I agree with CCS Insight that Apple already has the building blocks to offer its own business productivity suite built around iWork and iCloud. It seems strange that it hasn’t provided these yet.

Apple’s business services

The analysts at CCS Insight hold an annual predictions event — 2022 & Beyond — and, among a wide selection of interesting future Apple possibilities, state:

“Apple’s services unit has gone from strength to strength in the past few years. In 2Q21, it accounted for over 20% of total revenue and registered 33% annual growth. The unit’s strength gives the company increasing confidence as a web services provider, and it launches a productivity suite, based on iWork and iCloud, as a service aimed at smaller companies that are less well- served by Microsoft and more frequently use Google Workspace.”

What could the service offer?

Take email, for example. Apple’s recent introduction of support for domain-based email within iCloud+ for families could so easily be extended to provide a similar (and private) email service for small business users. A business would then be able to equip staff with email access, and Apple could add the email archiving, management, and search tools businesses need to ensure they maintain all necessary records. Integration would need to be cross-platform, but anyone who has ever set up iCloud mail from inside a Windows system knows it already is.

When it comes to iCloud Drive, why not create a white-box version of the service? This could make use of Apple’s existing MDM solutions and the existing iCloud Drive to offer a company branded, zero-trust, account-only shared 2TB of iCloud storage for use within a company.

Recently introduced iCloud+ features around phishing protection, hidden and single-use email addresses, and protection for Safari privacy become icing on the cake. That you can use storage from other providers all within Drive is a big dollop of cream on top of that icing. Existing online enterprise archives remain in reach.

What about iWork?

Productivity tools? Apple already has them. Pages, Keychain, and Numbers represent perfectly competent alternatives to Google Documents or Office apps, but somehow never seem to have quite caught the zeitgeist. Most people still collaborate on shared documents in Google Docs.

Apple has made iWork apps available in online form via its iCloud portal since 2013, but the implementation is somehow not quite as user friendly as Google Docs. How can Apple at least match what’s offered there with its iWork suite?

One way it might change things up would be by taking those apps out of the online iCloud space to make them more accessible. These apps could (and probably should) be free to use to anyone, but saving work will require an account — like Docs.

What else could Apple provide?

Apple has other ways in which it might be able to offer value to business users. Take augmented reality (AR). Why shouldn’t it be possible for an enterprise employee in a factory to use the video camera on their iPhone to share an AR-like experience with a remote viewer?

It may not need to. Solutions that do this already exist. They are invaluable in tech support, but there are other tools – screen sharing, for example, that the company already provides that could themselves be augmented. 

What about FaceTime? Apple’s taken a short step toward improving that service by making it a little easier to connect with people on other platforms. But the fact that most of the company’s externally focused meetings still take place using tools from other providers suggests that integration would make for a better path.

Could FaceTime become a Zoom plug-in? Sure, that’s not the Apple way. But businesses speak with people using all kinds of technologies, and if Cupertino wanted to make FaceTime part of a business services catalog, it would need to put it where the people are. And they aren’t yet there.

Siri could (it could, but needs work) be another secret weapon.

Why not create new enterprise-focused domains in Shortcuts that can be used by a small business to shut factory doors, count the crates, or figure out the quickest ways to fetch the stock? And what about Matter? Can the Matter IoT standard eventually embrace existing industrial IoT systems? And if it can, will Apple be able to extend Siri support to the automated systems already in place on factory floors? Or is this an opportunity for third parties to ponder?

Apple is an enterprise company

Look at it this way. Apple is already in the enterprise. At one point Macs, accounted for 23% of all PCs being purchased by business users, and this trend continues to take place. Again and again, we learn that Apple’s products are nearly always the most popular selections in enterprise choice schemes. Apple’s Net Promoter and Customer Satisfaction scores show that word is spreading. While I know many deny it and many more resist it, Apple is already in the enterprise – and its reach is growing.

Now it has an opportunity to build and provide new business-focused services to support these business customers. Many of the solutions it already has simply need to be tweaked and extended to meet specific needs. (Apple is already doing so with the introduction of Pivot tables in Numbers.)

Will it do this next year, as CCS Insight suggest? In my experience, Apple doesn’t usually move that fast. But the opportunity for business services from Cupertino continues to grow one enterprise Mac, iPad or iPhone deployment at a time.

What about AI?

That’s even before you consider how Apple might make use of the Neural engine inside its processors to add a little AI to support existing business processes. How can Siri Suggestions become a full-fledged system for business process automation? On that last notion, you might also ask — is this something Apple can already (privately) provide, or should we all keep a watchful eye on the next batch of acquisitions it makes?

iCloud for the enterprise? Why not?

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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