According to a new report by Bloomberg, Unisys will "provide maintenance and other services to companies and government agencies that purchase Apple devices."
Unisys, similar to its competitor IBM, has morphed from being a mainframe hardware vendor in the 1980s into a provider of information technology services today. Its clients include large corporations, branches of the US military; the FAA, TSA and numerous airports; the US General Services Administration, Department of Homeland Security and the IRS.
Gene Zapfel, a managing partner at Unisys, said in an interview with Bloomberg that the deal was a first for Apple, and noted that the contract was signed this month. Zapfel did not disclose any of the contract's terms.
Most of those organizations are still pretty heavily [Windows] PC-based, Zapfel said. Apple is going to crack the nut and clients are going to start buying a lot more.
An iOS "halo" for Macs in the the enterprise
Commenting on the deal, Brian Marshall, an analyst at Gleacher & Co. in San Francisco, said, "Apple will get adoption of more Mac clients in the enterprise because of the iPhone," comparing the "halo effect" of Apples iPod in attracting consumers to the company's Macintosh platform.
Apple executives have noted the interest in its iPhone and iPad devices by corporations in the company's recent earning reports, describing that the iPhone is being actively deployed or studied by 80 percent of the Fortune 500, and that the iPad is similarly on the radar of 65 percent of the Fortune 100.
"We haven't pushed it [the iPad] real hard in business, and it's being grabbed out of our hands," chief executive Steve Jobs said in the company's recent Q4 2010 earnings call.
This suggests a huge upside for Apple if it can figure out how to reach these customers effectively. Jobs has noted before that his company's recent success has come largely from targeting mass market consumers, who are much easier to reach than enterprise or government users, in large part because major buying decisions in companies are often made by a few "gatekeeper" individuals.
There's an app for that
Unisys has already been actively developing iPhone applications for government users, including an app currently being used by U.S. Department of Homeland Security border patrol agents, Zapfel said in the interview. The app "lets managers check the status of border-crossing technology, such as cameras from their iPhones," the report noted.
The new contract between Apple and Unisys will result in additional iOS apps for other government agencies, Zapfel said. A key aspect to landing the deal with Apple "was figuring out how to secure information sent over the iPhone," Zapfel said.
There are all sorts of layers you have to put into it to make sure nobody can tap into it, Zapfel said. Weve put a lot of heavyweight engineering into securing the device, which, frankly, no one else has figured out yet.
The US Army has been using iPhones with customized applications since at least 2008, and armed forces in the UK have also started deploying iOS devices for training purposes.