Apple has shown terrific growth over the past decade after virtually collapsing in the early 90s. However, one segment that it has never really been able to win back is the business sector. Not since the days of Apple IIe’s or further back has Apple really enjoyed strong business adoption. And the business sector, consisting of everything from business laptops, to servers and business phones, is a huge revenue source so this was a big loss for Apple.
However, Apple’s hottest gadget, the iPhone is finally starting to win Apple a following in the business community.
One big boost to the devices newfound corporate loving was the series of business friendly software programs for the iPhone 3G which was released in July. However, even after this release, most businesses’ top brass still prefer RIM’s Blackberry to the iPhone.
The real gains for the iPhone in business have been in fact forced by guerilla movements within companies by employees. Top executives and younger users alike are finding themselves drawn in droves to the new device and while at first they may not look at it as a possible business tool, it’s starting to slip into their business lives.
A handful of companies, such as Genentech and Disney, mostly with ties to Apple, have decided to adopt the iPhone companywide as a communications tool. Such decisions are not hurting Blackberry significantly, as they often come from companies that had not previously adopted a smartphone in mass.
The iPhone also has a ways to go. Currently 65.5 percent of business support RIM phones, 22 percent that support Windows Mobile devices, and a mere 10 percent support the iPhone. Some firms, like Los Angeles law firm Allen Matkins, still only support Blackberries as they say supporting the iPhone would be too expensive. Says Allen Matkins CTO Frank Gillman, “Our reasons for not doing so have more to do with the age-old issue of having a finite number of internal resources to support our firm’s technology. Given our already significant investment in BlackBerry, we cannot make a strong business case for adopting yet another platform.”
One major obstacle is Apple’s reliance on only one carrier. Many large companies have special partnerships with specific carriers which give them discounts, and often these carriers aren’t AT&T. Also, security and number of business applications on the device, while improved are still questioned. Research firm Gartner gave the iPhone a “thumbs up” for businesses, but said these areas needed work. A combination of the iPhone’s Safari browser with security certificates can provide a fairly safe solution for document viewing on the go, however, with rising use this may be problematic as the Safari browser has shown itself to be easy to exploit in the past.
Apple does currently have 200 business-related programs on its App Store. Many businesses, though, feel uncomfortable installing iTunes on all their computers, when they’re nervous enough about letting employees access standard news sites like ESPN.com, CNN.com, or global-tech-news.com.
Apple has posted some impressive numbers, nonetheless. Over 33 percent of the Fortune 500 participated in Apple’s iPhone 2.0 software beta testing according to Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Increasingly companies are giving users the choice of several smartphones. A perfect example of this is Chicago law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, which gives select employees a new AT&T smartphone of their choosing every 24 months.
Smaller, less restrictive businesses, according to observers, are the largest group of companies warming up to the iPhone. Many businesses are adopting a philosophy that employees both at work and at home must mix productivity and fun, something the iPhone can do much better than some of its competitors. Sonnenschein’s CIO Andy Jurcyzk states, “Other devices are just hardcore e-mail devices, and even at that they don’t render the messages well. I travel a lot and it’s nice to have a personal aspect to my life, to look at photos of the family, to listen to music, or watch a movie. It’s nice to have that other stuff.”
Some are predicting that the biggest competitor to the iPhone will be the Blackberry Storm, which debuts next week. The Storm lacks Wi-Fi functionality, which the iPhone has, and has less memory than the iPhone, as well as a slightly less smooth touch interface, according to early reports. However, the phone reportedly gets better reception, handles email better, is supposed to support copy and paste, supports video recording, and has an easily swappable battery.
Still, even against tough competition and a less than enthused overall business atmosphere, some businesses are warming up to Apple. According to market researchers, both the iPhone and Windows smartphones should see a rise in subscriptions among business users over the next three years, while Blackberry subscriptions will dip slightly.
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