Last summer, it looked like Apple was finally going to make its Macs and iPhones enterprise-capable, giving hope to those who wanted a more stable, less failure-prone option at the office. Soon, it appeared, Macs and iPhones would no longer need to come in through the back door, or be relegated to "special" departments such as software development or marketing.
Don't count on it.
So with Mac OS X Snow Leopard's and iPhone OS 3.0's improved business capabilities,why isn't Apple doing better in the enterprise?
I believe the answer is simple: Apple has intentionally created a glass ceiling it has no intention of shattering. My conversations with Apple employees over the past decade have always been off the record when it comes to the topic of Macs in the enterprise. The company has had no intention of signaling any active plans to serve the enterprise.
In a sense, Apple views enterprise sales as "collateral success" -- a nice-to-have byproduct of its real focus: individuals, developers, and very small businesses (designers, consultants, and other "knowledge worker" types). Sure, there are some retail and professional-services businesses that have gone all-Mac -- I know a midsize veterinary practice in San Francisco that is all-Mac, for example. And sure, there are examples of midsize and even large businesses adopting Macs -- though usually as an option for just a portion of the workforce. But the reality is, despite showing signs of currying favor with the business market, Apple retains a decidely non-business persona.
Thus, the more applications your organization uses, the more of a headache these Mac software issues create. That's why in large companies, the Macs tend to be clustered in specific departments, such as marketing, where they can be managed locally and for which the specialty software the users need is available for Mac OS.
You can distribute configuration profiles to iPhones via email or Web sites that contain Exchange ActiveSync policies and VPN settings, but you can't monitor whether users have installed them or track what version they have -- something many public companies must do to meet various compliance requirements. Having a local IT person hook up each iPhone to a USB connector and view its settings in Apple's iPhone Configuration Utility is not a workable option in large businesses, where their scale requires automated management.
Yes, companies like Good Technology are beginning to offer iPhone management capabilities, but their products are still in early stages and not as complete as what's available for the BlackBerry or Windows Mobile devices. Perhaps in a year or three, these third parties will have brought the iPhone close to par with these two enterprise-class mobile platforms. But they alone can't do it: Apple needs to deepen the native security and management capabilities of the iPhone, and IBM and Novell have to get serious native clients into the Apple App Store.
To help satisfy enterprises' needs to minimize the "touch" time on handling a broken computer, Apple could have set up a premium support offering in which IT could overnight damaged Macs to a repair depot, as all the major PC makers offer. But it has not -- and neither has it helped a third party take on that role in its stead.
These are just a few examples of what Apple has not done, despite years of requests from its customers. As I noted earlier, Apple officials say privately that they're not interested in investing in the enterprise market, likely because such a move would greatly increase the complexity Apple would have to deal with. Plus, Apple crashed and burned in the 1990s when it last tried to enter the enterprise market, and since Steve Jobs returned in 1997 to help Apple, he has firmly steered Apple to the high-end consumer and individual professional markets. And has kept it there.
Apple is nothing if not determined and intentional. Not investing in the enterprise capabilities in the Mac and iPhone, nor investing in the ecosystem to support them, has to be intentional. Apple is clearly engaging small businesses with Snow Leopard and iPhone. Any large company is welcome to adopt Apple's technology, but that's just an extra cherry on top for Apple -- not its goal.
You can use Macs in the enterprise -- but it's up to you to make it work.