Ahead of today's Apple earnings announcement — whatever the sales for last year's models — all the gossip is about company's "plans" for larger iPhone and iPad devices, as its enterprise and worker battle with Android and Windows Phones heats up. Are competitors poised to take a bite from Apple?
Or will Apple's expected larger-screens satisfy an insatiable mobile marker — and even help improve productivity? What more can Apple do to drive its presence in the enterprise as Intel's Android Device Protection Technology drive starts up, with CIOs becoming increasingly concerned about mobile security? And, with Microsoft's wide-ranging enterprise play, can the revamping of iWorks help it become an enterprise winner?
Apple About to Climb Again?
For the record, Apple reports earnings this afternoon when the US market closes. The conference call is scheduled for 2 p.m. PST/5 p.m. EST and you can listen to the audio webcast here.
Estimates from analysts suggest Apple is about to report some $58 billion in revenue over the first fiscal quarter of 2014, bucking its recent trend of negative earnings growth. Once the hoopla calms down, with the usual barrage of hyperbole and ludicrous over-analysis, the company can focus on the business in hand: the evolution of its iOS product line.
Tim Cook's closing words for 2013 were "We have a lot to look forward to in 2014, including some big plans that we think our customers will love." But with Android making up ground in the enterprise and Microsoft likely to stage a mobile comeback, it's important business for Apple to focus on as the consumer market levels out.
There have been positive signs for Apple across all of its devices, with the halo effect from iPhone and iPad helping drive Mac sales to business users. Forrester reckons Apple could take 11 percent of the enterprise PC/tablet space by 2015. It also sees more than 21 percent of information workers using Apple products. However, since Cook's comments were about as close to early information as you can get from Apple, we turn to those with their ears to the ground of Apple's testing facilities for hints on what's to come.
Word from there is that the company is testing larger iPhone (likely with 4.5-inch and 5-inch displays) and a larger iPad model. If launched — which is purely speculation — they would see it better able to compete with the hugely successful phablets from Samsung and, to a lesser extent, the big format tablets offered by Dell and others.
What's the Business Benefit?
A larger iPhone will be of interest to many workers. If it's in the phablet-size range, then they can carry one device instead of both a phone and a tablet. With complaints growing about the iPhone's small screen size compared to its ever-growing rivals, a larger model would boost the types and amount of work that could be performed and reduce the cost to the business ... excluding bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives.
If Apple also decides to bring out a larger-format iPad, it could nudge the company into competing with the "tabletop tablet" category, started by the likes of Dell's XPS 18" Touch and Lenovo's Horizon 27" model. Either pure tablets, or hybrid all-in-ones, they create large-screen pass-around the table working experiences that could encourage collaboration. Is that something Apple would like to be a part of? Possibly, but it is a stretch to see Apple going beyond 13 inches in screen size for now.
On the software side, iOS 7 has added useful features for business with Enterprise Single Sign On, per application VPN, remote app management and the offer of free iWork apps to new device buyers. Expect further improvements in iOS 7.1 (now going through its fourth beta release) with new in-car functions likely to be released, improving functionality for road-warrior workers along with additional security fixes.
Apple updated iWork last week with improved iCloud features, shared document password protection and a redesign to look more like iOS 7. If Apple builds up more momentum with these changes and adds more productivity features, iWorks could soon become a more realistic contender to Google Docs and Office 365.
Here Comes the Competition
While Apple is making headway, Google's Android has struggled to gain enterprise acceptance due its sporadic security implementations. Samsung's Knox service and Google's own Nexus devices offer enterprise-grade features, with other Android device makers following in fits and starts.
That could all change, as Intel showed off Android Device Protection Technology at CES. If CIOs and IT managers want secure Android devices, this could propel Intel higher up the mobile processor rankings and create a wider threat to Apple.
Similarly, as Microsoft closes in on completion of its Nokia Mobile acquisition, the company can focus sales efforts on enterprises that are looking for a unified access to the likes of SharePoint, Yammer, Skype and other business data and communication tools.
Ultimately, a device-agnostic (or preferred device list) BYOD approach remains a likely approach for all but the most security-conscious or rigid enterprises. Fighting for these worker/consumer sales as well as creating a more attractive/safer mobile driving experience are all high on the list for vendors as we move to one-device-to-rule-them-all.
IT managers and CIOs may have a hectic time fighting through the noise from all these devices, claiming a utility in so many areas. The right decision must be based about protecting the company's data and enabling workers to be productive and communicate, not a flashy feature or excellence in one area alone.
One more thing of related news about Apple: Tomorrow, Pebble will start shipping its new $249 Steel smart watch as a high-end smart watch iPhone accessory. The phone combines a scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass face, weeklong battery life and waterproof design in a smaller, thinner package.
Title image by Amero (Shutterstock).