Apple's Next Big Conquest: Business

Apple appears to be gearing up for a fresh assault on a market it's never done hugely well in: Enterprise.

Take a peep into any corporate office, and you're likely to see the vast majority—if not all—employees from the CEO down to interns tapping away on a Dell or HP or Toshiba Windows PC. Not Macs. Of course, it's stratified by industry and Apple's traditional stronghold in the creative arts businesses is still intact. But Apple seems to have big plans to change all this, with its Mac business boosted by the iPad and iPhone.

iPad Sales

When the iPad arrived it flew off the shelves faster than almost anyone thought, but one of the surprising destinations (given enterprise's serious PC habit) was the office—for all sorts of reasons, including better portability and a more elegant email interface than BlackBerry offered, for businesspeople on the go.

Recent data, highlighted by GigaOm, shows enterprise adoption of the iPad accelerating. In fact, more iPads are being activated for business use than are Android phones, according to Good Technology. iPhone activations were also up to 66% of Good's smartphone portfolio, compared to 62% in the previous quarter. Good, which sells systems to allow businesses to deploy smart mobile tech, doesn't track RIM hardware.


But the iPad figures stand by themselves: In the last quarter, 27.2% of all activations of Good's software came from iPads, with Android phones coming in at 24.4%. If you're talking about tablet PCs as a whole, Good's tech says 97% of them are iPads. Much of the iPad rise is powered by the financial services, which with 46% adoption has three times as many iPad activations than any other industry.

Admittedly, the data is from a single firm and doesn't necessarily represent a complete picture of the entire industry. But it's worth paying attention to this trend. Especially as it's now known that even Windows tablets are outselling RIM's BlackBerry-derived PlayBook, aimed squarely at business users. This fact highlights that the tablet industry really is shaking up business IT use habits. 

Business-Quantity Mass App Buying

Business apps are surely one of the big draws for enterprise users—and Apple even allows companies to deploy their own in-house apps to iPad and iPhone users, allowing tailor-made apps to be shared to employees. Now Apple's enabled a different kind of mass distribution system that's aimed at enterprise users: The volume purchase program. This lets businesses buy third-party apps from the App Store at reduced cost per-user on a mass-purchase basis, and automatically enables them on employee iDevices.

The process is simple, relatively painless for corporate IT departments to manage, and potentially very powerful. Should a company want to provide Apple's business productivity tools like Keynote or Numbers, or any one of the thousands of business-specific apps, to its employees, it can do it almost at a stroke. That's something that may be hugely tempting for businesses trying to squeeze more value out of their staff while they're on the move, or perhaps even working from home.

Apple Remote Desktop

Apple's released a new update to its Remote Desktop app. It's aimed at corporate IT staff who oversee large numbers of Macs in offices, and the updates enable all sorts of powerful administration features—like display-sharing to solve technical problems "live," invisible login options so admins can tinker with user settings without disturbing anyone's work, and so on. Apple's making its remote management tool very Windows-like, and this could be an important factor in making a decision to buy Macs at an enterprise level.

MacBook Air 

The Air has the potential to become a billion-dollar business all by itself, boosted by enterprise use. Apple's just made moves to position the Air as its entry-level Mac product, and the 11-inch edition is a hot seller thanks to its ultralight weight and long battery life. It's almost perfect for business users who travel a lot, and Microsoft is even kind enough to supply Mac editions of Word and Excel if your company is PC-centric.

New data shows the larger 13-inch MacBook Airs are actually besting 2010's MacBook Pros—laptops that you could consider as serious professional tools. Furthermore, data from inside Apple's supply chain suggests it's got 500,000 units shipped in June, and that figure's likely to be sustained for several months. This suggests Apple's expecting a slew of sales, and is likely looking at business buyers for many of them. 

[Image: Flickr user Fon-Tina]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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