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Businesses Face Influx of Cheaper iOS Hardware

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

CTO of IT services company comments on the impact the steady reduction in the cost of Apple computers and gadgets is having on business and IT pros.

Apple, once the bastion of high-priced yet distinctive and highly-functional desktops, laptops and gadgets, has steadily lowered prices over the last few years. This has made its complete lineup of products more attractive to consumers and business alike.

Sure, most Apple products are still priced at a premium over competitors. However, the cost of buying into the Apple ecosystem has dropped so much over the last few years, which is getting folks who otherwise would have passed on an iMac or MacBook in the past to give these computers a second look.

Also, for instance, you can pick up a brand new iPhone 4s for $199 with a two-year contract. The original iPhone, released back in 2007, went for $499, far more than most other smartphones at the time. Thanks in part to its attractive pricing—and a slightly longer-than-usual time between new iPhone releases—Apple sold 4 million iPhone 4s units during the smartphone’s first weekend of availability.

As Karl Volkman, CTO for IT services company SRV Network puts it, "Especially in the 1990s, Apple products were seen as overpriced and flashy, making it difficult for them to compete with PCs which were far cheaper. The recent price cuts are a sign of increasing power for Apple, not distress.”

Apple’s products have come down to a price-level that allows them to actively compete with their counterparts on a level that is causing the tech industry as whole  to rethink itself, according to Volkman.  Before the iPhone, early preview editions of Google Android appeared closer in spirit to the no-longer supported the Windows Mobile and Symbian platforms than to the iPhone.  After the iPhone,  for example, Google and its partners changed direction.

Many analysts attribute Apple's recent pricing aggressiveness to its ability to leverage unrivaled manufacturing and scaling capabilities to lower the costs of parts and, hence, the end product—be it smartphone (iPhone), tablet (iPad), handheld media player (iPod touch), laptop (MacBook), desktop (iMac), etc.

Apple’s unmatched ability to reach and service customers directly through its highly successful brick and mortar stores–thereby cutting out the middleman—is another reason. There is also Apple’s huge cash reserve, over $80 billion earning interest. 

This combination—a unique ability to scale manufacturing, huge retail presence and unmatched cash reserves—has made it difficult for even Apple's most experienced competitors to compete effectively.

Although Android made a significant impact in the smartphone market, it still lags far behind in tablets.  Last quarter, Samsung lead the smartphone market in shipments, outflanking Apple for the first time thanks (it is true) mostly to Android, but also to its proprietary Bada platform. Nokia, HTC and RIM rounded out the top 5.

Also, in smartphones, no single manufacturer has become synonymous with Android as a platform the way Apple is with the iOS. For the average consumer this isn’t a problem, but for businesses, device and OS fragmentation (Android smartphone models running on different versions of the OS) is an important issue.

In his position, Volkman works with a lot of IT pros. So we asked him a few questions regarding the impact of Apple's lowered pricing on business and IT departments in particular.

Tom's IT Pro: We are particularly interested in how these price drops and the new accessibility of Apple products is affecting the presence of iOS and Apple products in IT environments?

Volkman: iPads and iPhones have been used in IT environments as smartphones getting email.  A few companies have written some apps to use for business purposes, but for now it is mainly a personal product to get email and perhaps taking notes on the iPad.  Lower cost always increases purchases and the added pressure may spur more business apps.

Tom’s IT Pro: What does the influx of employee bought and owned iOS devices mean for the IT pro tasked with managing mobile devices and keeping a company network and data safe? We would think this raises a lot of issues regarding security. 

Volkman: It definitely does.  One of the best pluses for Blackberry Enterprise environments is the security and control elements that the IT staff could manage from a central location.  If Apple wants to truly invade the business world, then providing easy-to-use central management ability is critical.

Tom’s IT Pro:  What does the coming flood of iOS products mean to companies big and small in general? Will there be differences depending on size? You would think some might be overwhelmed while others will welcome having to not purchase mobile products (smartphones and tablets) for their employees. Either way, what's the best way for IT pros to help their organization to get the most out of them without, again, compromising security?

Volkman:  For the most part, IT pros will utilize the ActiveSync email capabilities.  Larger staffs may create secure business apps that work on the platform.  The majority will wait until there are better central management capabilities.

Tom’s IT Pro:  What impact is this having on other platforms, including RIM Blackberry and Android? Android is number one now, right? But it's been far more susceptible to malware and fragmentation. Both of which aren't very enterprise-friendly. As for RIM, do you see any chance for them to getting back in the game?

Volkman:  In my estimation, Blackberry needs to pick it up and get the Playbook more attractive.  Apps are the key to portable devices and Blackberry is not quite at the perceived level of Apple or Android.  Blackberry needs to change their image of solid yet somewhat boring devices.

Android has the issue of not controlling the hardware as does Apple and Blackberry; therefore, consistency will be its major hurdle.  In my household we have four Android devices and all work differently to silence the ringer or get to the apps.  Simple things should be consistent across all devices.

James Alan MillerJames Alan MillerJames Alan Miller is Managing Editor of Tom's IT Pro. He is a veteran technology journalist with over seventeen years of experience creating and developing magazine and online content. Founding editor of numerous business and enterprise computing sites at the network, James headed up the After Hours section at PC Magazine, as well as hardware and software sections of various Windows publications.