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The Rising Tide of Mobile Devices in Small Business

As mobile devices gain traction in so many environments, interesting questions around security and scalability have started to crop up.


I used to get smoothies from a little one-person shop, right by my gym. The store is run by a fitness instructor. She doesn’t know a ton about technology, but she’s really smart and she’s been growing her business nicely. She asks me a lot of questions about her devices, and sometimes it puts the concepts I deal with at work into a whole new context; it helps me understand how a small business owner thinks about technology.

She doesn’t have a computer. She doesn’t want a computer, and she also doesn’t want to use her cellphone for anything. She uses iPads. And sometimes, if an employee takes liberties with a work iPad, it can cause problems for everyone. But it’s a smaller company, and she’s happy to leave everything as open as possible so as to not make her employees feel restricted. This trust is what tens of thousands of new businesses are basing their deployments on every year.

Sometimes I like to give her helpful tips. They are often things like “get an accountant” or “here’s an app for annotating PDFs.” As the company grows, her commitment to the iPad is growing as well. This is similar to other businesses that have grown, such as Smoothie King, which Apple famously uses as a model in its marketing documentation. The chain has more than 500 franchises, all using Apple devices to speed up checkout.

Even the smallest businesses can’t fully replace computers with tablets. Many want to, since tablets are cheaper, easier to manage, require less training, and come with much higher customer satisfaction than do desktop or laptop computers. Because of the limited screen real estate of most mobile devices, the apps that run on devices are often used for a specific job function. In many environments, stringing together a workflow can require multiple apps. But even if you load up a number of apps on a device, you will often spend far less than many of the popular traditional software packages on the market.

Every year, it seems like there are more and more industries utilizing mobile devices. Apple started the trend of mobile devices in retail, but since then, we’ve seen a proliferation in field services, medicine, and even evangelical environments. Why? One reason is because sometimes one app can make all the difference; the app that allows me to order a smoothie and pay for it in about 30 seconds is a great example.

As mobile devices gain traction in so many environments, interesting questions around security and scalability have started to crop up. Devices get lost and need to be wiped. As you acquire a lot of devices, you want them set up similarly, and you want that device configuration to be automated.

Various vendors have listened to these customer needs. For example, Apple provides the following technologies:

  • Mobile Device Management (MDM): Solutions such as Bushel, that allow administrators to manage devices remotely, managing apps, content, settings and even actions on devices, such as remotely wiping and locking devices that fall outside the organizations control (by getting lost and/or stolen).
  • The Volume Purchase Program (VPP): Allows users to purchase apps in bulk and then deploy them to many devices at once, automatically. For more on the Volume Purchase Program, see
  • The Device Enrollment Program (DEP): Forces devices into an MDM solution, automatically joining to the solution when a device is activated. For more on DEP, work with your account teams at Apple or the reseller of your Apple devices.

Many apps are only available for a single platform. For example, many of the apps on the App Store for an iPad will not have an equivalent on Android devices, and vice versa. Once upon a time, vendor lock-in was considered a bad thing, but these days, it can help to keep costs down. A business owner can learn much more about managing devices if they can focus on one platform. As the business grows, there may be a concern to move to another platform, but by then, the business should be at the point where hiring outside organizations to implement a new solution is a minor expense.

Many of the apps that organizations use these days communicate with a website to store data; little, if any, data is stored on the mobile devices themselves. Therefore, backup is less of a concern than ever, as almost all Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions also supply centralized management of app data, eliminating the need for physical servers in a startup or SMB.

As custom and App Store apps assist with more of the tasks that need to be performed in organizations, more and more small businesses are choosing to exclusively leverage mobile devices to get work done; work previously performed with computers. And they should, provided that doing so can be done securely. This drives down the costs to start a business immensely. The place that makes my smoothies was started on a shoestring compared to what it cost to start my first company and even get to the point where we could accept credit cards.

Less risk and upfront costs will hopefully continue to allow more and more startups to succeed and more innovation to occur. Because, at the core of the IT industry, helping people succeed should be our first and foremost priority at all times.

Charles Edge has been working with Apple products since he was a child. Professionally, Edge started with the Mac OS and Apple server offerings in 1999, after years of working with various flavors of Unix. He began his consulting career working with Support Technologies and Andersen Consulting. As the CTO of 318, a consulting firm in Santa Monica, Calif., he built and nurtured a team of more than 50 engineers, the largest Mac team in the world at that time. Edge is now a product manager at JAMF Software, with a focus on Bushel, and the consulting engineering manager at JAMF Software. He has spoken at a variety of conferences including DefCon, BlackHat, LinuxWorld, MacWorld, MacSysAdmin and Apple’s WorldWide Developers Conference. He has also written 16 books, more than 3,000 blog posts at, and a number of other online and printed articles on Apple products.

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