17 ways the iPhone transformed enterprise tech

In the 15 years since its arrival, the iPhone has changed the way we do and run our businesses. Here's a look at some of the major changes it brought about.

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“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone 15 years ago on Jan. 9.

The device kept that promise, ushered in a whole new set of paradigms (and problems), and continues to transform every walk of life. Here are just 17 ways iPhone has changed the enterprise since its launch.

Cracking the BlackBerry code

It’s a sign of the times that BlackBerry began shutting down all its remaining services for legacy devices on Jan. 4, 2022.

When Apple introduced the iPhone, BlackBerry was absolutely the prime choice for business user devices, followed by similar solutions from Palm and some others. Equipped with dinky little QWERTY keyboards, these devices were so popular people referred to them as "CrackBerries."

It took a while for iPhones to supplant these devices, and it’s arguable that BlackBerry management was too ideologically blind to see the threat coming even after the iPhone was introduced. BlackBerry’s high point came in 2013 when it had 85 million BlackBerry subscribers; that figure shrank rapidly as smartphones based on the iPhone took the market. Employees will now quit for platform choice.

Changing the enterprise

iPhones didn’t set out to replace BlackBerry. Nor, realistically, did they begin as devices to replace your digital camera.

Jobs at first described the device as a “widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device.” A camera didn’t even get a mention.

What did get called out was full-scale web access, flexible email, and always-on connectivity — all in one small device controlled by touch.

It was limited. Apple originally intended for third-party development to emerge in the form of web apps, which limited the number of available apps from the get go. All the same, it soon became popular, with sales climbing from 1.39 million in 2007 to 125 million by 2012. During that time, the company endured the sad loss of Jobs, the iPhone 4S (affectionately known as the “iPhone 4 Steve”) and iPhone 5 (six models).

Consumers loved the iPhone, which is why other mobile operating systems copied it. They loved it so much that by 2012 Bring Your Own Device had become a thing and it became increasingly common to see business professionals equipped with iPhones and iPads. Now, the device dominates the mobile enterprise.

The ultimate power tool

You can’t underestimate Apple’s decision to introduce developer tools and the App Store in 2008. Doing so generated an avalanche of games and apps; developers quickly became more ambitious and today most of the applications that once required a Mac or PC are available in some form for the iPhone or iPad.

The importance of a powerful software platform can’t be underestimated – though looking at the apps Jobs was using with iPhone 1 may help illustrate it.

It's why you can design presentations, write reports, and manage spreadsheets on your device using Microsoft Office. It’s also why industry standard creative and enterprise apps have emerged.

The power of the platform has also driven existing enterprise companies such as Cisco, SAP, and IBM to become increasingly deeply involved in building solutions for the iPhone. B2C and B2B services and solutions abound, with AI now promising the next mobile efficiency prize.

"I don’t believe you can be a credible provider of enterprise software if you’re not part of the Apple ecosystem today,” said Jeetu Patel, Cisco general manager and executive vice president.

Replacing all the things

Did you still use a calculator when the iPhone was introduced? How did your teams collaborate?

I’m willing to bet part of the reason Apple has remained so rigidly committed to in-person working is because even though it invented a device that made remote work possible, it simply didn’t change its own approach to collaboration, but I digress.

One big change is that the ascendancy of iPhones and smartphones mean a plethora of productivity devices have been replaced: Telephone systems, photocopiers, fax machines and scanners; calculators, keys to the corporate vehicle fleet, access entry systems, checkbooks, payment cards, cash registers — even menus — have been or are being replaced by connected mobile devices.

The importance of networking

Apple was late to 3G, but when it introduced support for the network, it accelerated iPhone adoption. It did so again with 4G and is doing so yet again today as 5G iPhones pick up market share and carriers climb aboard the Apple Wave to get users hooked on fast mobile broadband.

Is this a change in business?

Of course.

It means Harry in accounts can stay up to date with all the latest financial data while lounging by the pool on the shareholder’s trip to the Cayman Islands. It means Sally gets to file an order directly into the purchasing system before she leaves the client’s boardroom (virtual or otherwise). It also means delivery services and warehousing systems can track employees, goods or services in real time thanks to GPS (a mixed blessing for some).

