Apple introduces Business Essentials service for SMBs

Apple Business Essentials offers small and midsized companies iCloud+ for Work, 24/7 Apple support, device, application, and user management among other services

Apple, business, Apple Business Essentials, MDM,

Apple today took a major step into enterprise technology provision, unveiling a new service called Apple Business Essentials — adding yet another strong argument to support enterprise deployment of its products.

What is Apple Business Essentials?

The service combines an array of services for small and midsized companies within one Apple-friendly MDM management tool. It is aimed at businesses with up to 500 employees.

Apple Business Essentials is available now in beta and is set to launch for real in spring 2022. It provides tools including iCloud+ for Work, AppleCare, 24/7 Apple support, device and application management and automated setup using Collections and Smart Groups.

Apple said the service will be available in the U.S. initially,  with prices ranging from $2.99 a month per user to $12.99 a  month per user depending on number of devices and storage levels. (More info below.)

The company also introduced a new Apple Business Essentials app that employees can use to install apps assigned for work and to request support.

Apple Business Essentials promises easy setup, onboarding, backup, security, support, repairs and updates, and 24/7 on-call tech support.

With a nod to remote working, the Apple support component is flexible, which means if you are an employee working remotely from your home you will also be covered. And if a tech support visit is required, the engineer will be sent to your home within four hours. In other words, an SMB can outsource at least some of its tech support provision using the service.

In addition, the new Apple service can be used with existing MDM solutions, though the company thinks its service will be of more value to firms that are new mobile management options. The idea is that Apple Business Essentials makes it as easy to manage Apple devices as it is to use them.

Why is this significant?

Think back 10 years to the introduction of the original iPad, when Apple was a minnow in the enterprise sea. There may have a few creative professionals using Macs (and executives using iPhones), but the company’s enterprise position was limited.

That changed with the iPad, when C-class executives rushed to pick up this new tablet. As they did, attitudes about Bring Your Own Device policies also changed, with employees becoming empowered to use the tech they rely on at home at work.

[Also read: SAP VP Martin Lang touts Apple, M1 Macs and the mobile enterprise]

Today, when given a choice, most employees will choose an Apple product, with Macs experiencing a particular renaissance on the back of the superb M-series processors Apple has made.

Discussing the importance of Apple Business Essentials, Carolina Milanesi, president and principal analyst at Creative Strategies said:

“As a long time Apple 'watcher,' you know all too well Apple has been very shy in talking about how they address the enterprise needs. They have always preferred to be seen as providing to the user of the technology rather than providing to the IT manager. Since the launch of the M1, I have been arguing that Apple's biggest opportunity to grow share in the PC market rests in the enterprise. The product has proven itself to be not only desirable, but capable of addressing the enterprise needs and moving from BYOD or Back door approach to IT deployed will allow Apple to grow share more quickly. I think this is why the announcement is timely and significant.”

The move reflects the extent to which Apple has staked space in the enterprise, and represents efforts by the company to expand rapidly in the sector.

Milanesi also said the move may challenge others already in the space, but said, "there is still opportunity in the market if companies want to differentiate by supporting Mac and Windows."

The analyst also noted that PC-centric companies such as Dell, Lenovo, or HP that have been working to offer support to enterprise customers may be challenged, as they "always struggle to support Mac in the same way."

The Apple message

In its statement introducing the new service, Apple’s vice president of enterprise and education marketing, Susan Prescott said:

“Small businesses are at the core of our economy, and we’re proud that Apple products play a role in helping these companies grow.

“Apple Business Essentials is designed to help streamline every step of employee device management within a small business — from setup, onboarding, and upgrading, to accessing fast service and prioritized support, all while keeping data backed up and secure, so companies can focus on running their business.”

What do companies get?

With everything managed in one console, SMBs get:

  • Collections;
  • Device and user management;
  • iCloud for work storag;
  • AppleCare+ for Business Essentials (optional).

The console provides an instant view of monthly costs and can manage individual devices – so the Apple TV in a conference room can also be maintained.

What are Collections?

Apple has thought about what happens when you introduce a new employee to your organization. The Collections feature lets IT configure settings and apps for individual users, groups, or devices. You may want to install a specific app on all the hardware used by the accounting team, for example. Collections lets you define roles, assign permissions, and more. It also provides IT with an easy-to-read account of the current app licensing status, so admins can tell when they might need to revoke or acquire new licenses for corporate teams.

What device and user management features are included?

Apple Business Essentials also automates services and permissions, and iscan configure an employee’s personal device to safely, securely, and — above all, privately — carry work-related data. It does this through support for two Apple IDs on the device – the managed ID and the employee’s own. This is created during user enrollment, when cryptographic separation for work data is introduced. This helps ensure employee data remains private, while company data remains secure.

Apple Business Esssentials Apple

Apple Business Esssentials is in beta now and will be fully released in 2022.

In use that means that when employees sign in to their corporate or personally owned device with their work credentials, Collections automatically push settings such as VPN configurations and Wi-Fi passwords. It will also install the Apple Business Essentials app, through which employees can download and install key business apps such as the recently improved Cisco Webex or Microsoft Word.

Apple also said the service empowers IT managers to enforce critical security settings such as FileVault for full-disk encryption on Mac, and Activation Lock to protect devices that may be lost or stolen.

What is iCloud for work?

I evangelized about the need for Apple to introduce iCloud for the enterprise a few weeks ago. The company has now done just that.

Apple Business Essentials provides a dedicated iCloud account for work that works just like any other iCloud deployment. Business data in iCloud is automatically stored and backed up, making it easy to move between devices or upgrade to a new device — and you can choose the amount of data to provide to employees.

Employees continue to retain separate access to their own iCloud data, enabling separation between personal and work-related use. 

AppleCare+ for Business Essentials

We don’t yet know what this feature will cost, but Apple is also promising an optional extra in the form of AppleCare+ for Business Essentials. Companies that sign-up to this will be able to offer staff 24/7 phone support, get training for both IT admins and employees, and cover up to two device repairs per plan each year.

(The cool thing about the latter is that these can be applied across any user/device covered by an Apple Business Plan, so the cumulative impact is that even-accident prone employees should be supported.)

Employees can initiate repairs from within the app, and Apple-trained technicians will be onsite in as little as four hours to get devices back up and running. If your employee is remote, the technician will visit them where they are.

What's it like to use?

I’ve only really tinkered with Apple Business Essentials at this stage, but it is quite clearly an Apple product. That means a clear, column-based user interface, a clean design that eliminates what is not necessary, and eye-guiding use of icons and categories to help you find what you need.

Collections, for example, are easy to create, populate and distribute, while more granular tasks, such as user, user groups, or device management are also easy to get to and explore.

But for many, the Settings section will be of particular use.

Apple appears to have put a lot of thought into these, bundling standard items such as passcode policy management and Wi-Fi settings in with increasingly important controls, such as Energy Saver Settings.

While it may not at first be clear why ensuring all devices follow company policy for energy consumption, if you stop to consider the energy costs of running systems for up to 500 employees ,the advantage of such controls becomes a lot clearer. And they should probably be seen as vitally important as we lurch into climate crisis.

What does it cost?

Apple Business Essentials is available as a free beta starting today in the US.

Once it emerges from beta, Apple said the service will cost $2.99 per user/month to handle a single device with 50GB storage, scaling up to $12.99/user/month for up to three devices per user and up to 2TB of storage.

Those prices don’t yet include the cost of AppleCare+ for Business Essentials, and the company is not charging beta users. But it didn’t want charges to surprise anyone once the service launches.

How do you join the beta program?

The service will be fully available in the spring of 2022. To join the beta signup here.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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