3 telltale signs Apple is changing its enterprise tune

Apple's new iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, combined with a surprise visit from Microsoft yesterday, all suggest Apple is finally ready to get serious about enterprise.

Apple extended an olive branch to enterprise customers yesterday at its splashy media event in San Francisco. The consumer giant is retooling its enterprise image with hardware and accessories tailored for professionals, along with an increasingly warm attitude toward business customers and corporate IT.

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The company picked at least three big moments during the event to give shout-outs to the enterprise. First, Cook heaped praise on IBM and Cisco. Then a Microsoft executive hit the stage to demonstrate Office 365 apps working in split-screen mode on an iPad. Finally, Apple revealed the long-rumored iPad Pro, as well as a pair of long-missing mobile accessories to boot.

iPad Pro designed with enterprise in mind

Cook continued to position the iPad -- a "prosumer" product that's experienced steadily declining sales during the past few years -- as an evolving and quintessential device for business users. The iPad Pro measures 12.9 inches diagonally, which makes its Apple's largest tablet ever. Pricing starts $799, and the device is scheduled to ship in November.

"iPad is the clearest expression of our vision of the future of personal computing — a simple, multi-touch case of glass that instantly transforms into virtually anything you want it to be," Cook said. "In just five years iPad has transformed the way we create, the way we learn and the way we work. We're partnering with the world's leading enterprise companies, IBM and Cisco, to redefine and transform the way people work in the enterprise."

ipad pro microsoft office Matt Kapko

A pair of new accessories that also target business customers accompanied the large tablet. The stylus, named the Apple Pencil, and a Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro, which looks remarkably similar to Microsoft's Surface keyboard, will sell for $99 and $169, respectively.

"The iPad Pro is clearly aimed at the enterprise," says Jan Dawson, chief analyst and founder of tech research firm Jackdaw, who attended the event. "The keyboard, the pencil, the side-by-side multitasking, all that kind of stuff is designed to make this a true alternative to a PC."

Apple has been more serious about the enterprise during the last several years, according to Dawson. "I think they believe that the combination of the enterprise and the education market are going to be critical to getting iPad sales stabilized," he says. The iPad Pro, stylus, keyboard and partnerships with IBM and Cisco should all help steady sales, but Dawson doubts the product will ever reach sales levels seen in the past, due to longer upgrade cycles.

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"In most cases, I don't think the iPad's replacing a workstation," says Ben Bajarin, analyst at Creative Strategies, who also attended the event. Bajarin sees the device, including the super-sized iPad Pro, as a better fit for fieldworkers and other out-of-office employees who don't typically use computers for work.

While the keyboard is a critical component and more obvious option for many professionals, the Apple Pencil could attract legions of enterprise users who carry clipboards or use iPads for blueprint modifications, according to Bajarin. "[Apple is] giving them a tool they use and they're bringing it into the digital world." Apple could also find a customer base for the new stylus among the millions of workers who use traditional pencils every day, he says.

Apple shares spotlight with Microsoft — for the sake of enterprise

Apple's methodical enterprise courtship reached a once-unimaginable milestone yesterday when Phil Schiller, the company's senior vice president of marketing, invited Microsoft on stage to demonstrate new capabilities in Office 365 for iPad Pro. "Who to know better about productivity than Microsoft?" he asked a notably quiet crowd.

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Microsoft's presence was one more sign of thawing relations between the long-time competitors. The Office software for iOS has been a benefit for both companies, according to Dawson.

Apple is wisely taking small but significant steps toward embracing the enterprise, Dawson says. "I think there's no single thing that Apple could do that would totally transform its fortunes in the enterprise," he says."The way I've talked about Apple in the enterprise is 'salami tactics.' You don't try to eat a salami all at once. You slice of a bit, you slice off another bit, and so it's kind of this piecemeal approach to things."

Apple sliced off a considerable amount of meat for enterprise users to chew yesterday, and if this week's moves are any indication of what's to come, the company will continue to deliver more hardware and software, and build partnerships, that cater to corporations. Apple inadvertently joined the enterprise market seven years ago, when workers started to demand IT support for their personal iPhones. Today, it sees clear business opportunity in the enterprise that it can attack with the passion consumers and businesspeople alike have come to expect from tech giant.

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