These connected networks have created new business opportunity and continue to innovate existing ones. Don't doubt that we can expect similar changes as mobile devices get used in space.

A manifesto of change

I recall exploring the then-new notion of "showrooming," in which retailers noticed consumers were visiting stores to look at products and then checking for better prices from alternative retailers and online services.

This led retail to engage in two primary strategies: Aggressive price matching and new approaches to retail that put consumers first and sought to offer similar shopping experiences across every channel (retail, online, chat).

This omnichannel approach to retail innovation has already become normalized.

These changes also mean the person you speak with may be carrying an iPhone to take your order and payment right there. But it’s not just the retail industry that has experienced such rapid transformation. iPads in space, iPhones across cabin crews, connected maritime systems, oil and gas exploration, even agriculture are all being transformed by mobile innovation.

Between 2015 and 2019, firms that were open to digital transformation and adopting recent technologies were “2.5x more likely to experience a 20% or more increase in revenue versus firms who were more resistant,” says a recent report from NatWest.

Unheard-of partnerships

Apple’s ascendancy in mobile enabled the company to reach new partnerships that perhaps would never have been possible before. Who would have thought the famously consumer-focused company would end up in mutually profitable partnerships with IBM, SAP, Cisco, Accenture, Deloitte, GE, and so many others by 2022?

Apple may have had a little intimation of such an outcome.

“With iPhone, we set out to completely rethink mobile, to enable the things we knew that people wanted to do, including at work,” said Susan Prescott, now Vice President for Worldwide Developer Relations and Enterprise and Education Marketing at Apple.

These days, the outliers are those who continue to believe Apple is not an enterprise company, rather than those that accept this new reality.

A security nightmare

Yes, not every consequence is necessarily wonderful. A plethora of mobile devices has formed a profitable fantasy environment for various kinds of hackers, providing so many edge security challenges that ransomware, phishing attacks, and other exploits have grown increasingly intense, particularly during the ongoing pandemic that is not yet an endemic.

The result? The security environment around enterprise IT now embraces Apple devices to the extent that even Microsoft Defender provides protection for them.

New B2B opportunities

Jamf was arguably the first company to identify that a business environment characterized by accelerating Apple deployments would eventually require management tools to support enterprise IT. To this end, the company developed Mobile Device Management solutions that have enabled business tools to manage and deploy iPhones, iPads and Macs, including across heterogenous networks.

The market for Apple device management and security continues to proliferate even now – and Apple has entered it with Apple Business Essentials. How many imagined such a change even 10 years ago? Not many.

To the clouds, and back again

Larry Ellison may have been completely wrong in his predictions concerning Apple’s fate under Tim Cook, but he was right to predict the rapid proliferation of cloud-based business services once mobile devices went online.

There are so many "as-a-service" models available today, and they're seriously useful for remote enterprises attempting to promote flexible responses to business-critical needs. But the cloud has its own set of flaws (particularly around security) and increasingly we see edge devices become more intelligent in order to handle some of the tasks cloud once served.

Apple’s Neural Engine is a case in point, as is its determination to keep as much data on the device as possible while still providing useful services. This challenging mission reflects a trend toward controlling the quantity and importance of data shared in the cloud.

Saving economies, one remote business at a time

“I think the iPhone was probably one of the most impactful pieces of technology to come into the IT world since computing," Alex Tosheff, VMware vice president and chief information security officer, told Network World in 2017.

This was absolutely proven correct during the pandemic.

There’s a reason iPhone sales spiked within a broadly flat mobile device market during that time. There’s a reason businesses rushed to equip employees with Macs as coronavirus hit. Enterprise professionals not only prefer Apple kit, they also know it to be more secure and easier to use — and no one wants to face endless software and integration problems in the middle of a crisis. The decision to deploy Apple’s powerful yet easy-to-use devices reflected the vastly lower demand for tech support.

