‘The early bird gets the worm,” according to the old proverb. Fortunately for Apple, this applies well to the current offering of SAP mobility options. As an SAP consultant, I have been witness to (and facilitated) a number of SAP mobility demos — ALL of which have featured Apple iOS devices. As the company which first made tablets attractive to the enterprise, this honor is well deserved. But seeing this trend got me to thinking… With the past proliferation of Microsoft as the enterprise toolset of choice, how did this come to be?
In The Beginning
As a consultant for Accenture years ago, I was one of the first to wield an iPhone among the ranks of my project at the time. It’s difficult to imagine, but I was actually the recipient of a good many jibes for departing from the Blackberry standard that had existed. Back then, iPhones were viewed more as expensive entertainment devices whereas Blackberry phones were synonymous with hardcore productivity.
It didn’t take long for the next sequence of events to unfold. Within the next year and a half Apple introduced enterprise-level security features, exchange integration and VPN capabilities. Shortly thereafter, Accenture had announced that they will no longer support Blackberry devices in favor of other preferred smartphones. A few short months after that, I saw iPhones in the hands of nearly every executive in the company. In the blink of an eye, Apple seized a significant chunk of the corporate mobile phone market (and Blackberry is nearly out of business).
The rapid adoption of the iPhone is an example of how a truly innovative device is capable of changing the way we think of mobile productivity. But I believe that there’s been a much deeper plot unfolding. While competitors were scrambling to deliver their ‘me too’ wireless devices, Apple was readying their next weapon: the iPad. It would seem that Steve Jobs and company weren’t satisfied with wrangling phones; they also had their sights set on mobile computing at large. And what after that?
For decades, Microsoft has been synonymous with enterprise computing. They still are, and probably will for the near future. But as I have discussed previously, the PC market is in decline and trends towards cloud-based productivity are on the rise. Eventually, PC’s won’t seem like the essential piece of business hardware that they have been.
So perhaps the iPhone and iPad are the first thrusts in an attack by Apple to win over the enterprise market — not by beating Microsoft on its own turf, but instead by changing the way we think about enterprise computing. Software makers certainly believe so.
Big ERP and iOS
As I noted above, SAP and some of its partners have been hard at work engineering mobility solutions designed specifically for iOS devices. And they’re not alone. Other SAP competitors like Oracle — even Microsoft itself with its Dynamics suite — have developed similar solutions. Granted, most of these solutions focus on enabling mobilized workforces — those of us who are lucky enough to be unconstrained by four office walls. But the trend towards deepening the productive capabilities of iPad and iPhone devices is undeniable.
Recent hardware advances suggest a firm commitment by Apple to enterprise functionality and security. I’ve read several reviews for the iPhone 5 series of devices which either gloss over or outright belittle the fingerprint scanning security feature Apple just introduced. Sure, biometric security may seem like a novelty or an overkill for the average consumer. I get that. But if you consider the iPhone 5 as an enterprise device, the technology becomes both smart and practical. There’s no need to worry about lost, forgotten or flimsy passwords (like the popular “1-2-3-4”).
Of course, a device update wouldn’t be complete without a spec bump. However, Apple has chosen to begin adopting a 64 bit architecture for the iPhone 5 and will, no doubt, extend this same feature to the new line of iPads. With specs resembling those of a traditional laptop or workstation, you have to wonder how long it will be before they have the capability of running more demanding enterprise applications.
Apple’s iOS devices appeal to casual and business consumers alike. And software makers are eager to explore the productivity capabilities of the platform. Apple is now poised to continue its penetration into the enterprise market and their competitors are busy just trying to keep up.
Apple’s Next Move?
When the iPad was released, It was difficult for me to justify purchasing one. To me, it was just a big iPhone. And if I’m being honest, that’s how I still perceive it today. We will definitely see the introduction of more enterprise-friendly features — in particular, options to add and manage peripherals in order to extend capabilities. Though it would be a welcome addition for IT, I think it will be a while before we see a removable battery. If Apple plans on fully capturing the enterprise market, I think it needs to further evolve the iPad into something a bit more capable — something akin to a full blown Mac in a slate form factor.
This approach would be very similar to what Microsoft is attempting to accomplish with its Surface and Surface Pro devices. The Surface RT and Surface 2 are Microsoft’s response to the iPad, and the Surface Pro models being the capable hybrid between an iOS tablet and a full-blown laptop. But, of course, where Microsoft’s attempt is found to be confusing and awkward, Apple’s attempt will be considered a victorious and brilliant step forward. Cynicism aside, Apple’s loyal following will provide a guaranteed acceptance of a hybrid style device.
One other area that Apple will need to wrangle is their cloud based services. I have never been a fan of their iCloud concept. I feel it falls a bit flat when compared to other productivity oriented offerings by Microsoft and Google. Heavily investing in this area would pay dividends for Apple down the road.
I previously wrote about the Surface devices in the context of shifting trends in mobile computing. This is one of the ways that Microsoft is attempting to maintain its relevance in the tablet age. However, Microsoft’s line of services may also be winning over business consumers.
I sat next to a Microsoft employee on a flight to New Orleans recently. He was a member of their Office 365 team responsible for migrating companies from their existing Exchange server to the cloud-based equivalent. He explained to me that the cloud offers convenience, storage and security of hosted solutions with little-to-no impact on cost. Other expansions embracing cloud computing is their revamped Hotmail, now known as Outlook.com, that modernizes the user interface and integrates other cloud services like SkyDrive and Skype.
On a long enough timeline, it’s impossible to predict who will come out on top. Apple is certainly poised to use its devices to gain penetration, but their online services are a bit lacking. Microsoft currently owns the enterprise space, but needs to continue its trends of innovation and integration. Where do you place your bets?