Apple wants the iPad to be the next must-have business tool

That means developing more business apps, and taking on RIM

An iPad for every employee

Simon Hayter

After only two years in the market, Apple’s iPad has been a remarkable success, cornering 68 per cent of the global tablet market, with 11.8 million units sold in the first quarter of 2012 alone. But to really secure its place as the king of tablets—and to prove its device is more than just a consumer toy for Web browsing and playing games—Apple is planning to conquer one final frontier: the business world.

The company has launched an aggressive global campaign to lure developers into building more business applications for the iPad. One of the centres of this push is Vancouver, home to a thriving community of software companies that have created successful consumer apps for Apple’s iOS platform, used on the iPhone and iPad. Apple is organizing regular developer meet-ups in the city with thousands of participants and inviting software companies to showcase their business apps to sales staff at Apple stores.

Angela Robert is CEO of Vancouver-based Conquer Mobile, one of the companies that is now focusing solely on developing business apps for the iPad, like Colligo Briefcase, which helps view, share, and edit content in a secure environment. Robert says she’s never seen Apple come after developers so aggressively. (With consumer apps, it was usually developers courting Apple.) She says the current offering of business apps is, so far, insufficient to convince company decision-makers that they need iPads. “It’s just like [Apple] did with the iPhones,” says Robert. “People bought iPhones only after they saw all they could do with apps.”

About 90 per cent of all apps in the iTunes store are consumer apps, such as magazines and video games. For Apple to break into the enterprise world, there needs to be thousands more applications designed with businesses in mind. “There’s a lot to be done by Apple and the developers,” says Kevin Restivo, a senior mobile industry analyst at International DataCorporation in Toronto. He thinks business apps that will change the game for iPad have not been invented yet. Apple offers a line of productivity software on the iPad, called iWork, though big-name business software products and custom software designed to run complex systems like inventory management aren’t widely available. “There are a lot of glorified calculators out there,” says Restivo.

Developers like Robert dream of workers on oil rigs armed with iPads, checking on machinery and reporting back in real time to managers using video and live data; or executives bringing their iPads to meetings already loaded with company financials rather than with bulky printouts. Apps developed by Vancouver companies already in the market include FusionPipe, a secure cloud computing system that allows employees to access corporate resources from virtual servers; and the popular HootSuite, a social media management system for businesses and organizations to collaboratively organize campaigns across multiple social networks.

Apple’s new-found enthusiasm for the enterprise market could be a troubling development for Canada’s Research In Motion, whose market share has been plummeting and whose tablet, the PlayBook, has been a flop thus far. Apple is threatening to erode RIM’s last foothold, the business market, which it once dominated. RIM is by no means giving up its turf easily. The company is set to unveil a new version of the PlayBook later this year, and it is also courting software firms to fill its own app store with offerings for businesses. It has told developers they will earn $10,000 in their first year on the app store. If they fall short RIM will pay them the balance.

Robert is convinced that Apple, and companies like her own, are standing at the doorstep of a major boom in business apps. A report released by Deloitte this year noted the “app economy” will be worth $2 billion by 2015 in the U.S. “More and more companies are asking software developers to create apps for them,” she says. “As they see their competitors starting to come up with their own apps, they’re starting to wonder, ‘Do I need an app?’ ” Major companies like Accenture, SAP and IBM have started commissioning business apps so that they, in turn, may offer mobile solutions to the large organizations they already offer services to.

It’s not just big corporations that could be giving out iPads to their employees. Jim Secord is the CEO of Vancouver-based Kashoo, which makes an app for small businesses called Kashoo Accounting. It helps people track expenses, send invoices and create financial reports. “The iPad is ideally suited for small businesses,” he says, because it’s portable, user-friendly, and inexpensive. The iPad’s portability is key because it is liberating business owners, who usually have to run errands throughout the day, from having to return to their office or home to do paperwork.

There is still plenty of room for growth. Analysts like Restivo think Apple has yet to evolve from consumer-targeted apps, and are skeptical about how fast and effective this push into the business world will be. Some believe RIM could maintain its hold. Despite a difficult year, it still has long-standing relationships with business clients, while Apple is only getting started.

Restivo thinks Apple’s move into the enterprise market does present a threat to RIM, but says we’re still in the early stages of the race. “There will be a winner in the enterprise world when it comes to tablet adoption,” he says, “and Apple is jumping over the first hurdle of that race right now, placing it very much in first place.” And Secord, Kashoo’s CEO, believes Apple has a well-calculated game plan for its iPad and business apps. “All along,” he says, “Apple knew this is where they wanted to go.”

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