Apple formally declares its enterprise intentions

In pushing Macs and iOS devices into the corporate world, Apple faces new demands and scrutiny

Back in 2008, Apple's vice president of enterprise sales left the company, and his position was never refilled. That fact fueled the ongoing argument that Apple is not an enterprise company and has no aspirations to be one. Today, Apple formally and openly declared its enterprise intentions.

Apple hasn't been particularly helpful in clearing up the mystery, either, giving mixed signals as to its enterprise aspirations. For example, Mac OS X Snow Leopard appeared to be groomed for the enterprise with its built-in Microsoft Exchange support -- but Apple killed its Xserve line last year, suggesting the company's focus was home users, schools, and small businesses, not the enterprise.

Apple has apparently now come out of the enterprise closet: The company today pushed out a promotional email, entitled "Mac in the Enterprise," that is chock-full of information for large businesses on how to integrate Macs, iPhones, and iPads into their IT ecosystems.

Apple's Mac focus here is particularly striking, unlike that on the iPhone, which has already made obvious inroads in the enterprise market thanks to Apple's delivery of business-class management capabilities: iPhone support has become a must for mobile-oriented enterprise apps, while major companies such as Old Navy have started using the device for point-of-sales purposes.

By contrast, the Mac's presence in the business world has been remarkably understated -- despite the fact that the Mac population therein reportedly doubled between 2006 and 2008 and looks to grow even more this year. That's impressive, given how Apple hasn't really targeted Mac sales at big businesses. Apple's incentive to embrace the lucrative enterprise market is apparent -- and it has more of a foot in the door than ever, thanks to the corporate success of the iPhone.

The question, though, is whether Apple can in fact meet the demands of the enterprise, which are arguably different from those of the consumer, education, and small-business market. Observers have noted that Apple's culture of being a relatively inflexible innovator that acts on its own terms doesn't mesh well with the predominant enterprise culture that prefers its IT providers to be flexible and predictable.

Despite that IT preference, it's evident that a fair number of companies are ready and willing to engage with Apple on Apple's terms, which says a lot about the level of respect the company's technology has garnered in recent years.

Now that Apple is making its enterprise aspirations known, it's fair to anticipate that the company will face more demands and pressures from customers, both in terms of the enterprise worthiness and security of its products, as well as its ability to provide a level of customer service and support that enterprise customers require.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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