Apple: an enterprise giant, hiding in plain sight
Apple's earnings report last week generated a lot of interesting events and discussion. The fact that Apple's growth in some key areas appears to be slowing -- lower than expected iPhone 5 sales, a contraction of Mac sales from the year ago quarter, and revenue that was flat compared to the previous year's holiday quarter -- spooked investors. Apple fans, and even Apple's CEO, were quick to point out that Apple's iPhone and iPad sales for the quarter were still record setting numbers for Apple and the technology industry.
As Tim Cook put it to Apple employees “we [Apple] just had the best quarter of any technology company ever.”
I'll leave the debate over whether or not the decline in Apple's stock price is justified to others. But the fear that Apple's growth has peaked may be justified.
The iPhone and iPad have generated an immense amount of growth for Apple in its core markets, like the consumer mobile technology market in North America (the same can be said for Android and Samsung). At some point, those markets will become saturated, meaning that virtually every person who wants and can afford an iOS device will own one.
So given this eventual saturation in its core markets, what can Apple do to keep growing?
- Expand into new geographical markets, which it is doing in China -- Apple CEO Tim Cook recently predicted that China will become Apple's biggest and most important market.
- Come up with more major market disruptions like the iPad (which turned the consumer PC market on its head), the iPod/iTunes combination, and the iPhone.
- Make a big play for existing markets where it has made small inroads -- the biggest of which is the business and enterprise computing market, where BYOD programs have helped Apple create a foothold for future growth.
The most interesting of those options is the enterprise market.
The timing couldn't be better for Apple to mount a serious campaign for the workplace. BYOD programs are already integrating Apple products into many businesses, Windows 8 is off to a slow start, many IT professionals still see iOS as a better corporate citizen than Android, and the overarching consumerization trend is still redefining the relationship between employee and technology.
There are, however, three big questions that one has to ask before presuming that Apple can make the enterprise its next big market.
- How much enterprise potential does Apple possess today?
- What can Apple do to broaden its enterprise sales?
- Is Apple willing to make a play for the enterprise?
Apple's enterprise credibility
Having spent much of the past decade covering Apple technologies in the enterprise, small business, and education markets, there's one thing that has always seemed a little odd and sadly ironic to me. The Apple IT experience is unique, but largely invisible.
Mainstream IT professionals have tended to avoid Apple products as much as possible, leaving them without skill sets around Macs and iOS devices. At the same time, Apple fans and even power users rarely pay attention to enterprise IT needs like mass deployment, client or device management, and integrating Macs and iPhones and iPads with enterprise systems like Active Directory or Exchange.
So while Apple has spent years developing enterprise functionality, it didn't get noticed very broadly. The skills, products, and and support needed to integrate Apple solutions with enterprise IT are available, but finding them can be a challenge.
Things seem to be changing, however. Annual events like the MacIT conference that will run this week alongside MacWorld/iWorld, the European Mac SysAdmin's conference, the Penn State MacAdmin's Conference, and the MacTech conference are becoming more high profile events. While none of these events are put on by Apple, they are still excellent resources and most of their content is available even if you can't attend the events themselves (some of it is even free).
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