Giving iOS 5 an enterprise home

Apple's emphasis on social networks, cloud and applications will allow its Mountain Lion operating system to steal the limelight from Microsoft Windows 8.

Apple’s decision to lift the lid on the next incarnation of its desktop operating system may have come as a surprise to many in the tech world but the timing of the preview release makes perfect sense if you think about it.

With Microsoft about to unleash Windows 8, I can’t think of a better way for Apple to distract the market and steal its rival’s thunder. Apple is the king when it comes to mobility, and the OS X Mountain Lion seeks to travel down a path that has been steadily carved out by its predecessors.

That path is aligning Apple’s desktop offering more closely with its blockbuster iOS ecosystem and that means a greater emphasis on social networks, cloud and applications. 

Microsoft is eyeing a similar route with Windows 8, which has its own cloud solution Skydrive and the Windows Store for applications. From an enterprise point of view, Windows 8 will deliver significant storage and virtualisation enhancements, but perhaps the biggest game changer for Microsoft is its push to ride the mobility wave in the workplace. Windows on ARM (WOA) tablets will be going head to head with Android and iOS devices and we will have to wait and see how successful it is in cutting its rivals down to size. The one thing helping Windows is that it’s already the top dog in the enterprise space.  However, it would be unwise for Windows to take that position for granted and 2012 could be the year Apple starts making waves in the enterprise.

That notion may seem farfetched to some and a little apprehension would be understandable. After all, Apple founder Steve Jobs had a particular reticence towards courting corporate clientele and given the truckloads of cash that have come through the door from the consumer market you could say that his approach was justified. However, Apple isn’t a complete stranger to the market and has always had its fans in certain industry segments. Macs just couldn’t match the appeal of Windows in the early days. Apple's closed system didn’t provide IT managers with a lot of flexibility. Basically, if you were on Apple’s platform you had to play by Apple’s rules. While the product delivered was good the approach wasn’t exactly a winner when it came to attracting a bigger customer base.  

It wasn’t until the release of iOS 4 in 2010 that Apple found a way back into the space, although the primary motivation was always the consumer market. The iOS set the foundation of Apple dominance and it’s this dominance that could hold the key for Apple as the mobility, cloud computing and the consumerisation of IT trends redefine the enterprise environment. Apple’s dominance in the consumer space is now starting to pay dividends as more executives start bringing in their Apple devices to work and demanding support from their IT people.

According to Andrew Dent, director of communications and strategy for Citrix Labs and the CTO Office, Apple has golden opportunity to make serious inroads in the enterprise space because it is already winning the enterprise war when it comes to devices.

Dent has a point because iPad adoption in the workplace is at an all time high. A recent Good Technology Device Activations report pointed out that the iPad and iPhone jointly accounted for 96 per cent of activations in the third quarter of 2011. These are staggering numbers and with so many units flowing into the workplace, Apple doesn’t need to chase corporate clients.

So is the invasion of Apple devices going to encourage IT teams to take a more prescriptive approach towards Apple? The weight of evidence makes that entirely possible, however, Dent says that Apple will also need to step up to the plate.

“We really see the next opportunity for Apple being the applications space,” Dent says.

While Apple has made some moves to improve its enterprise app development program to cater for the new business models and encourage enterprise developers, Dent reckons that it could make a bigger splash.

“We think the next 18 months are going to be critical for them to really try and co-opt enterprise applications developers, those really are the crown jewels of Microsoft,” he says.  

Apple has the device platform and an ever increasing army of faithful corporate users, who were once seen as a distraction by Jobs, but could now unlock the sector for the company.  

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