Will this be the year of Apple in the enterprise?

In some ways, with the iPhone and iPad, it's already gotten a toehold in the workplace

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This is particularly attractive with the iPhone and iPad. It doesn't bring Apple's mobile devices to quite the level RIM has traditionally offered with its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), but it comes pretty close. When paired with with any of the major MDM vendors, Apple's iPhones and iPads represent the most manageable and secure mobile platform other than RIM and BES.

Given RIM's slide in the mobile market, the generally accepted failure of the PlayBook, and last year's spate of outages, the iPhone and iPad are worthy contenders for enterprise mobility plans. That employees are often willing to use their own Apple devices in the workplace makes those devices an excellent candidate for BYOD (bring-your-own-device) programs.

Of course, this also sharply contrasts with Android, where there are hundreds of devices by dozens of manufacturers, running a handful of different OS versions -- some of which don't even offer enterprise functionality. The recent Android releases, particularly Ice Cream Sandwich, are moving to resolve the issue with consistent management capabilities. But it will be a while before Android as a whole offers iOS' level of consistent security and manageability, despite being supported to a degree by mobile management tools.

Building bridges with the enterprise

Although Apple has backed off pushing its own enterprise solutions, it still offers resources and training. One difference, however, is that it is focusing more on enterprise integration.

A great example of this is Apple's new Mac Integration Basics certification, which provides the core skills needed to connect a Mac to enterprise technologies like Active Directory and Exchange. (It also offers some background information on Mac troubleshooting.) The exam and the study guide are both available for free. On a similar note, Apple now allows certain Microsoft and Cisco certifications to be used as credentials for joining its mobility consultants network as alternatives to Apple's own certifications.

Although these may seem like minor steps, they show that Apple understands that the success of its products in the enterprise means embracing platforms and standards beyond its own.

Competition in the enterprise

If this year's Consumer Electronics Show illustrated one thing about Apple's position in the enterprise, it's that its two most successful enterprise products -- the MacBook Air and the iPad -- will soon face stiff competition.

MacBook Air vs. ultrabooks

It's pretty obvious from a quick glance at Intel's specs for ultrabooks that the category is designed with one thought in mind: compete directly with the MacBook Air, which has become popular in business because of its small size, light weight and good performance. Of course, the $999 price tag helps, too.

So long as manufacturers keep ultrabook prices at or below par with the MacBook Air -- we can expect Intel to keep prodding them to do so -- many companies will opt for ultrabooks. That's especially true for companies that have yet to purchase or support the MacBook Air or other Mac models.

For companies that have already invested in Apple hardware and the back-end technology to manage and support it, there's no significant reason to change direction just because a Windows alternative arrives. This means potential future Mac sales to those companies and some continued level of Mac support.

Long-term support for those Macs may be a strategic move beyond simply continued use of prior investments. In offering employees a choice between a Mac and PC or supporting employee-owned Macs as part of a BYOD program, IT can build bridges with workers and executives who want to use them. As employees become more tech-savvy and IT becomes more integrated into the business sphere, building strong relationships between the two will become more important. IT needs to be seen as flexible and adaptive to the needs and requests of users at every level of the corporate food chain.

Of course, ultrabooks are just beginning to hit the market and Apple may have some new features up its sleeves for the MacBook Air over the coming months.

iPad vs. Windows 8

If 2011 illustrated one thing about the tablet market, it was that wresting share from Apple is hard. A year ago, everyone (myself included) expected to see non-Apple tablets make serious dents in both the consumer and business markets. That didn't happen.

There are plenty of reasons no platform gained anywhere near the iPad's traction in the overall tech market. But things are pretty clear cut from a business perspective: most tablets, including the Xoom, PlayBook and TouchPad, shipped with software that was still at beta quality and lacking core features; they couldn't offer a price point significantly better than the iPad; and by and large none offered the device management capabilities that Apple had put together in iOS 4 (the PlayBook probably came closest).

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