IT depts may give updated iMacs a second look

While Apple hopes its revamped iMac desktop line will continue to grow the company’s consumer computer business, it may be indirectly making inroads into the enterprise space.

According to Q2 results from IDC, in the overall U.S. computer market, which includes desktops and notebooks, Apple is now tied for third with competitor Gateway at 5.6 per cent of the total market share.

The thinner and sleeker all-in-one machines, which now feature an aluminum-and-glass design, were announced at a slightly more competitive price point than its previous incarnations. The 20-inch, 2GHz machine will sell for US$1,199; the 20-inch 2.4GHz model for $1,499; and the 24-inch 2.4GHz offering for $1,799.

IDC’s Richard Shim said that with notebook shipments expected to surpass desktop shipments worldwide over the next few years, Apple’s hip new design and lower price point will give the company the advantage to compete in the struggling desktop market.

“Apple isn’t necessarily selling on just hardware either,” Shim said. “They’re innovating on the experience that the customer has, and a lot of other vendors are disadvantaged because they haven’t done that.”

But as of yet, the Apple experience has not appeared very often in the enterprise space. And according to analysts, Apple may not be interested in the large enterprise market.

“It’s not something Apple has said it is pursuing,” Shim said. “Large enterprises are different beasts because you are looking at server farms and more of a controlled and centralized computing environment. I don’t see Apple wanting to go there, and I don’t see large enterprises willing to adopt it to the degree that they have with Windows systems.”

If this discussion sounds familiar, it’s because a similar one was held following the iPhone’s release. Many third-party software developers have begun issuing tools to transition the Apple handheld into a viable enterprise device. Experts similarly argued about whether Apple ever intended the iPhone to be a business device. However, the overwhelming consumer demand, many of which just want one cell phone for their home and work, may result in change in stronger enterprise focus for future generations of the iPhone.

Tim Bajarin, president at Creative Strategies, said that while Apple lacks the enterprise sales force, servicing capabilities and the expressed interest in the enterprise sector, he does admit that this could change in the future.

“We are actually finding Mac laptops coming in the backdoor, and the reason is because Apple has this Bootcamp architecture, in addition to two virtual pieces of software from VMware and Swsoft’s Parallels Desktop, that allow you to run Windows,” Bajarin said. “So, while Apple is not really pushing toward what we call the pure enterprise market, by default, they are gaining some attention there and will attract more business customers over time.”

One company that has seen this slow change is Markham, Ont.-based Marketcircle, which provides business applications for Mac OS X. President and CEO Alykhan Jetha said the probable success of the new iMacs, coupled with a more empowered consumer base, could lead IT managers to look to Apple.

“The fear of not being able to run Windows has gone away,” Jetha said. “So, if they buy a Mac and it turns out it can’t do a job they thought it could, they can just boot it into Windows and everything’s honky dory.”

And while Jetha doesn’t see this transition occurring overnight, his experiences indicate that the Mac has garnered some attention from individual departments within the enterprise.

“We cater to the one to 50 kind of small business, but what we’re now noticing is bigger corporate clients are buying our software for some of their various departments,” Jetha said. “And not just your traditional design departments, as we’re now seeing the HR, marketing and engineering departments picking it up.”

This is a trend that has been noticed by some industry analysts. Charles Smulders, analyst at Gartner, agreed with Jetha, saying that he’s seen Apple service departments within the enterprise.

But according to Smulders, the real factor that could make Apple viable in the enterprise is virtualization.

“This will allow IT organizations to be able to run its environment on almost any machine and not have to own that machine specifically,” Smulders said. “So, there are technology enablers which are coming down the pipe in the next few years which will help this trend.”

Backdoor entries to the enterprise and virtualization aside, Shim said IT managers will ultimately have the last word.

“I just don’t see IT managers deciding to buy a whole fleet of them upfront for all their clients,” Shim said. “It just doesn’t make sense, because you have a bunch of infrastructure and a lot of investment already in a Windows platform. Despite the fact that a Mac can run Windows, it’s not a full Windows system, and I’m sure a lot of Mac fans would passionately agree with that.”

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