One of the best things about the iPhone has always been that you could hand one to just about anyone and they'd be able to figure out what to do. The same is mostly true for the iPad. iOS, the operating system that powers both devices, and the touch interface make interacting with the devices intuitive and straightforward.
Using an iPad or iPhone, or even a Mac, is easy. It "just works," as Apple likes to say. On the other hand, it hasn't always been as easy to set up your devices, especially if you have multiple devices for employees.
Small businesses face an additional challenge, in that they usually don't have the luxury of a dedicated information technology (IT) department to handle deploying apps and permissions across dozens, if not hundreds of devices.
Apple, however, has a solution. Starting today, it's rolling out a beta trial of a new program called Business Essentials designed to help. I spoke with Susan Prescott, Apple's vice president of enterprise and education marketing, about the new service.
"It's a brand new service from Apple that combines device management, storage, and support into a single subscription for small businesses, targeted to up to about 500 employees," Prescott told me. "It's designed to make managing Apple's devices, keeping them up and running, as fun as using them--or, at least, as easy as using them"
The idea is that small businesses will be able to create collections of apps and settings for various areas of the company, and easily deploy those onto the devices their employees use. It works whether a company is buying devices to distribute to employees, or when those employees are bringing their own devices to work.
In that case, employees simply log in to their work account under Apple's device management setting. This allows the employee to download apps for work, and have a separate iCloud storage account for work on their personal devices.
The idea, again, is to make it as easy as possible to set up and manage devices, even without an entire IT department. Small businesses have traditionally had to figure this out on their own, since enterprise device management tools are often too complex and unaffordable.
"These companies don't always have IT staffs, nor do they typically have access to the third-party enterprise services that many large organizations leverage to manage their Apple devices," said Tom Mainelli, an analyst and group vice president at IDC. "Many of these companies currently deal with these various challenges in piecemeal fashion, and will welcome the opportunity to address them via Apple's services."
That sentiment was echoed by several of the analysts I spoke to who had been briefed on Apple's plan.
"The SMB market is in fact underserved," Maribel Lopez, the principal analyst with Lopez Research, told me. "Most device management software is geared towards large organizations, with features that aren't necessary or are too complex to use. In my mind, this offering makes Apple devices more appealing because companies will envision it being easier to support these devices."
Apple will also offer a business tier of its AppleCare+ support, which includes onsite repairs. So, in addition to bringing a device to an Apple Store, or sending it in, Apple says it will come to your location in "as little as four hours." That's according to Jeremy Butcher, Apple's manager of product marketing for enterprise and education:
"One of the things it gives you is 24/7 phone support for you as an IT person, but also for your employees," says Butcher. "So you can call in to get help setting up Business Essentials if you need it. Your employees can call in for all sorts of stuff. Maybe it's just, 'How do I scan a document using my iPhone camera?' Instead of calling me, the help desk, I just let you know, 'Hey, call Apple, they can help you with that.'
"Plus, we're actually going on-site to do repairs in as fast as four hours," says Butcher. "So, you know, if you are at your office and something happens, we'll come to you. If you're in a hybrid work environment, we'll still come to you. On-site works either way--you just give us your address and we'll show up as quickly as we can."
That's especially useful, because not every small business has a "help desk" to begin with. That's really the idea: Make it easy for small businesses without the same kind of support infrastructure as large enterprises to manage the devices their employees need to get work done--without a lot of extra work. Small businesses have a lot of challenges. Figuring out how to manage technology for a growing team shouldn't be one of them.
Apple is rolling out Business Essentials as a free beta starting today. In the spring, it plans to charge $2.99 per user, per month, for a single device and 50GB of storage, or $6.99 per user, per month, for up to three devices and 200GB of storage. Businesses can expand that to 2 TB of storage for an additional $6 per user, per month. AppleCare+ will be available starting in the spring of 2022, although Apple hasn't said what it will cost.