There’s big news today for 31 million small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the US who are among the growing number of companies to deploy Macs, iPhones, or iPads for work: Apple Business Essentials has exited beta and now offers plans that include AppleCare support.
Apple nurtures the enterprise
Regular viewers will recognize that Apple Business Essentials has been available in beta in the US since it was introduced in November 2021. The service is now available to any US business. Additionally, a two-month free trial will be available to all customers, including those who have been using Apple Business Essentials in beta; the company says tens of thousands of US companies are already using it.
Business owners outside the US will have to wait for a while. International audiences may take heart that Apple’s Enterprise and Education Product Marketing executive, Jeremy Butcher, pointed out that the company already offers Apple Business Manager outside North America, so it’s easy to “imagine” it will extend Essentials elsewhere in future.
Meanwhile, business owners can also choose alternatives, such as those from Jamf, which adds a range of additional supplementary features to the mix.
What Apple announced
“Apple has a deep and decades-long commitment to helping small businesses thrive. From dedicated business teams in our stores to the App Store Small Business Program, our goal is to help each company grow, compete, and succeed,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of enterprise and education marketing.
As businesses grow, “more employees is more devices, which is more time” managing all those devices, she said. “We wanted to provide an easy solution so SMBs can focus on handling their businesses, not their tech. Using this new service leads to invaluable time savings for customers — including those without dedicated IT staff — that they can invest back into their business.”
What the analysts said
That dedication to access to the same kind of IT support available to much larger companies is central to Apple’s vision with the service. Constellation Research analyst, R “Ray” Wang told me: “The bottom line is that small businesses are now able to get the same level of service as large companies already get. If you think about the challenges of service big companies handle, then this is now available to small businesses, too.”
Maribel Lopez at San Francisco-based Lopez Research agrees, telling me:
“While business essentials can scale to companies with hundreds of employees, it’s been a real win for smaller businesses (the sub 100 category) where combining ease of management with security is essential. ABE makes it easier for smaller companies that lack IT staff and the repair credits simplifies repairs and streamlines costs.”
Forrester Research Senior Analyst, Andrew Hewitt, told me:
“The combined management, deployment, support, and security services are especially valuable for SMB customers, as these customers often don’t have the staffing to support these services on their own like enterprises do.
“This also represents a shift by Apple into a services market, which we’re starting to see with many of the OEMs. In particular, SMBs may favor this approach because it skips the middleman of an MSP or a VAR, helping them get value faster. On the other hand, many customers may still prefer a traditional service provider that knows their business, has experience with mobile services, or has industry specific knowledge.”
What is Apple Business Essentials?
Apple Business Essentials is a one-stop shop offering SMBs iCloud+ for Work, device, application, and user management and 24/7 support.
With the Collections feature, groups of apps can be delivered to employees or teams, and settings such as VPN configurations, Wi-Fi passwords, and more can be automatically pushed to devices. That’s the plan that has been tested for the last few months and is now being introduced with AppleCare+ support.
Aimed at businesses with up to 500 employees, prices range from $2.99/month per user for a single device with up to 50GB storage, $6.99/user for up to three devices and 200GB storage, all the way to $12.99/month per user for up to three devices and 2TB of storage.
Employees simply sign in to their work account on their Apple device using a Managed Apple ID. Once they do, they will have access to everything they need to be productive, including the new Apple Business Essentials app, where they can download work apps available to them.
Managed Apple IDs can be created by federating with Microsoft Azure Active Directory and, coming later this spring, Google Workspace identity services.
Apple Business Essentials works with company-provided and personally owned devices, and with Apple’s User Enrollment feature, employees’ personal information remains private and cryptographically separated from work data.
[Also read: How not to upgrade your enterprise technology]
Now available with AppleCare for your whole business
What’s new, at least to beta testers, is that Apple has now introduced the option to add AppleCare+ for Business Essentials. This provides 24/7 access to phone support, training for both IT admins and employees, and up to two device repairs per plan — by individual, group, or device — each year.
Employees can initiate repairs directly from the Apple Business Essentials app, and an Apple-trained technician can come on site in as little as four hours to handle repairs.
If you want to add AppleCare+ for Business Essentials, the prices are:
- $9.99/month per user for a single device, 50GB of storage, onsite repairs and 24/7 support with one repair credit.
- $19.99/month per user for up to three devices, 200GB storage, onsite repairs and 24/7 support with two repair credits.
- $24.99/month per user for up to three devices, 2TB storage, onsite repairs and 24/7 support with two repair credits.
Repair credits pool across the company, so if you pay for 20 users in the mid-tier plan you’ll gain 40 repair credits per year.
Each one of those credits is for a single repair – one credit can be used to fix a cracked iPhone display or to replace a MacBook Pro motherboard. The cost remains one credit, no matter the cost of the repair.
Because these repair credits are pooled, this also means there is no limit as to how many repairs a single person or device can accrue. If no one in your company breaks anything, but Clive in accounts manages to break his iPhone display every week, you’ll be able to get his smartphone fixed 40 times before you need to pay more. (Though you’ll probably just want to buy him a more robust case.)
Constellation’s Wang said: “One of the interesting things is the repair credits, and that’s what makes this pretty exciting.”
Of course, as Apple continues to extend its approach to services, he added, “in the next couple of years, services will be c.25% of Apple revenue.”
At the console
Like everything else in Apple Business Essentials, the entire system is controlled from a single administration console, including repairs; whoever handles the tech at your company can choose to approve or reject the use of a repair credit via that console.
They can also assign person and device permissions and assign required apps to be downloaded to devices. You might, for example, assign Okta as one of those apps to ensure an employee’s device is completely equipped to access authenticated services.
What customers think
We also heard from some Apple Business Essentials customers as the company announced its news. Representatives from Sock Club, Replicated Grass Systems, and Espresso Services Inc. all began using Apple Business Essentials during the beta testing period.
“In the last week, we onboarded three employees. This used to take a few hours, but now takes just 15 minutes,” said Max Williamson, Director of Sales & Business Operations, Sock Club. “As we grow, the amount of time we are getting back just makes complete sense and is totally worth it to us.”
All three agree that the Apple system allows them to better manage business growth, particularly as all three kind of fell into becoming a tech manager at their company. Particularly in smaller companies, the people who handle these issues are usually also trying to do other jobs, which provides a kind of ceiling to the pace at which headcount can expand.
“I started this business in 1989 on Apple products, and now iPhone, iPad, and Macs are used across sales, operations, and service for our coffee equipment business,” said Peter Kelsch, Espresso Services president. “Apple Business Essentials makes deployment and security simple for our business as we continue to grow, and will reduce our IT management overhead and streamline our growth process. It’s going to be a game-changer for our business.”
Lots of Apple in the enterprise activity
This has been a very busy few weeks for Apple’s enterprise teams as a range of big news emerges to the space: Cisco’s AirPlay support for Webex devices, news that Managed Apple IDs will integrate with Google Workspace, new solutions for Apple-wielding business users from Jamf and this week’s UK MacAD conference to name just some recent events.
Updated 31/3 with additional comment from Forrester Research and Lopez Research.
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