Why Apple won't let the Mac and iPhone succeed in business

There's a reason Macs and iPhones don’t meet the needs of big business: Apple self-imposed corporate glass ceiling

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.

[ Relive Apple's 12 biggest failures in the InfoWorld slideshow. | Learn how to bring Macs into your business -- and what Mac security issues to watch out for. ]

Bolstered by Windows Vista's travails and the advent of OS-neutral Web apps, the Mac is no doubt on the rise in business. Even IT pros have begun warming up to the Mac. After all, a business-class MacBook Pro costs the same as a business-class Windows PC, so there's no cost disadvantage to buying Mac hardware. And I hear consistently from IT folks who manage both Macs and PCs that Mac hardware tends to fail less frequently than PCs do and that its OS is more stable than Windows, translating into lower internal IT support costs. (Apple's support plans cost about US$30 more per year than what a Dell, Lenovo, or HP charges, and they require you to bring a Mac in to an authorized repair shop, which can be an issue for IT when the Macs do have problems.)

Moreover, Apple's new emphasis on business capabilities in 2009 seemed to be the official boost that business Mac users had longed for. Among them, the new  Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, which added native Microsoft Exchange support to its Mail, Address Book, and iCal apps, as well as improved VPN and firewall capabilities. As for the iPhone, its iPhone 3.0 OS update added landscape email access, copy and paste, and Exchange calendar invite support -- all features desired by business users. It also added support for more Exchange security policies, such as camera disablement, remote wipe, certificate-based authentication, and policy encryption.

Yet the reality of enterprise Mac and iPhone adoption stands in stark contrast to the promise these changes have held for Apple to push its products deeper into business.

Mac and iPhone adoption are growing -- but not in the enterprise Despite Apple's growing reputation, adoption of Macs and even iPhones by large businesses remains tiny: about 3.5 percent for Macs, according to Forrester Research, and about 3 percent for iPhones, according to TBI Research. For Macs, this represents zero growth. For the iPhone, its growth remains insignificant when compared with the BlackBerry's 63 percent share of the enterprise smartphone market.

Outside the enterprise, Macs are doing better, accounting for either 8.8 percent or 9.4 percent, depending on whether you believe Gartner or IDC, respectively, up from 8.6 percent a year earlier (both firms agree on that number). And iPhones are doing a lot better in the broad market: iPhone sales have steadily zoomed all year, and now represent about 30 percent of all smartphones sold in the U.S., according to ChangeWave Research -- closing in fast on the RIM BlackBerry's 40 percent share. Moreover, Gartner reports that 99.4 percent of all mobile apps sold in 2009 were to iPhone users.

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.

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Galen Gruman

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