Is Apple really targeting enterprise mobility?

Gartner analyst sees signs of a shift

Gartner mobile analyst Nick Jones says Apple plans to give new attention to the enterprise market in 2011. The analyst group, and enterprise users have complained for years that Apple hasn't been "enterprise friendly. "[M]aybe they’ve been listening because I think in the last year there’s been a definite shift," Jones writes in his blog.

He predicts a more aggressive enterprise campaign in 2011.

Jones says that "people who know Apple tell me that over last year they’ve had teams dedicated to barrier removal. They weren’t incented on selling products, but on convincing enterprise decision makers to allow Apple through the door" as a "permitted vendor." He seems to mean a "permitted mobility vendor" because this isn't about Macs or Macbooks.

He notes, correctly, that with iOS4 in Summer 2010 Apple opened up a set of APIs that could be used by third-party mobile device management applications, like those from Sybase and MobileIron, to "manage blended-use devices containing a mixture of corporate and consumer data." These applications are still limited by what the underlying iOS actually allows them to do on and with the Apple device, but they do give enterprise IT groups a single management interface, coupled with the ability to automate mobile policy creation and enforcement.

Secondly, Jones references the recent Dow Jones story reporting that Apple has hired or lured away from Research in Motion five of RIM's top enterprise sales executives. The original story is behind a paywall, but other sites, such as MacRumors, repeated the details. One of the new hires is Geoff Perfect, who was RIM's Head of Strategic Sales at RIM for almost five years; he's now Apple's Head of Enterprise iPhone Sales.  In its October 2010 earnings call, Apple claimed that 80% of the Fortune 500 are using or piloting iPhones.

Perfect should be perfectly suited to improving Apple's enterprise account management for mobile devices, a weak point noted by Jones in his blog. Improved customer service would include bringing in the authorized global carrier partners (AT&T in the U.S., for example) to make carrier pricing, discounts, setup and activation a smoother, large-scale, managed process for big companies.

Jones says many of this enterprise clients complain that iOS app distribution remains focused on iTunes. But even here, Apple has made some enterprise accommodations: with iOS 4, IT departments can set up what is in effect a private iTunes download process for their authorized iOS device users. Check out Apple's "Enterprise Deployment Guide" (click on "Deploying Applications" in the contents list at left).

But Apple's focus seems narrowly focused, at least for now, on large enterprise. Several commenters to Jones' blog said they were, or had been, an Apple VAR or integrator for small-to-medium businesses. These posters seemed to think that Jones was suggesting a renewed focus by Apple on all of its product lines for the enterprise market, instead of just iOS-based mobile devices.

Bruce Ambrose, an authorized Mac VAR, complained that Apple has "decimated their VAR partnerships by deauthorizing almost all of them. I am a small VAR. I am totally Apple focused, but Apple has done almost everything it can do to get rid of me. This likely is my last year."

Apple clearly doesn't have the enterprise market in mind as the design focus for its mobile products. The company's approach is to create high-end mass market devices, and then gradually add features that remove IT objections to buying, deploying and supporting them.

If you're in enterprise IT, are you seeing a change in Apple's approach to enterprise mobility?

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