to gain capabilities in multiple areas -- Web, applications, communications -- and people gravitated to the device that did more and did so with panache. IT resisted, but there are more users than IT people, and when the folks in the field and the folks with manager titles decide to adopt a technology, it gets adopted.

Regardless of Apple's original intentions, in 2010 it put a sufficient base of security and management into iOS, thus allaying IT's security and governance objections. Apple saw its mobile devices could grow in corporate environments just as they had in personal environments, and the company took the steps necessary to get that market.

Of course, despite such corporate enablement, Apple has not exactly acted like a typical enterprise provider. You don't get the kind of product support that a Hewlett-Packard or Dell provides, for example, nor the kinds of product road maps that lets IT think it has some control over its technology direction. Road maps rarely cover the reality that later occurs, but it still feels good to be inside the tent, doesn't it?

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