SHARED INTEL: Can Apple’s pricey ‘Business Essentials’ truly help SMBs secure their endpoints?

By Apu Pavithran

Today’s operating system battleground has long been defined by the warfare between the top three players—Microsoft’s Windows, Google’s Android, and Apple’s iOS.

Related: Cook vs. Zuckerberg on privacy

While each of them has its distinguishing features, Apple’s privacy and security are what makes it the typical enterprise’s pick. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, could be heard stating in the virtual Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection Conference, “Privacy is one of the top issues of the century and it should be weighed as equal as climate change.”

In June 2020, Apple’s intention of expanding in the enterprise space was made evident by the acquisition of Fleetsmith, a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution for Apple devices. What would unfold next with Fleetsmith on their team was the most anticipated question.

In effect, Apple launched Apple Business Essentials (ABE). Let’s take a look at whether ABE will suffice enterprises’ demands.

Apple eyes SMBs

In recent years, we have seen diverse initiatives, including the Apple Business Manager (ABM) app launched in spring 2018 and Apple Business Essentials (ABE) in 2021, clearly showing Apple’s desire to conquer the enterprise market.

Even with the big guns out there, with SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) accounting for the bulk of operating businesses today, Apple’s decision to get them on board with the acquisition of Fleetsmith is a smart one.

Apple Business Essentials, a device management system, aims to oversee the device’s entire lifecycle, from its setup to employee onboarding and even device upgrades. All this happens while promising cloud backup, prioritized support, and secure data storage.

Furthermore, Apple intends to launch plans with AppleCare+ for Business Essentials in the spring of 2022. Apple claims that AppleCare+ offers end-users and IT teams 24/7 phone support and device repairs where an Apple-trained expert arrives onsite to repair the device.

Pavithran

While these features are intended to pique the interest of SMBs, a closer examination raises a few concerns. With at least twice as many devices as employees, a trove of data in the cloud, and a lack of a dedicated IT team, SMBs must rely on a mobile device management (MDM) solution to manage their corporate devices. ABE is beneficial for businesses that have an entire Apple ecosystem.

A pricey play

Unfortunately, with Android presently ruling the OS business and Apple being a pricey option, ABE may not be an SMB’s primary MDM choice as they hope.

According to Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Enterprise and Education Marketing, ABE was launched to assist small businesses that cannot afford to hire a professional IT team with streamlining their device management. Yet, it’s pricing strategy puts businesses in a dilemma.

Apple offers three pricing plans to its subscribers, with the lowest being $2.99 per device/month, which is comparable to its competitors. However, a recent survey states that employees often work with at least two to three devices in hand, and ABE’s multi-device plan costs around three times as much as the single device plan, questioning the feasibility of ABE for SMBs.

It’s no surprise that IoT and wearables have changed the enterprise market’s rhythm, and a perfect device management solution should encompass all device categories.

Unfortunately, while Apple Business Essential provides a robust solution for managing iPhones, iPads, and Macs, it fails to support Apple TV and wearables. As a result, ABE may have a long way to go with other MDM vendors managing them all.

ABE was released keeping SMBs in mind, and so the subscription plan caters to enterprises with about 500 employees. Though the great resignation stays, incorporating trends like BYOD (Bring your own device) and hybrid work has bolstered employment traction in SMBs.

 Apple unknowns

A company might slowly scale from being an SMB to a large-sized enterprise. That is when the question ‘ what next?’ emerges. Is ABE planning to stick on to SMBs? Do they face scalability issues? Do they offer migration plans for those corporates who cross the digit?

With all of these unsolved uncertainties, it’s difficult to predict how far Apple’s Business Essential market strategy will go.

With every passing year, customer demands escalate, and the bar that every vendor is expected to cross raises in tandem. A business with Macs and iOS might start with Apple’s subscription plan, but the chances are high that they may eventually switch to a vendor that promises more.

With enterprises owning a fleet of devices running on multiple operation systems and other UEM vendors supporting multi-OS platforms, Apple will have to offer more to stay in the race. Predicting whether ABE will tip the endpoint management scales will have to wait until Apple unveils their next set of plans in the spring of 2022.

About the essayist: Apu Pavithran is the CEO of Hexnode, which supplies a centralized management system for mobile devices, PCs and wearables.

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