Never, I hope.
It's simply the wrong war, for two reasons:
- Corporate customers don't prize innovation.
- Corporate customers only embrace new technology when they must.
Makes it easy to understand why Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) has been so successful as a corporate supplier, doesn't it? Keep it cheap, don't surprise me, and don't push new stuff on me till there's no other choice.
Or think of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). What makes Windows great -- and I really mean this -- is its legacy. Plenty of software written for earlier versions of Windows still works with current versions of the OS. (Well, XP at least.) Apple can't say that about the Mac OS.
Here's why that matters. IT managers, above all else, are charged with maintaining corporate systems. Improvement isn't really the point; it never has been. What matters is creating a controlled environment where rogue software and devices don't compromise security.
An obsession with control has led to an obsession with "standards." All software is built from these cookbooks of code -- even the underpinnings of the Web -- because adherence to common principles preserves compatibility between software and systems, allowing data to be shared and business to get done.
Raise your hand if you think Apple's products are great because (a) they're really interoperable and (b) they strictly adhere to standards. I didn't think so.
Connect with the insurrection
Having said all that, I am not arguing for Apple to avoid the enterprise. I'm just saying that directly courting corporate customers would force Apple's culture to shift from innovation to safety. I believe that would immeasurably damage the company's brand and destroy its moat.
Nevertheless, Apple can, and I believe will, win in the boardroom. It merely needs an insurrection -- an uprising that pulls its consumer technology into the enterprise market.
We know such radical shifts are possible. Consider Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry. From 1999 to 2004, it was mostly a cool gadget that users brought to work. IT managers dealt with the intrusion, and since that time, RIM's subscriber base has grown from 2 million to more than 14 million.
Or think of Firefox. Devoted consumers have downloaded the browser by the millions in a rebellion against Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The result? Big firms such as IBM (NYSE:IBM) have told their IT teams to figure out how to accommodate the upstart.
So with history as our guide, it follows that if Apple really wants to win the corporate market, it needs to keep winning consumers. And those consumers, in turn, have to sway IT managers to make room for their gear. Gear like, you know, the iPhone.
Steve Jobs: arms dealer
Here's the good news for investors: Jobs already knows the pattern, and he's arming consumers to take the fight to their IT departments.
Witness Apple's March unveiling of business tools for the iPhone. Among the list: added security features, a kit for creating new business software for the device, and built-in interoperability with Microsoft's Exchange software for managing corporate networks.
I'll understand if you're primarily interested in that last point. Exchange is arguably, outside of the Web itself, the software platform for networked business today. Connecting to it lifted the fortunes of the BlackBerry and, for a time, Palm's (NASDAQ:PALM) Treo. Conducting an enterprise insurgency without Exchange support would be like fighting a war without ammo. Now, the iPhone has plenty.
And its supply lines are getting richer by the day. Legendary venture capitalist Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers has established a $100 million "iFund" to encourage development of software for the iPhone, which it sees as a platform for business computing. I think it's right; we'll see whether IT managers come to agree.
Long live the iPhone insurgency.
Brrrrring! It's related Foolishness calling: