Is Apple Changing Its Enterprise Tune?

Even while touting its success in the enterprise, Apple hasn’t publicly courted CIOs or really pushed iPads into companies. But CEO Tim Cook is well-suited to do just that.

Surprise, Apple had another big quarter – billions in revenue and profits, millions of iPhones and iPads sold, China sales soaring. (Here are the exact figures.)

Okay, no surprise. But reading between the lines during the earnings call, I think I might have perhaps possibly heard a tiny murmur of change in Apple’s secret Fort Knox of a heart about – gulp! – the iPad in the enterprise. Or maybe not.

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Apple always touts the iPad’s astounding enterprise success on every earnings call, and this week’s call was no different.

The iPad has taken hold in the education market, where two iPads are sold for every Mac. The discounted iPad 2’s $399 entry price has unlocked some education demand given the market’s price sensitivity, Apple says. Indeed, Apple has been pushing the iPad at high schools.

On the government sales front, the U.S. Air Force is deploying thousands of iPads as technical flight “bags” storing technical publications and operations information for flight crew members, Apple says, despite reports of an on-again-off-again deal.

Thousands of iPads are being used as mobile sales tools across the country. Apple initially focused on getting iPads certified at Fortune 500 and Global 500 companies. Success is an understatement: After only 24 months, iPads are now in 94 percent of the Fortune 500 and 75 percent of the Global 500.

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But it’s what Apple CEO Tim Cook said next that piqued my interest.

“We are moving our focus away from [getting iPads certified] and focusing on penetration within these accounts,” Cook said, adding, “And so yes, this means that we’re applying more resources and salespeople to interact directly with these customers. We also work with our carrier partners and our reseller partners in delivering both the products and services that are wrapped around that to these customers.”

To be fair, Apple has been quietly courting the enterprise over the last few months, particularly with enterprise-class features in iOS 5. “It really shows Apple has been listening to businesses,” Aaron Freimark, IT director at Tekserve, a services firm helping Fortune 1000 companies adopt the iPad, told me.

But Apple’s enterprise efforts have gone largely unannounced on purpose. Traditionally, Apple has held public disdain for the enterprise, particularly CIOs. Apple wants to be known solely as a consumer tech company. That is, until now.

Apple’s support for the enterprise is getting more and more visible. At some Apple Stores, an employee called a "business manager" helps business users with their Apple products. There may even be a briefing room at Apple Stores where Apple-related vendors conduct training sessions focused on business needs.

(Virtual desktop software vendor Parallels has been asked to participate in these trainings.)

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Cook is not as adverse to the enterprise as his predecessor, the hot-tempered Steve Jobs, who once chided CIOs as chief information orifices. Cook’s calm demeanor is more suited to the realities of business.

Contrast his comments this week with Jobs’ comments last year about patent litigation.

Cook said: “We just want people to invent their own stuff. And so if we could get to some kind of arrangement where we could be assured that’s the case and a fair settlement on the stuff that’s occurred, I would highly prefer to settle versus battle.”

Jobs said: “I’m going to destroy Android because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go to thermonuclear war on this.”

Now we have Cook’s comments about Apple putting more direct salespeople in the field, as well as working closely with the channel. Perhaps this is the start of Apple finally recognizing CIOs and the enterprise.

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