Weekly Update

Apple Thinks Enterprise Is Ready for the iPhone

This was (yet again) the week of the iPhone. Apple’s gotta-have gadget fueled a record non-holiday quarter for Steve Jobs’ company (selling 4 million units and generating $1.5 billion in revenue), accounted for more than half of AT&T’s new subscribers, helped the App Store reach its 1 billionth download and — finally! — gave us a way to make our fellow cube-mates believe we are actually conscious. (None of which is to say that the App Store didn’t suffer its own PR nightmare this week.)

What’s more, AT&T, which remains the exclusive iPhone dealer in the U.S. despite concerns about its network, is working on doubling the 3G speeds of its HSPA infrastructure to 7.2 Mbps.

So how could the hottest gadget in wireless get any hotter? By conquering business users. And that may be next, if Apple’s latest marketing push is any indication.

The iPhone is less than two years old, and the App Store — which, believe it or not, launched only last July — has already served its 1 billionth download. Apple’s giant strides in mobile can be credited in part to an intuitive user interface and a long-overdue consumer-friendly storefront for wireless apps. But the company’s impressive marketing savvy was more important than any other single factor. And there’s no reason to think that Apple can’t duplicate that formula for success in the enterprise.

Apple, which boasts the most impressive marketing savvy of any player on the mobile playground, is beginning to promote the idea of the iPhone as a business gadget. The company is running TV commercials in prime time targeting small business, according to the Wall Street Journal, touting a variety of apps tailored for on-the-go executives. Apple’s ad on the back cover of this week’s New Yorker takes the same tack, highlighting everything from a free package-tracking iPhone app from FedEx to a $50 app-based service from InnerFence that turns the device into a virtual terminal for credit-card transactions.

And while the iPhone was once dismissed in business circles as a toy, the handset is accumulating bona fides as a business tool. Forrester recently studied iPhone deployments at Kraft Foods, Oracle and Amylin Pharmaceutical and determined that the device may be ready for prime time in the enterprise. The market-research firm found several key selling points, including the iPhone’s intuitive Internet browser, AT&T’s consumer-friendly data rates, a built-in user base of early adopters willing to help newbies and — perhaps the most crucial factor– employees flat-out like the iPhone, making workers more productive.

Apple still faces major hurdles as it works to move beyond early adopters and cutting-edge consumers and into the boardroom, of course, and the field teems with worthy competitors. The iPhone’s reach is still a fraction of RIM’s BlackBerry; Microsoft has yet to truly tap into its staggering computer-software footprint; and Google remains an 800-pound gorilla poised to make major waves in mobile anytime it pleases. Also, the iPhone’s key selling point — its ease of use and vast library of available content — may be a vulnerability for IT staffers, who crave one-dimensional devices that support crucial business functions but nothing more.

So this week’s question is a simple one: Even with Apple’s marketing might, can the iPhone break into the enterprise?