Hybrid Mac/PC shops more common than ever

A recent ITIC Corp. survey of 700 companies worldwide found that about 80 per cent of businesses have Macs in their environment, with one-quarter of respondents having at least 50 Apple Inc. computers in their organization, according to principal analyst Laura DiDio.

Additionally, two-thirds of responding companies said they were likely to let users deploy Macs within the coming year.

“The movement is bigger than Apple,” DiDio said when asked about the company’s lack of commitment to an enterprise strategy. “Apple has been on a roll now for a while, but they can’t just think about what to do in the next quarter. They have to look five years out.”

DiDio said that within the next six to 12 months, Apple should respond to the increasing demand from businesses and roll out a clear strategy for business adoption.

“It’s incumbent on Apple to come out with a public statement and actually have a strategy on how to pursue the enterprise,” she added.

Apple’s first quarter earnings report, released earlier this week, might provide even further proof that now is the right time for a move on the enterprise. The company sold 2.5 million Macs in the quarter, a nine per cent increase year-over-year, outperforming the PC industry as a whole, which has seen sales steadily drop.

“Desktop sales were down, but notebooks sales rose about 34 per cent year-over-year,” she added. Apple’s financials also showed an 88 per cent year-over-year increase in iPhone sales.

DiDio also speculated that a prolonged absence by CEO Steve Jobs might also speed along a potential enterprise plan.

With more consumers wanting to take their iPhones and Macbooks into the office and with Apple hardware continuing to decline in price, DiDio said, the last piece of the puzzle will be to win over IT managers.

The biggest obstacle for Apple continues to be the lack of enterprise-ready, third-party management tools, she added. Business-focused technical services and support is also an issue.

“Apple needs to more publically align themselves with the Enterprise Desktop Alliance (EDA),” the new consortium of five third-party vendors that promote the management, integration and interoperability capabilities of the Mac in corporate environments, DiDio said.

She added that the company should consider adding training courses aimed specifically at IT departments and work to provide better integration with Microsoft Corp.’s Active Directory.

Tim Bajarin, president and principal analyst with Creative Strategies Inc., said while enterprise interest has undoubtedly grown, the conundrum for Apple is that an all-out push to businesses would require the company to make a large investment in dedicated enterprise sales staff.

“Apple’s focus to date has been on SMB and consumers and this is where they are seeing strong growth,” he said. “And I believe that for the short term, this will continue to be their major center of attention.”

One such company is Freshbooks, an online billing service provider based in Toronto. Sunir Shah, head of integrations at the software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, said Freshbooks is a hybrid Mac/PC office, with most of the Web development team now using Apple computers.

Shah said that with a lot more companies turning toward SaaS solutions, Apple’s superior Web browsing and development experience will continue to convert business users, even those outside its mainstay art and graphic design domain.

“They’ve obviously made it a priority with Mac OS X to make the Internet a critical application,” he said. “Everything leads to the Web and back from it very smoothly. With Windows, it’s obviously an afterthought that [Microsoft is] trying to shoe-horn into everything.”

“Apple should keep pushing Web integration because that’s where everything is going in IT,” he added.

As for improvements, Shah said Apple would be wise to continue focusing on mobile/desktop synchronization, especially as the iPhone continues to break sales records and has made its way into the pockets of more business users.

“Along with mobile integration, Apple’ should also try and create a cleaner way to share files around the office, rather than having to go to the Web,” he said, “an application where you can just drag and drop a file into a virtual tube and it will be sent off to another employee.”

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