Apple and Its Partners Team to Redefine Business Computing

Will larger iPads and deeper business partnerships lead to a disruption in business computing?

Tablets are increasingly an enterprise tool rather than consumer plaything. Apple is responding to the consumer transition to larger ‘phablet’ smart phones — like the company’s own iPhone 6 and 6+ lines — by doubling down on enterprise use. To do so, Apple is making a big push into the business marketplace even while iPad sales have fallen.


Toward that end, we’re witnessing a great deal of noise and smoke, suggesting there’s fire and heat back there:

  • Apple may be rolling out a larger iPad (iPad Pro? or iPad Plus? 12.2 inches diagonal? 12.9 inches?), one intended to blunt the relative success of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3. But the price point of the iPad relative to the 12-inch MacBook — especially after factoring in the cost of a keyboard — means that something has to be rejiggered. One possibility: an Apple designed keyboard/cover for iPads as a standard option, to counter Surface 3. And this larger iPad is rumored to be rolling out in November.
  • While many have pointed at the interest in the iPad Mini as a counter argument to an iPad+, people also pooh-poohed the larger format iPhone 6 and 6+. However, that went on to record sales, confounding the naysayers. And if larger format phones are cannibalizing iPad sales, the answer might be larger iPads.
  • Some hypothesize that the iPad+ might be able to run OS X, which — again — pits the product directly against the Surface Pro 3, which runs Windows. There is little to support this rumor, except a patent application that seems to suggest that OS X could be used on tablets.
  • Apple has directed suppliers to start building larger-screen iPads in the second half of 2015, and the company  is considering adding USB 3.0 ports. iPads today lack USB, which is a liability, since most storage peripherals — like external hard drives, and USB drives — run through USB. Also, phones and many other devices are charged by USB. The company is also mulling ports for connection to keyboard and mouse peripherals,

But new hardware is only one piece of the puzzle. The biggest action is coming from the partnering side of Apple’s plans for the enterprise. Last year, Apple partnered with IBM to move the iPad into more niches in the business side through the IBM MobileFirst for iOS program (see Apple and IBM team up to go after the enterprise together, and IBM launches first wave of Apple iOS apps: MobileFirst).

Screenshot 2015-08-13 09.38.31
source: Apple

Now, in 2015, Apple is bringing a number of business application partners into what is being called — behind the scenes — the ‘mobility partner program’ or MPP.

The Wall Street Journal looked into how the program is working, and Apple is leveraging the customer experience advantages of physical Apple Stores to convert business users to iPads and iOS software:

Apple is inviting officials from accounting firm Xero Ltd. and other partners in the business-app program to train Apple business specialists. […]

Apple reviews its partners’ apps and offers detailed suggestions, down to which words should be shaded in gray, according to meeting participants. Thanks to the partnership, an Apple ally got the company on the phone with an iPad business customer that had never heard from an Apple representative. And Apple has played match maker by encouraging makers of complementary programs such as employee scheduling software and digital cash register systems to create interconnected apps. […]

The efforts are paying off with small business customers like Kelly Barker. In June, she popped into an Apple store in Dallas with a question about using a Mac laptop for her skin-care company. An Apple employee invited Mrs. Barker to a workshop where three software companies pitched a dozen small retailers on running their operations with Apple devices.

There, Apple representatives helped talk Mrs. Barker through replacing her clunky accounting system with apps that work on iPads and iPhones.

Mrs. Barker’s PREP Cosmetics LLC switched to accounting software from Xero, which participated in the workshop. She plans to buy digital-cash-register technology from Vend Ltd., another partner from the workshop.

Mrs. Barker was surprised by how the world’s most valuable company catered to a four-person business. “They really were genuinely interested in my business and in helping me grow,” she said.

This doesn’t sound like the Apple of a few years ago, but one working hard to build an interconnected ecosystem of software partners, and relying on the business smarts of companies like IBM to figure out the best ways to convert clients like Kelly Barker to switch to modern computing technologies.

Reversing a slide in iPad sales will require innovation and drive in both hardware and software sides of the equation. Like Apple, I’m betting on larger mobile devices and a tighter focus on business needs for the next few years.

This post was brought to you by IBM for MSPs and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s PivotPoint. Dedicated to providing valuable insight from industry thought leaders, PivotPoint offers expertise to help you develop, differentiate and scale your business.