Apple in the enterprise

The iPad has clearly made great strides with businesses of all sizes, but it’s useful to to recognize why Apple is not a great fit with the enterprise.

Predictability

It’s no secret that big companies like to know where their vendors are headed. When you’re dealing with tens of thousands of employees, technology transitions are painful and expensive.

Apple is neither predictable nor transparent, and has little compunction about pulling the rug out from under customers who are conservative about changes.

At the Fortune 200 firm where I spend a great deal of time consulting, every monitor has a VGA to DVI cable; every laptop is presumed to have a VGA port, despite the many superior digital options available for years. Apple has transitioned video out ports several times in just the past decade, and as far as I can tell has never manufactured a laptop with a VGA port. Floppy drives, optical drives, Firewire, USB, Thunderbolt…Apple has been a frequent trendsetter, both in embracing and abandoning technologies.

And good luck asking them what they’ll adopt or abandon next.

Flexibility

Inspiron. Latitude. Precision. XPS. Z Series. Alienware. Vostro.

That’s a list of Dell laptop families, and it may not be comprehensive. I have no idea where you can go to compare all of them, but if you need a specific weight/size/keyboard/CPU/RAM/screen laptop configuration with VGA out, I’m sure Dell offers it, even if you can’t find it.

MacBook Air. MacBook Pro. I believe MacBook (full stop) is still available for the eduction market, but effectively Apple offers 9 configuration options for laptops. Dell may have 9 laptop families.

Companies want options, even if it means someone’s (or multiple someones’) full-time job is keeping track of what’s available and how to buy it.

Support

Enterprise hardware support does not mean driving to the local Genius Bar and hoping your computer can be fixed without sitting there for days or being shipped to another state. Dell will send a technician to small businesses and replace a laptop motherboard; good luck getting that from Apple. Heck, good luck getting a computer open to find the motherboard with Apple.

And don’t get me started on enterprise phone support.

In October of 2010, it was reported that Unisys had signed an agreement with Apple to provide enterprise support, but I’ve never seen it in action, and I work with several Unisys personnel who support iPads for whom that news was a surprise. It’s a big world, and the report is presumably accurate, but I certainly don’t believe there’s been a significant impact. I’d love to hear from anyone who knows more about what’s happening on that front.

Control of your employees’ choices

Want to prevent your employees from installing questionable apps on their iPads? Well, you can prevent them from installing any apps from the App Store, or if you have a robust MDM solution, you can punish them by removing corporate network or email access from iPads once questionable apps are installed.

That’s it. That’s the extent of the control you can exert over what ends up on your employees’ iPads. It’s a brave new world, legal & compliance departments.

Control of your destiny

When iOS 5 arrived, one of our clients discovered the upgrade broke some of the internally-developed content for a sales presentation app. No big deal, right? Just ask the sales force to hold off on upgrading until the issues could be sorted out, simple enough.

Except, have you tried upgrading an iPad from 4.3.3 to 4.3.5 lately? Or restoring an iOS 4 iPad from backup (while retaining iOS 4)?

Good luck. Can’t be done (without jailbreak-like tactics, anyway).

I wish I had made note of the date, but within an extremely short period of time of the release of iOS 5, Apple’s servers would no longer allow you to install iOS 4 on an iPad.

For a business that is still using Windows XP, can you imagine how disconcerting it is to navigate a world in which operating system upgrades are mandatory practically upon release?


It speaks to the quality and appeal of the iPad that it has overcome these challenges to such a great extent. The Fortune 500 is not swayed by artificial glitz in technology; you don’t break down those doors without some serious mojo.

The iPad is worth some corporate heartburn, but I have no doubt that many CIOs are hoping Microsoft can give them a more comfortable option.

 

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