iOS Devices at Work…iPod touch, iPhone and iPad…fun to play with, but to work with??

This is the first in a series of blogs that will explore iOS devices (iPod touch, iPhone and iPad) in the workplace and whether they have a rightful home there.  The concerns commonly expressed by employers when considering bringing these devices into the corporate fold will be discussed.  Concerns such as security and device management and other devices felt better suited for the job.  This will be a high-level exploration, not a technical one.   General awareness and high-level discussion and debate is the focus.   To get things started, I’d like to dedicate this first post to reflecting upon why we’re talking about iOS devices in the workplace at all.  After all, iPod touch, iPhones and iPads are for general consumer ‘play’, no?

It began on October 23, 2001.  On that day, Apple unveiled the iPod to an unsuspecting workplace.  The iPod entered at at a time when many felt, quite strongly, that Apple products were not secure or robust enough for the heavy-lifting required of the corporate world.  This view is still widely held today.  Yes, Apple products did find a home in niche industries such as the education, marketing and arts and entertainment sectors but otherwise they remained a non-player.  This changed with the iPod.  All of the sudden, workers across industry and at all levels (executives, managers, front-line and back-office staff) were seen going about their daily routines with the iconic pearl-white cord dangling from their ears and an extra bounce in their step.  Throughout the workplace, the Apple logo was everywhere to be seen.  What was always recognized by Apple aficionados and niche industries, was now widely acknowledged by the world at large…it was cool to own an Apple.

This mass brand acceptance paved the way for iPhone’s rapid penetration into the workplace upon its launch in 2007.  Many  iPod toting consumers saw the iPhone as a must-have.  People couldn’t wait to get their hands on one.  The anticipation was particularly heightened in countries like Canada that had to wait one iPhone generation, a whole agonizing year, before having it available locally.  iPhones started appearing in the workplace in large quantity, and generally not through company issue but personal purchase.  Those fortunate to be in organizations with flexible mobile device policies fully exploited the iPhones integration capabilities with Microsoft Exchange, a dominant messaging platform in the workplace, providing valuable on-the-go access to company e-mail, calendars and contacts.  Companies with more restrictive policies on the other hand were, and remain, slow to include iPhones on their list of supported devices.  For these companies, typically it was Research in Motion’s (RIM) Blackberry that was the go-to device for mobile communications.  That’s not slowing down the appetite for iPhones however with Apple recently reporting some 100 million of them being sold to date.

If the iPhone was the appetizer, the iPad is proving to be the main course with over 15 million sold since its inception.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 65 percent of Fortune 100 companies have either deployed iPads or have pilots running at present time.  Network World puts that number higher at 80 percent.  iPads bring all the benefits of the iPhone (save the ‘phone’) plus benefits of traditional computers.  With the iPad, advanced computing is now truly possible on a mobile device without losing the ‘mobile device’ status and being called a ‘computer’.  What’s the difference?  It doesn’t need to be taken out of carry-on baggage when passing through airport security!  iPads can enable productive, on-the-go access to company systems through the Safari browser, remote connect Apps such as those from Wyse and Citrix, extension Apps from the likes of, Oracle and Business Objects or in-house, custom-developed Apps.  Many of these  Apps were available for the iPhone but gained only moderate attention due in part to corporate reluctance to include the iPhone as a supported device and in part to its limited screen real-estate.  The iPad has broken through these barriers and at record pace.   iPads and iPad Apps are in fact driving increased use of their iPhone equivalents as people realize the true power and benefit of such Apps first on the iPad and then acquire the iPhone version.

Despite these encouraging signs from the workplace, Apple iOS devices still have a comparably small footprint there.  We’ve touched on one reason for this, RIM.  Despite the trending decline in new purchases of RIM Blackberry devices, RIMs first-to-market advantage plus reputation for efficient and secure messaging is keeping it well entrenched in business circles.  Not to mention the very real costs of introducing another device or outright replacing one.  The benefits of ‘introducing’ or ‘replacing’ need to be convincing and unfortunately ‘sexy’ doesn’t cut it.   Some of RIMs traditional holds on marketshare are loosening however.  Its technological advantage of efficient message delivery is becoming less of one as bandwidth becomes in ample supply (although the Netflix phenomenon is challenging that now).  People are not so much interested in ‘why it’s fast’ just as long as it is fast!  Continued advancements in WIFI and cellular network speeds keeps Apple and its less efficient message packaging in the race with RIM in this category.  RIMs hold on secure messaging, however, still resonates strongly in the marketplace.  The key word in that statement being “messaging”.  RIM for far too long equated messages to e-mail, calendaring and contacts.  The workplace is moving well beyond these necessary yet basic functions.  The mobile workforce has a hunger for anywhere, anytime access to corporate, operational data.  Apps feed that hunger and this is where RIM continues to slip.  It’s been slow to get into the Apps game, being too comfortable with its traditional holds on company e-mail, calendaring and contacts.  Apps are where its at, particularly Apps that provide secure mobile access to valued corporate data.  Apple is in the drivers seat when it comes to Apps.  More on this in a latter blog

Another reason for the relatively small foot-print of iOS devices in the workplace has to do with the stigma tied to them.  Although the iPad is rapidly changing that stigma, iOS devices still carry a ‘toy’ status in large pockets of the business community.  They are very ‘cool’ and ‘fun to play with’ but perceived as still not ready for the rigors of corporate life.  There is an image factor to overcome.  Apple wouldn’t likely argue this either.  Steve Jobs has been reported saying repeatedly “Apple is a consumer electronics company” and acknowledges Apple is getting drawn into business by business, not the other way around.  Apple doesn’t even have an enterprise sales force.  With a few exceptions, Apple has always marketed to the general consumer letting its penetration into business grow unaided.  RIM traditionally has had just the opposite strategy.  This is changing on both sides.  Apple is increasingly highlighting the business use of its devices and RIM is now actively appealing more to the general consumer.  Who comes out ahead in the workplace as a result of these shifting strategies is yet to be seen.  One thing is clear.  Both realize that appealing to one market segment over the other is not viable in the long term.  The two segments are merging.   Customers who are both general consumer and employee are wanting devices that are both ‘fun to play with’ and ‘ideal to work with’.

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