Apple’s iPhone Shows Enterprise Growth

If there’s one strike against the iPhone Apple couldn’t fix with new software or a hardware upgrade it’s that the iPhone is generally viewed as a consumer device. While that perception has served it well in the last three years, Apple knows the real gold rush is in the enterprise. Corporate sales are generally large and long term; when a company finds a device it likes, it buys a lot and for a long time. One of the keys to the success of the BlackBerry family of smartphones has not been in the consumer space but in corporate sales. Instead of moving from the consumer to the corporate, RIM took the BlackBerry from the corporate to the consumer and found legions of fans hungry for email on the go. Corporate sales help bridge the gap between the ebb and flow of consumer sales. It is in that context that AT&T announced some interesting numbers.

The American telecommunications giant declared that forty percent of its iPhone sales since January have been to corporate customers. Speaking at the Barclays Capital Communications, Media and Technology conference in New York City, AT&T Business Solutions CEO Ron Spears spoke on the penetration the iPhone is gaining in the enterprise. The traditional mark against the iPhone in the enterprise, Mr. Spears explained, has been its perceived insecurity in relation to the BlackBerry. Seen as the gold standard in mobile access, many believed the iPhone just couldn’t stand up to BlackBerry in security. However, Mr. Spears points out how the various iterations of the iPhone have increasingly closed the security gap. Today Mr. Spears says the iPhone is an integral part of my corporate solutions:

So enterprises today view the iPhone as a mobile computer. It happens to have a voice application on it. But what’s important is what you can do with it, and the way you can mobilize workforces, and specific parts of your workforce, not the entire workforce.

Companies are starting to recognize the inherent versatility in the iPhone platform. Mr. Spears notes that in many cases companies are looking at how equipping their employees with iPhones would be more cost effective than full fledged laptops. Buying an iPhone and either developing custom applications or drawing on the already enormous selection of applications in the App Store is starting to make real sense to technology buyers and CIOs. And well it should.

I remember attending a demonstration back in the early 2000s about tablet computing and the enterprise. The technology on display utilized bulky Tablet PCs tethered to large cellular modems using expensive custom applications. While functional, it seemed like anyone who had previously just used a pad of paper, a pen, and their own personal knowledge to perform their task in the field would probably continue to do so. The technology existed to perform the task in question but the technology wasn’t mature. The iPhone (and now the iPad as well) represents a maturity of the technology first presented in that unwieldy demonstration. It’s portable, accessible, and easily formed to whatever function the user desires. Custom development is relatively inexpensive and a development community is readily available. With the questions regarding security largely erased, perceptions are starting to change about the iPhone in the enterprise. If the iPhone gets a firm grip in the enterprise marketplace, traditional giants like Nokia and RIM should watch their backs. Apple already stands astride the consumer market, the enterprise may be their next world of dominance.

How do you feel about the iPhone’s emergence in the enterprise space? Would you trade in your BlackBerry for an iPhone? Is Apple poised to make a concerted push into corporate communications? Leave us your thoughts in the comments section.

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