Apple's enterprise strategy has done a 180 over the last decade. The company that kicked off the BYOD trend now sets the pace for device manageability inside corporations.
The words "Apple in the enterprise" may inspire in long-time IT professionals emotions ranging from indifference to derision to dismissal. Those emotions are behind the times. It's true that the company's erstwhile Xserve / OS X Server, Xsan, and Xserve Raid products found little uptake in mainstream corporations outside of Apple's long-established beachheads in education and graphic design. Yet after refocusing its strategy on mobile devices in the last few years, Apple finds itself a leader in the mobile enterprise market -- to the extent that Microsoft stalwart Forrester last fall urged IT to support the Mac (the headline included the words "Hell freezes over"). Earlier this month Forrester predicted that CIOs would spend $19 billion on Apple gear in 2012, over one-quarter of the total for Wintel. And last week Forrester reported that 21 percent of enterprise workers now use one or more Apple devices for on the job.
What changed Apple's enterprise fortunes was the iPhone (in January 2007), followed by the MacBook Air (January 2008) and then the iPad (January 2010). These were devices employees were using at home and wanted to bring in to the workplace. In many companies, the requesting employee was the CEO or another denizen of the C-suite, so that IT's understandable initial reluctance to let these foreign devices onto the network was eventually overcome.
With iOS 4, released in June 2010, Apple was positioned for an all-out, device-centric assault on the enterprise -- making its products enterprise-ready and easy to integrate with existing systems out of the box. iOS 4 added robust features to allow central management of iPhones and iPads: over-the-air enrollment, configuration profiles, and the Apple Push Notification service, among others. Tellingly, Apple did not itself introduce management software, but left that to third parties. At this point more than 60 companies offer mobile device management (MDM) for iOS devices; Gartner tracked 21 of them in their 2011 Magic Quadrant report. With iOS 4 in their quiver, Apple was ready to let go of the remnants of the previous, server-centric enterprise strategy; they announced the retirement of the Xserve line in November 2010.
Most of the leading MDM vendors support a variety of devices, from iOS to Android, Blackberry, Symbian, and Windows Phone. Only Blackberry offers stronger manageability features than iOS's; Android is playing catch-up. Its Ice Cream Sandwich release finally offers some of the management functionality of iOS 4, but this version of Android is just getting out into the marketplace now. Apple improved enterprise integration still more at iOS 5 last fall.
The MDM landscape has developed sufficient complexity that service companies are emerging to help corporations with selection, installation, and training for MDM. One of these, Avema, offers an MDM buyers' guide whose recommendations largely track with Gartner's Magic Quadrant companies: AirWatch, Good Technology, MobileIron, Zenprise, and BoxTone. IBM, sponsor of this site, just announced a product and an acquisition in the MDM space.
Many corporations are now comfortable with Apple products inside the firewall. Android tablets haven't made much headway against the iPad. Windows 8 will provide some competitive pressure, but possibly not until late in 2012 or even next year. It is Apple's game to lose at this point.