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The mobile future of business and Apple

When Apple introduced the iPhone 7 last week, with no headphone jack, and its wireless earbuds, it was sketching out a future in which devices connect – to other devices, to the internet, to people — without cords. And though consumers were the target of the San Francisco event, it was the future of mobile devices in business that was on my mind.

I asked Christopher Voce, an analyst at Forrester Research, about the mobile future. What would the corporate world use mobile devices for five, 10, 15 years from now? Much, he said.

Today workers use smartphones and tablets primarily for viewing information, Voce said — reading the news, say, or shopping — and for communicating with friends and co-workers. In the future, they will use mobile devices more for “transactions.”

These tasks that can take multiple forms, Voce said, “whether that be an insurance adjuster on-site taking pictures or assessing an accident or a doctor with a patient or a field worker working in the energy industry taking readings.”

Certainly, some of that work is already happening on mobile devices, but Voce said Forrester surveys have shown that some worker roles, like engineers and designers, have been “underserved with regard to mobile,” — that is, they’re looking for mobile tools they might need to be more productive. Examples include computer-aided design systems or mobile software that lets them collect specs or show demos to customers. “That’s the next frontier for enterprises,” he said.

Apple’s mobile future

And while companies develop new business uses for mobile devices, Apple will most likely continue doing what it does, which is appealing to consumers.

“Talking about consumer versus enterprise with Apple can be a distraction,” Voce said. “They focus on the individual, primarily the consumer, but also somebody who goes to work — and the more that they can appeal to a person [who will] use a device at home and the office, that just helps them grow and sell their devices.”

It’s not certain yet whether the iPhone 7 will continue that tradition. Taking away the device’s headphone jack drew no shortage of social media jeers, as did the new earbuds, the $159 Airpods. Seeming to confirm the lackluster response was a poll by market researcher Morning Consult: 68% of people who’ve heard of the device weren’t planning to buy it.

But the more powerful, water- and dust-resistant new release was met with a number of positive industry reviews, and Apple’s early supply of the new phones sold out fast, pushing back delivery of some models to November. Appealing to the masses could be working — albeit in mysterious ways.

Better together

Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, said Apple’s role in a mobile business future will likely be one built on partnerships with other big tech companies. For example, there’s a much vaunted partnership with IBM that has churned out more than 100 mobile apps for industries such as retail, financial services, travel, healthcare and energy. And another with SAP, on apps that will mesh with the German company’s back-office systems. Cisco and eye-care company Bausch & Lomb are on the list, too.

“Most enterprises won’t be dealing directly with Apple,” Lazar said. Instead, they’ll look at “how the enterprises they work with today — SAP, Cisco, Microsoft, et cetera — at how well those guys play with Apple.”

How do Apple’s recent iPhone and Apple Watch rollouts affect CIOs? Read about it in this SearchCIO column.