Thursday, February 28, 2008

Apple: All signs point to a more business friendly iPhone

Apple has dropped some serious hints that its iPhone strategy will at least be tweaked–mostly in ways that will court business users.

First up, Apple has sent invitations for the launch of the iPhone SDK next week and as David Morgenstern notes the device will have “some exciting new enterprise features.” Meanwhile, Tim Cook presented at the Goldman Sachs technology conference (Techmeme and replay) on Wednesday where he noted the following points:

  • Apple is on track to ship 10 million iPhones in calendar 2008. “We are on the right track for where we want to be,” said Cook, adding that he wanted to be very clear that Apple will hit its 10 million unit target.
  • Apple is open “not weeded” to any one business model for iPhone and Apple could take the phone to new carriers. “Are we married to this model? We’re not married to any business model. We’re married to shipping the best phone and in the world and moving it from a device to a platform,” said Cook.
  • The SDK will broaden the iPhone further and address enterprise concerns.

Those items coupled with the actual details of the iPhone SDK next week add up to one word: Business.

If iPhone is going to get to 10 million units it needs to at least allay enterprise worries by hooking into Microsoft Exchange easily and providing other features that IT managers want. Let’s face it; enterprises will have to deal with the iPhone because their C-level execs already have one. Meanwhile, employees with iPhones are bringing them to work. IT managers need some sort of iPhone plan. All Apple has to do is meet companies half way and the iPhone won’t be outright banned.

And Cook’s comments about being wedded to AT&T–a model he maintains made sense for the launch–also point to more business adopters in the future. Why? Not every company has AT&T as a provider. If an iPhone could work with whatever carrier a company chooses it’s much more likely to be accepted. Part of the reason the BlackBerry works is that it plays well with any carrier a company may have.

If this works out for Apple the company could find itself in a business sweet spot with the iPhone. As software as a service (SaaS) takes hold the iPhone looks pretty damn useful because of its ease of browsing. Simply put, just operates better on an iPhone. It’s just like you get on the PC.

Cook also noted that there are more than 1,000 Web 2.0 apps for the iPhone. As Web 2.0 morphs into enterprise 2.0 the iPhone becomes more of an option. “Putting the SDK out will broaden the apps even more,” said Cook.

And if we were to get completely ahead of ourselves you could argue that the iPhone is the most likely way to get its platform into corporate infrastructure. One of Cook’s big points was that there is synergy with having the Mac OS in multiple places–Mac, iPhone, iPod. He reiterated that Apple is a platform company as well as a product one.

“I think it’s important that very few companies in the world know how to build a platform. We have had the Mac platform for years. When we started with the phone we focused on getting developers to deliver Web 2.0 apps. But people also want to do more with that. In essence, the SDK will make the product more compelling,” said Cook.

Reading between the lines you could argue that the iPhone is Apple’s Trojan horse into the enterprise. Let’s say IT execs discover the iPhone can integrate seamlessly with existing infrastructure. These execs are more likely to consider Macs in the future.

Other odds and ends, which addressed Wall Street’s angst:

  • Cook said the unlocked phone issue illustrates pent-up demand. Apple is talking to carriers in Asia and culling data about what carriers are seeing unlocked iPhones on their networks. In the U.S. most iPhones are used on AT&T.
  • Apple isn’t writing off Apple TV because it thinks there is a business there. “Our guts tell us there is something there with Apple TV,” says Cook, responding to a question about whether it wants to enter new categories.
  • Cook tackled concerns about iPod saturation concerns head on and noted that the company did have problems with demand for the shuffle. But Cook added that the iPod market doesn’t feel like it’s saturated and there’s a lot of room for growth overseas.


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