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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple reaches out to small businesses via new Business Essentials service

Apple extended its service offerings to businesses on Wednesday by announcing Apple Business Essentials, which rolls together device management, support, and iCloud storage into a single subscription offering for businesses between 50 and 500 employees in size.

The subscription plan uses device-management features Apple introduced in iOS/iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey, and is in a free beta test beginning Wednesday and lasting through next spring. Per-user pricing will start at $2.99 per month and increase based on the number of devices and amount of iCloud storage allotted to individual users.

Company IT managers can administer users on an Apple-hosted web interface, and then instruct their users to log in with a company-assigned Apple ID. Managers can enforce certain security policies and distribute apps (via the new Apple Business Essentials app). On personal devices, corporate-based data and personal data are kept cryptographically separate.

A lot of companies are focused on Apple device management and broader business device management. What may make Apple’s offering different is the (optional) addition of a new tier of AppleCare+ designed just for Business Essentials subscribers. Apple says the new AppleCare+ tier, available next spring, will provide 24/7 phone support for both IT administrators and users—meaning small businesses can direct their employees to Apple for tech questions that might otherwise be fielded by a help desk—as well as rapid onsite repair, where an Apple representative will come to a business (or a home, if the employee is working remotely) within a few hours.

Businesses who sign up for the beta won’t pay for any of the services during the beta period, but will be able to see what their bills will be when the service exits beta in the spring.

It will be interesting to see how competing device-management services respond to the entry of the platform owner into the space. The arrival of Apple doesn’t necessarily mean it’s game over for anyone else; smaller companies can be more nimble and are free to make product decisions that Apple just won’t make. But Apple’s competition certainly has the potential to shake things up.

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