For Tablets, Apple is Losing the Enterprise (Again)


As I made the rounds at CTIA 2013 this week, the Apple iPad wasn't getting a lot of love in the enterprise. Opinions of software and hardware alike were uniform: while enterprises had brought in iPads and will continue to have to support them in BOYD (Bring your own device), the long-term play is in Android and even Windows 8.

Strikes against the Apple iPad as an enterprise device broke down into three different categories: hardware, software and corporate attitude.   Hardware is simple to understand. The iPad has a non-standard connector (well, two to be precise, since the latest generation iPad moved to a new and improved non-standard connector this spring), so interfacing to it for simple tasks such as video projectors, wired Ethernet connections and external storage devices is a pain. Either the IT staff or an individual user has to buy and stock or carry around a handful of Apple-connector-to-real-world cables to read USB keys, load pictures and data from SD cards, and to give presentations.

Within the enterprise arena, companies use USB as a simple interface to add magnet card readers (MCRs), fingerprint scanners, laser barcode scanners that work faster and simpler than the "take a picture" barcode apps, and numerous other devices created to make work in vertical markets and specialized fields easier. Adding that hardware onto the iPad means either a clumsy connection via cabling or an engineering solution especially for working with the iPad's non-standard connector.

And then there's the software interfaces. Adding external hardware means creating device drivers to read and write to external devices as well as porting apps written for other operating systems onto iOS – plus supporting them. Apple's iOS isn't exactly the open book Windows 8 or Android is, and it doesn't have a bunch of established, legacy code built around it, so there's time, money and pain in developing and supporting the software. 

Apple's never been a nurturing type when it comes to the enterprise. Business support has typically translated to "We support Microsoft Exchange, isn't that enough?" To get the iPad in the door at many businesses, it works, but Apple won't go much beyond that, figuring (correctly in most cases) that user pressure to support its devices will be enough to give it a token footprint within the business environment.

It's OK not to focus on the enterprise as a business strategy. Certainly, IBM turned its back on the consumer world when it unloaded its PC assets to Lenovo. However, Apple and analysts alike shouldn't be surprised to see any short-term gains in iPhone and iPad business sales to be just that – short term, with steady erosion.   Android seems to be the near-term platform, with Samsung presenting a coherent strategy for supporting the OS.  

Don't count Windows 8 out yet either. Microsoft knows it needs to keep enterprise users happy, so it doesn't get displaced by a combination of alternatives. The company will invest the time and energy it needs to make business customers (mostly) happy and market, market, market to make sure users and buyers don't forget it.

Edited by Alisen Downey

Contributing Editor

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