The impact? As coronavirus ravaged every nation, businesses that managed to keep economies open were supported by mobile devices. It’s arguable that if this had happened a decade ago, the economic consequences might have been far, far worse.

Making enterprise technology human

Apple’s human interface guidelines have forever informed its approach to hardware and software development, so it was inevitable its approach would leak into business culture as its devices did.

For most tasks and in most cases, Apple’s approach to simplicity, efficiency, and accessibility have been reflected in a similar approach to business process. Tasks that required interfacing with a combination of paper-based tasks and complex software now take place in a few taps of a mobile device. Employees insist business IT to be as seamless and well-designed as the sophisticated technologies they use at home.

A new workforce

Apple’s iPhone has created new markets and new opportunities. This has real and tangible impact. Apple’s annually updated Job Creation website claims US developers have earned more than $16 billion in App Stores worldwide. Apple also claims to support more than two million U.S. jobs: 80,000 at Apple, 450,000 through suppliers and an additional 1.53 million attributable to the App Store ecosystem.

How many of these jobs existed in 2007? Not so many.

How many of these jobs are attributable to businesses that just wouldn’t have been possible when Jobs took the stage to introduce iPhone? That’s hard to say.

This transformation isn’t unique to Apple. Many of the world’s larger and smaller businesses now provide employment delivering services that wouldn’t exist without the mobile revolution iPhone set ablaze.

Sustainability and worker rights

The difference between a billion and a million is best understood by considering that a billion dollars minus a million dollars is still comfortably close to being a billion dollars.

Apple doesn’t break out its own numbers anymore, but as of Nov. 1, 2018, it had sold more than 2.2 billion iPhones. Since then, it has sold hundreds of millions more.

These large numbers have consequences beyond simple market share. The advanced technologies used in them require use of incredibly rare materials like cobalt, tungsten, and rare earth materials.

Production also impacts worker’s lives. Millions of workers are involved and we all know conditions across Apple’s supply chain are constantly under scrutiny (and were even before the iPhone). Most recently, we saw iPhone manufacturing halted in Foxconn’s India factory because of major hygiene problems.

Also consider the consequences of use. Apple now breaks out power consumption within its Environmental Responsibility report, and is becoming a bit of a poster child for at least paying lip service to reduce its environmental impact and improve working conditions. At a time of climate crisis, Apple’s moves have consequences, and the wild success of the iPhone illustrates the need for every company involved in manufacturing to consider its environmental footprint. Sustainability and worker’s rights aren’t luxuries to be ignored, for millennials they are necessities that must be guaranteed.

Every business is a tech business

An epoch in which smart devices are used to measure crop hydration and new international currencies emerge online is one in which tech is affecting every part of the business environment. The way we access and share data at work has utterly changed. What we do with that information is being augmented with business process technologies.

From AI to AR, entire new revenue opportunities are being exposed and the way we manage our businesses has also changed. Traditional silo-based companies centered on presence are being replaced with more flexible, information-driven environments featuring remote teams and 24/7 flexibility. Accenture analyst Jennifer Jackson, technology and cloud first lead, puts it this way: “More leaders are also coming to the realization that every business is a technology business – no matter the industry or business – and that they face a huge opportunity to use technology to reinvent the future.”

The problem with platforms

One unexpected consequence of mobile innovation has been the creation of a mobile environment characterized by just two vendors: Apple and Android.

While Apple doesn’t dominate the industry, it remains a super-powerful player. And the emergence of this duopoly in combination with the vital part mobile devices now play means government regulators in almost every nation are looking deeply at business practices to figure out what checks and balances need to be put in place for effective competition.

This isn’t an easy riddle to solve — any limitations that are rolled out need to also ensure space for future innovation. That’s difficult to predict, given the sheer pace of change the iPhone and its competitors have already unleashed across the last 15 years.

One more thing…

What happens when you get rid of the phone? This appears to be a puzzle Apple intends unravelling across the next year. Doing so will expose fresh opportunities and generate new change that means this report will be completely different again in a decade’s time.

I’m sure there are other trends and changes to discuss. Please share your own via one of the social links below.

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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