Back in the late 1990s, Apple was 90 days away from bankruptcy, Michael Dell was calling for Apple to broken up and sold and Steve jobs was booed when announcing a deal where Apple's mortal enemy, Microsoft, become a shareholder. The world has moved on, Apple dropped the "Computer" from its name and is now one of the largest companies in the world. There's no doubt that Apple has become THE consumer electronics company of our time.
However, while Apple's focus on consumer markets has been unrelenting they've slowly stepped away from enterprises and SMBs. Clearly, Steve Jobs is a most hands-on CEO. So, dropping their enterprise storage and server hardware products was a decision he would have been across. But at the same time as he dropped those products, more and more Apple products were finding their way into the office. Initially it was the iPhone but when the iPad was released just over a year ago, Apple's splash with consumers started to create ripples in the enterprise.
Tim Cook is an interesting guy. His background is in the management of technology companies and driving efficiency. He is responsible for completely rejuvenating Apple's manufacturing strategy. While Jobs has developed into a brilliant presenter, able to captivate an audience, Cook has rarely been seen on stage during product releases - the head of product marketing Philip Schiller has been Jobs' number 2 when it comes to the presentation of new products.
That difference in personality might be a good thing for enterprise users looking to integrate Apple gear into their data centre. Having dropped their server products, Apple decided that Mac minis and Mac pros would be good enough for those wanting to run an Apple server. However, Cook's eye on efficiency might see Apple return to the enterprise market. There will come a time when Apple's share of consumer markets will stabilise. The iPhone's impact on the smartphone sector is being challenged and will be overtaken by Android. The iPad is still a dominate player but others will come in and reduce Apple's market share.
In our recent Mobility Platforms State of the Union we noted that the iPad was still growing but that Android is more enterprise-ready than iOS. There will come a time when Apple will find that releasing a new product variant won't be enough to grab market share. When that happens, they'll either release something all new (like they did with the iPhone and iPad) or enter a market that they feel needs offers an unexploited opportunity.
The enterprise has never really been a space that Apple has cracked. At different stages they've been able to do well with desktops and notebooks and iOS devices are certainly sneaking into businesses but they've never been able to seriously penetrate the data centre. Arguably, Apple has a significant, unexploited advantage over the big players in servers and storage.
Apple are masters at creating well designed software that's easy to use. If you dissect a current Mac, it's not all that different from the PC you'd buy from any other manufacturer. However - and this is subjective - how they put those pieces together and present them to users is what sets them apart. they are able to do this by controlling the entire device. They choose what hardware they'll support and what functions will run.
Now think about your data centre. You'll have a number of different applications running with several monitoring systems in place. While all will probably use SNMP, IMAP or other standards to communicate, pulling all of that together can be a challenge. If Apple applied their expertise in user interface development with a decent server software solution then they could make inroads into business. It might start with creative companies and education but they could, over time, start to push into other organisations. As we reported a while ago, there are Mac-friendly ERP solutions.
It's clear that under Steve Jobs' leadership that Apple had little desire to push into enterprise computing. However, Tim Cook will be faced with a different set of challenges. Jobs needed to save and then build the company. Cook will need to consolidate and grow the business. While Jobs killed off his enterprise products, Cook may need to resurrect them if Apple is to continue to grow by entering markets they haven;t yet exploited.