Apple Makes A Move Into Small Business

applejointventurelogo

It’s obvious by now that nothing pursued by Apple should be underestimated. Apple has had its share of unsuccessful projects over the years that languished or died, but it has all the momentum in 2011 to move things forward simply by focusing on them.

Small businesses might be the next target.

It’s conventional wisdom that most small businesses will run Windows computers for years to come. Line of business apps are designed for Windows, hardware overwhelmingly works better (or only) on Windows, PCs are cheaper than Macs, employees are more familiar with Windows – compelling reasons for small businesses to buy Windows computers.

Although its share of the computer market has grown, Apple hasn’t really changed the balance of power in small business computers in any interesting way. For the last few years, Apple has neglected its computers and the Mac OS while it singlehandedly grew the market for mobile devices. It’s hard to argue with the result: Apple is now the number one technology company in the world by any measure, even with only modest increases in its market share for computers.

But Apple has done one more thing. Apple has developed an extraordinary reputation for providing good support. Think about the anecdotes you’ve heard about visits to an Apple store – mostly people come out glowing. Have you ever had to return something to Apple? When things go well – and they frequently do – it’s an amazingly painless experience.

Apple is going to try to get a foothold in small businesses by leveraging that good reputation for support. At the beginning of March, Apple announced its “Joint Venture” program for small businesses.

applejointventure

When small businesses buy equipment directly from Apple and sign up for the Joint Venture program, they will get:

  • Assistance setting up new systems and transferring data from old PCs or Macs
  • Priority support at Apple stores
  • Phone support
  • Training and workshops
  • Loaner computers when a machine is in the shop for more than 24 hours

Apple’s official Joint Venture page is here, and 9To5Mac has more details here. The plan costs $499/year for up to 5 users, plus $99/year for each additional users.

This will take a while to shake out. Independent Apple consultants are disturbed by the news that Apple will compete with them. Apple may add more services aimed at mid-size businesses and enterprises. There is a fair amount of fine print in the Joint Venture plan.

Whatever the details, it suggests that Apple will be more aggressive about pushing into small businesses, at a time when business owners are far more receptive than ever before.

There was another quiet announcement from Apple this month that also has the potential to make Apple products more attractive for small businesses. Apple has had a server OS in the background for years that never made any headway in businesses. There will only be one version of Apple’s next release, OS X Lion, and the server code will be included as if it’s just a feature of the operating system. That allows an inexpensive Mac computer to act as an office file server for a small business, with reasonable stability but no extra expense for a more expensive operating system license.

appleosxserverlion

If a small business has its mail system hosted online, and chooses cloud-based line of business programs, then an inexpensive Mac file server is all that’s needed onsite.

An investment in Mac workstations (with one acting as a file server) is a lot easier to justify if a business owner is convinced by Apple’s reputation that Apple will provide the expertise to set up the office and keep it running.

What does it all mean?

Joint Venture may fade away, just another announcement of another program in a world where hundreds of announcements are made every day.

But Apple should not be underestimated. There’s a chance that we’ll look back on this as one of the important watershed moments in the decline of Microsoft and the PC industry.

To be honest, I’m not sure which way I would place my money on that bet.