Apple announced that they sold 1 million iPhone 3G (third-generation telephony) devices worldwide over a three-day period since its launch last Friday. In the Hong Kong Special Administrative Reason (HKSAR), authorized carrier 3 Hong Kong (a subsidiary of Hutchison Telecommunications) organized the launch event on Friday. Like elsewhere around the globe, the launch was mobbed by consumers anxious to get their hands on a sleek black (or white) iPhone.
But what about Apple’s enterprise strategy? By launching a GPS-equipped, Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync-compatible, 3G-enabled product in Hong Kong (a crowded, wealthy city already bristling with 3G connectivity and with a mobile-phone penetration rate of over 100 percent, as some people own two or more), Apple is now capable of supporting enterprise mobility in the HKSAR.
“Apple hasn’t been serious about the enterprise space in Hong Kong until now,” said Tony Li, director of product marketing for Apple Asia Pacific, in an interview at Apple Hong Kong’s headquarters. “The iPhone is a way to do that, but we’re new to the space, and humble about it.” Li added that he expected early enterprise adopters to be multinationals whose company policy include iPhones for enterprise use, with the Hong Kong branches following suit. Although Li declined to name names, he said some Fortune 500 companies were among these early adopters.
The Apple director said that users helped drive demand for some of the new device’s features, both for consumer and business uses. “Enterprise-level users can leverage Microsoft Exchange, with back-office support,” said Li. “As for SMBs (small-to-medium-sized businesses), they can use MobileMe, formerly .Mac, if they want a higher level of service.”
The iPhone will also handle Web-service e-mail providers like Yahoo and Google, but while MobileMe offers value-added services, there’s also an annual fee. Mac-based SMBs will find the MobileMe option immediately useful while Windows users may be less enthusiastic. Li is bullish on the service: “It’s Microsoft Exchange for the rest of us,” he said.
Part of the iPhone’s appeal is third-party apps, and Apple’s new App Store hopes to win clients. Despite being open only a week, the Hong Kong App Store hosts over 700 applications, with many free of charge. Apps requiring purchase are acquired through the iTunes Store’s payment gateway, which Li said will accept international credit cards. Enterprise-players are already targeting the space, with SaaS-provider Salesforce announcing a free-of-charge iPhone version of Salesforce Mobile last Friday, the day of launch.
Apple’s latest iPhone is sure to make a dent in Hong Kong’s enterprise mobility sector. But although Mac OS X has improved its profile recently, it remains a minority-player in Hong Kong’s Windows-centric environment. The “thin end of the wedge” for Apple has been its popular iPod multimedia players, which have helped familiarize Hong Kongers with the brand. The extent to which the iPhone (which, like the iPod, works on Windows-driven machines) helps push Apple into Hong Kong’s enterprise space remains a large, and intriguing, question mark.