The perennial guessing game surrounding Apple's intentions for the enterprise has entered a new round. But while it may be fun reading the tea leaves to divine Cupertino's master plan, I have a more basic inquiry for Jobs and Co.: Why all the guessing games?
To get everyone up to speed, here is the latest: It seems that rumors were circulating last week that Apple had laid off some 50 employees in its enterprise sales division. While Apple has denied the reports, a number of organizations like Valleywag and 9to5.com, along with eWEEK, say they have confirmed the story from several sources. Layoffs were said to hit the entire sales group in Austin, Texas, as well as workers at company headquarters.
Naturally, this got tongues wagging that Apple was in fact getting ready to shed its enterprise concerns as part of an all-consumer strategy. The fact is that while desktop sales continue to fall, consumer lines and even portable computers continue to show resiliency in the face of the recession. So the thinking goes that it's only a matter of time before Apple puts its money behind the products that are actually turning a profit.
For the enterprise, the loss of Apple as a supplier would be both a win and a loss. While Macs and related equipment are generally more costly up-front, their total cost of ownership (TCO) is said to be lower. The main problem most organizations have with Macs isn't the machines themselves, but folding them into the larger Windows world. Things like integration with Active Director, file sharing, configuration consistency and application compatibility rank tops among admin complaints.
Meanwhile, an Apple exit from the enterprise space would be warmly welcomed by resellers, according to this article on ChannelWeb. The company polled some of its readers and found that there was a lot of antagonism toward Apple's direct sales division for poaching accounts, underselling, and the fact that the company also targets business users through its retail stores.
All this guesswork surrounding Apple's intentions simply cannot be good for business. On the one hand, customers are less likely to invest in a platform, particularly a higher-priced one like the Mac, unless they know they will receive long-term service and support in the bargain. And it's hard to imagine that investors are very happy about being left in the dark. Growth strategies are usually one of the first things that Wall Street looks for in a company.
But some say this is Apple's charm. The company has always walked to its own beat, and if customers or financial backers can't see the road ahead, too bad for them. Well, I, for one, can't see how Apple expects to turn a profit in the enterprise unless it starts to devote substantial resources in both product development and sales and distribution. If the company sees greener pastures, elsewhere, fine -- sell the division and be done with it. But don't keep stringing the customer base along like this. It's not doing anyone any good.