Is Apple Tempted by the iPhone's Potential in the Enterprise?

Carl Weinschenk

The common wisdom is that the iPhone is a consumer play and Apple doesn't particularly care about business users. This may be true, but a study from RDA Global -- the salient points of which are provided in this eChannel Line story -- is evidence that Apple would be making a big mistake to dismiss this market.


Though a relatively small number of users will buy iPhones for business, they will be influential mega-users who are extremely attractive to vendors and service providers. An extrapolation of RDA Global's survey, which queried 1,027 people, suggests that 15 percent of the 50 million mobile workers in the United States plan to buy the gadget. The survey found something else that should warm the hearts of Jobs and Co.: A big chunk of these people -- 28 percent -- currently aren't Apple customers.


Thus, paying heed to mobile workers will help Apple win new customers directly (the mobile workers themselves) and indirectly (those swayed by these influential folks' example). Moreover, the first-time Apple customers may move from iPhones to iMacs and other Apple products.


Apple also should note two points in the piece attributed to Chris Seals, the vice president of business development at RDA Global: That power mobile users will tend not to be price sensitive. This is an important factor, since iPhones cost $500 or more. The second point suggests this group may wait for more feature-rich versions of the product before taking the plunge.


How Apple reacts in the enterprise space will be fascinating. There are several threads that bear watching. The key is that the demarcation between consumer and business mobile devices is fading. Apple must understand that mobile workers will use the iPhone regardless of whether corporate policies allow it. It should start mapping its strategy from this point.


Apple is credited with having a keen sense of market dynamics. That savvy will be put to the test. Does the company understand the increasingly symbiotic nature of the consumer and corporate sectors? If it does, its approach will shift. Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst Ken Dulaney pointed out in an IT Business Edge interview that Apple's unwillingness to play the game like other vendors has cost it in the enterprise. So one emerging question: Will Apple adopt policies that business customers find comfortable?


While the nature of its relationship with customers is an important piece of the puzzle, the most telling signs will be the evolution of the device itself. E-mail is the most basic of corporate needs, so how Apple approaches its integration into the corporate infrastructure will be a sure sign of its attitude. So far, at least according to this InformationWeek piece, the BlackBerry far outclasses the iPhone.


That's not surprising at this point. However, vendors such as Synchronica and Visto are lining up with products that, presumably, will raise the iPhone's e-mail game and tackle security issues that have been raised in many quarters. Perhaps Apple does get it: This AppleInsider story says that Jobs has hinted that corporate e-mail support for the iPhone is coming.


Whether this is a tease will provide a strong clue about whether Apple is serious about going after the BlackBerry, Treo and other business-oriented mobile devices or intends to continue its strong focus on the consumer market.

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