15 years of iPhone put Apple into business

When he laughed at the iPhone, then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer acted as an everyman on the global stage, voicing an opinion that Apple had no chance. He was wrong.

Apple, Microsoft, Mac, iPod, iPhone, Windows, iPad, enterprise, mobile

When he laughed at the arrival of the first iPhone, then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made it clear he thought Apple had no chance of success.

Things have changed a lot since Apple introduced iPhone in January 2007.

The product that changed everything

At the time, Apple was an iPod company that made also-ran, underpowered PowerPC Macs, too. Today, it’s the iPhone manufacturer whose iPad devoured the netbook ‘industry’ and whose entry-level Macs with their custom silicon deliver low-energy computational performance that competes with the best PCs.

Today, we see declining PC sales, accelerating Mac sales — and Microsoft with no serious position in mobile.

“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at the time.

Ballmer, history shows, laughed in response.

Only one of them was wrong.

iPhone dialed Apple into the enterprise

When it comes to the enterprise, while you might find PCs in place, the share is changing, and mobile devices have transformed the way we do business.

The momentum of mobile means Apple is growing in every category it plays in in the enterprise computing space, and as Ballmer’s laughter fades into history, it looks like Cupertino has at least a decade before Chrome gains more than a PR-driven foothold in business computing. When they get a choice, employees regularly choose an iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

One of the greatest bugaboos Ballmer referred to was cost. But costs are far better understood today. Total Cost of Ownership studies show that while the initial outlay for Apple products might seem more expensive, the reduced cost of tech support and the loyalty and productivity benefits generated by giving employees choice make up for it.

iPhone captured mind share, and both iPad and iPhone put wind beneath the wings of the Bring Your Own Device trend and employee choice that characterize enterprise IT deployment today.

When free costs the world

We also have a better understanding of the risks of "free" in tech.

Years of data grabbing by shadowy ads networks, tech firms and social media have revealed threats to civil liberties, political consensus, and human rights. Look and you will perhaps see that privacy isn’t just a personal matter, it’s a fabric the removal of which threatens our way of life.

That’s why Apple works where it can protect it. And where it can’t, as in China, we see the consequences. Why would loss of privacy play out differently anywhere else?

Apple is not complacent about its enterprise push

A complacent company would not be prioritizing security, would not be sorting out sweetheart deals for business customers with telco networks, and would not be actively supporting the evolution of an enterprise supporting ecosystem of MDM and security providers.

A complacent company would not be focused on constant development of new enterprise-friendly APIs. It would not offer Apple Business Essentials, Apple Pay, Apple Card, or Tap to Pay. And it would certainly not be preparing to introduce what it probably hopes will be a giant leap in collaboration in the form of AR goggles.

This focus on the business market is generating visible awards. Apple accounted for 23% of the US enterprise PC market at one point last year, something no one would have envisioned when Apple introduced its elegant communicator/music player/web browser paradigm in 2007.

Few then would have believed such a huge Apple turnaround possible. But it was possible.

You can even measure the effect — just look at the Statcounter operating system stats for the US to get a sense of how things have changed. Apple’s combined Mac/iOS systems account for over 40% of all US web traffic by OS, with Android occupying 22% more.

The transformation will continue

I’m beginning to lose track of how many tech leaders now tell me, “Apple will dominate the enterprise over the coming years.” You can thank 15 years of the iPhone (and several years of mobile exploration with iPad) for that. These days, every company wants to have an app and reaches out to others via every mobile channel it can grab.

Mobile isn’t just a consumer-facing play, either — business communications, data handling and back-end services (a space in which Microsoft seemingly shines) are essential to business today. It wasn’t only photocopiers and fax machines the iPhone-driven mobile change wave replaced — these products revolutionized how we live, work and play, and Apple’s ascendancy reflects this. While the company doesn’t always get the mix right, Apple’s mission to build easy-to-use systems that enable, rather than get in the way, has proved its value over time.

A new world era

“iPhone also ushers in an era of software power and sophistication never before seen in a mobile device, which completely redefines what users can do on their mobile phones,” said Apple when introducing its device.

Fifteen years later, it’s hard to see how to think different about that.

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Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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