The Once and Future Apple

Does Apple have a future in the enterprise? I’ve been batting that one back and forth for several years now, and I think I’ve finally come up with a reasonable answer.

My conclusion is yes, Apple will still make waves in the enterprise for some time to come, but not as a traditional infrastructure vendor a la HP, IBM and the like. Rather, Apple is in a very good position to take advantage of the data center remake that is currently under way, which de-emphasizes hardware infrastructure in favor of mobile devices, applications and cloud services.

This is the only way I can square the variety of opinions out there regarding Apple’s future. On the one hand, we have those like our own Mike Vizard who see a growing demand for Apple systems and applications, like Mindjet’s MindManager, that can safely and easily traverse Windows and Mac environments, bringing enhanced productivity to both.

On the other, I see rather pitiful support and development for Apple’s server and other data center infrastructure products. New firmware for XServe that improves boot reliability and adds a few virtualization tweaks is all well and good, but it does little to improve the performance factor (which is already impressive, don’t get me wrong) in a way that would draw more enterprise interest as they transition to virtual and cloud computing.

But Apple is making tremendous enterprise gains with devices like the iPhone. The company has shipped more than 8 million units in the first quarter alone, and business use has more than doubled since the introduction of the 3 GS model last year. And the company reports that nearly 70 percent of the Fortune 100 set is looking to adopt the iPhone as their communications device of choice, posing a direct threat to the RIM BlackBerry.

If the iPhone does prove to be a success in the enterprise, that would most certainly spill over to the Mac and iMac desktops. As Forbes’ Darcy Travlos points out, Apple desktops could form the hub for mobile devices, including the iTablet, offering file sync and share capabilities that would untether information workers from their desks and still provide the storage and display capabilities for more involved projects, particularly graphics-heavy ones like presentations and slideshows.

For Apple, then, these new ventures mark the end of the company as a serious provider for the enterprise as it is now. The upside, however, is that it is well positioned to be a technological leader for the enterprise that’s to come.

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