This week, much of the attention on Apple has been focused around its latest and greatest attempts to innovate in entertainment.
Is Apple Taking Over The Music Business? is Rolling Stones’ main question this week. They were far from alone in their musings on Cupertino’s future in entertaining the masses. Those not avidly curious about how well Apple’s music streaming service is doing were instead obsessing over what the future of Apple TV might be, as the hardware will be getting its first big upgrade since 2012. And the fate of a shiny new streaming service, possibly aimed at the cord cutting consumer who is through with big cable packages, well, that still remains to be seen — and of course subject to endless speculation.
And while entertainment is, well, entertaining, Apple’s more interesting moves this week came in the realm of another “e” word: enterprise.
This week saw two big moves by Apple in the business consumer ecosystem: Apple Pay went corporate with American Express to kick off the week, and reports are increasingly emerging about the iPad’s second act as a go-to tool for corporate users.
What’s happening — and why is the world’s most successful consumer brand making so many bets on business? PYMNTS has your guide.
Tap And Pay: It’s Not Just For Consumers Anymore
American Express was on board when Apple launched last October, but only on the consumer payments side; corporate users could not enter their cards into the Apple digital wallet. That changed this week (on Aug. 10) with Amex’s announcement that Apple Pay is now open for business, figuratively speaking.
“Businesses today are going digital, and American Express is at the forefront of digital innovation, helping companies to streamline their payments systems and simplify their processes,” said Greg Keeley, Executive Vice President of Global Corporate Payments at American Express. “We continue to invest and expand digital offerings for our corporate customers in ways that maximize security and enhance the user experience.”
Amex corporate users can now use Apple Pay via mobile device to either pay in-app or tap and go at contactless terminals. The main selling point, according to American Express, is the additional security offered via Apple’s mobile plan that is so especially important for businesses and their card-holding employees.
“Security and privacy is at the core of American Express and Apple Pay. When you add a card to Apple Pay, the actual card numbers are not stored on the device, nor on Apple servers. Instead, a unique device account number is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the secure element on your device. Each transaction is authorized with a one-time unique dynamic security code,” American Express noted in the announcement.
Could integration amongst business travelers give Apple Pay adoption the “shot in the arm” it clearly needs? According to the latest usage report from PYMNTS and InfoScout, the numbers of users trying Apple Pay and becoming devoted to it are on the decline, not the incline. Business users — particularly business travelers booking flights and Uber rides — on the other hand, could be an ideal group to get habituated to the ease of paying with Apple, particularly on the go.
[If only it was accepted at places that business travelers frequented.]
Plus, business users are becoming increasingly mobile-oriented, which is probably why Apple is working so hard to get more devices into those users’ hands.
Especially if that device is the iPad.
The iPad’s New Life As The ePad (“E” Is For Enterprise)
While once hailed as a flagship product for Apple, the recent fortunes of the iPad indicate a different story. iPad sales have declined for the last six consecutive quarters. As of June, profits on the iPad were down 24 percent year over year.
However, according to Forrester research, the big bright spot in all those falling figures is the increasing use of iPads for business. In 2014, about 12 percent of the iPads in the market were owned by businesses — and Forrester estimates that number will increase to 20 percent by 2018.
And the business marketplace represents a big — and potentially highly lucrative — space to play in. According to The WSJ approximately $2 trillion is spent each year on workplace tech. Yet, as expansive as Apple’s ambitions have been over the last 15 years, it has been a market they have been slow to go after.
The first signs of a shifting purview began to emerge last year, at the beginning of the iPad’s declining sales run, with the announcement that Apple was teaming up with one-time archrival IBM to build simple-to-use business apps and sell iPhones and iPads to Big Blue’s corporate customers.
More recent reports indicate that while Apple and IBM are chipping away at their goal to release 100 enterprise apps by the end of the year, they are already teaming up again to beef B2B services for the health care industry with some big plans for big data.
“IBM’s secure data storage and analytics solutions will enable doctors and researchers to draw on real-time insights from consumer health and behavioral data at a scale never before possible,” said IBM Senior Vice President of Research and Solutions John E. Kelly III.
Data will flow in through Apple’s ResearchKit and HealthKit software services and, most likely, through the health care apps developed in conjunction between the two firms.
And while that partnership with IBM is ongoing, it seems Apple is further looking to play nicely with others at it works to get its hardware into the hands of more business users. It is also currently partnering with a reported 40 technology companies, including some very new players, in an attempt to buttress the iPad’s utility as a work tool.
Earlier this summer, PYMNTS spoke to Vend, one such startup retail partner of Apple’s, in the form of a conversation with their founder and CEO Vaughan Rowsell. Vend is the only mPOS platform that Apple has offered any “official” recognition to through this program.
“There is a huge disruption that is coming in retail over the next few years in mobile. Some of that is going to be about payment, but a lot more is going to be about changing the way retailers do business,” Rowsell said. “Soon to be gone are the days of being chained to the back counter and driving customers out. Going forward this is really going to be about engagement with consumers who are using mobile devices. The experience of an Apple store is the innovation roadmap here – you can checkout, you can research and you can engage all from your phone while you are in-store.”
“Apple is trying to shift its focus to attracting more small business customers. It’s about building this relationship with Apple that, going forward, is easier to get retailers to use things like Apple Pay in their store,” Rowsell told Karen Webster in an interview.
Unidentified sources close to the initiative note that it is internally known as the “mobility partner program,” or MPP, and that Apple, true to form, has discouraged its partners from referring to it as such in public. Participants have been invited to train Apple business professionals on their services, been invited to usually insider-only events like sales conferences, and they have even gotten some very direct feedback from Apple on how to improve the design of their products. And that feedback sounds as though it can be pretty granular — some reports note Apple offers advice down to the level of which words in the app should be shaded in gray.
So far the program has been generating some positive results, particularly among small business customers who have become iPad connected often by being referred to Apple as a business solution by one of their technology vendors.
The big picture vision for Apple, however, is in the sale of bundles of applications tailored to industries or business functions. Apple also has discussed tapping mobile-phone carriers.
“[The idea is] to come in and offer a curated set of solutions that have been blessed and work together. Don’t tell me to just go to the App Store,” said James Maiocco, Xero’s general manager of corporate and business development. Xero is another partner in the MPP initiative.
The business tech market is lucrative, but it’s also very crowded. Microsoft, Google Inc. and Samsung are looking to business tech in tablets and courting app developers touting a “sturdier” and more enterprise grade hardware and software platform. Apple’s app dominance on the consumer side has not yet translated to the enterprise where others have been playing and carving out their turf for quite some time. And Apple does enter this competition with an established workplace tech sales-network.
But Apple is adaptable above all things — and always ready to tap a new market. And while all eyes might be on entertainment, it might just be enterprise where it actually pulls off a coup. Or at least, so it hopes.