Apple's silence will let Samsung conquer the enterprise mobility market

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Credit: lemagit via Flickr

If asked about Samsung ads that target Apple, most of us would immediately think of the campaign in which Samsung poked fun at the massive lines that form around Apple stores when a new iOS device hits the market. However, Samsung has been running a more indirect ad campaign against Apple -- one that has the potential to be much more damaging to the future growth of both the iPhone and iPad.

I'm referring to the ads about Samsung's SAFE program. As we've written previously, the SAFE program is Samsung's attempt to make Android devices into fully secured and manageable enterprise-grade BlackBerry replacements. The program is based on a series of APIs and other OS extensions to Android that significantly improve security and offer IT administrators the ability to implement over 300 security policies.

SAFE devices are created and marketed by Samsung. The company also works with mobile management vendors to certify their products are SAFE-compliant, meaning that customers can use them to implement and manage the SAFE policies on SAFE-certified devices. Several vendors have already been certified for the program.

The SAFE program isn't new. It's been around for well over a year, though until the release of the SAFE-certified Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2 the program hadn't garnered much attention. While the company had certified earlier devices as part of the SAFE program, these two devices were the first to launch with SAFE-branding.

SAFE devices will appeal to IT because they come closer than any other devices to emulating the sheer number of policies that IT had access to when managing BlackBerry handsets. Unlike BlackBerries, however, these are two of the most popular Android devices on the market. That means that they will also appeal to consumers. That's a powerful combination when it comes to mobile devices in any industry and regardless of whether the devices are owned by employees and managed by IT through a BYOD program or they are corporate-issued.

Apple needs to respond to the SAFE program

Apple became the preferred enterprise mobile platform over the past few years largely because the company introduced enterprise features in iOS 4. Those features included security APIs for developers, support for encrypted data containers as well as whole device encryption, and mobile device management (MDM) support. Apple's Volume Purchase Program, while not ideal, also offers the ability to bulk purchase apps and distribute them to employee devices.

iOS is still considered a safer platform than Android by many IT organizations. A lot of that is due to the company's very simple and transparent iOS update process, which is far more streamlined and much less prone to fragmentation than delivery of Android updates. That's mainly because Apple manufactures the hardware and the OS and doesn't let carriers modify either. Google on the other hand gives manufacturers and carriers a lot of leeway to customize Android, which means manufacturers and carriers need to vet updates and modify them if needed for each device. That introduces a lot of uncertainty about updates, which typically include important security improvements.

But these issues become less of a concern if devices are built and certified to meet enterprise requirements as in the SAFE program.

The SAFE program itself isn't an immediate threat to Apple's position in the business world. Although Apple only offers about 50 mobile management policy options, they cover the vast majority of MDM needs and there are a range of mobile app management (MAM) products as well as a growing number of mobile file/content/information tools on the market that augment Apple's MDM policies. Combine that with iOS as an incumbent platform and it that should mean that Apple's position in the enterprise is pretty well secured.

There's just one major problem: Apple doesn't talk about its enterprise strengths.

Apple talks about the number of Fortune 500 companies using iOS devices during earnings calls. It puts a number of case studies about iPhones and iPads being used in different industries on its website. It even offers free tools for iOS deployment and management. None of that is advertising. It isn't even particularly strong marketing.

When was the last time you saw an ad where Apple touted its enterprise security capabilities? How about one where it even mentioned mass deployment of devices or iOS apps? Or a commercial that said anything about integration with Exchange or other enterprise systems?

The simple fact is this: Apple doesn't position or promote its products as enterprise-worthy. It positions, markets, and advertises them to a consumer audience.

Apple's absence from the public conversation about enterprise mobility encourages the perception, already prevalent among IT professionals, that Apple products are mere toys unsuited for business use. The situation is even worse when it comes to consumers looking for devices that can be used at work and at home. Apple's near silence on the matter implies that its products aren't enterprise-ready while Samsung's marketing is telling those people that its equally popular devices are enterprise-grade. Apple is literally handing potential customers over to Samsung.

What can Apple do about this? A direct in-your-face response is very unlikely and it isn't really the best approach. But an ad campaign that shows off or at least alludes to the iOS enterprise feature set would be more effective -- and I argue it's necessary That campaign also needs to do more than highlight businesses that are using iOS devices or popular business apps. It needs to say that Apple devices are designed to be secure, integrated with enterprise systems, and the best option from both a business user and IT point of view.

Apple could pull off such an effort in a way that fits in with its iconic branding style, and it would likely be very effective. If it doesn't, the company will cede territory in the business and enterprise markets, which will be one of the most important mobile markets for years to come.

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