Integrating Apple Products with Your Small Business’s PCs

by Kevin Ackerman, Staples® Contributing Writer

With a user-friendly interface and a rock-solid selection of apps, it’s no wonder millions of people have turned to Apple® iPads and iPhones for their mobile computing needs. And in recent years, businesses employing Windows-based computers have discovered what consumers have known for years: using Apple portables with PCs can be a snap. To integrate Apple devices with your business’s PCs, here’s what you need to know.

iTunes Is About More Than Music

While Apple’s iTunes application got its start as digital music–playing software, the program is now used for setting up and syncing iPhones, iPods and iPads, too. Connecting your Apple device to your PC with its USB cable will launch the program, which gives users the ability to sync apps, contacts, calendars, photos, documents, notes and more. Or, if you click on the iTunes option to “Sync this device over Wi-Fi,” your iPhone, iPod or iPad can automatically sync with your PC without wires when the Apple device is plugged into an outlet and connected to your wireless network.

Wes Rockhold, CEO of Acme Home Elevator, uses Wi-Fi syncing to keep his company’s iPhones and iPads current. "The sales guys will have Wi-Fi at home, so they sync it from there, and we have Wi-Fi set up in the office, so we'll just connect to the network here,” he says. "I don't think I've ever had to physically connect the devices to a PC.”

Manage Multiple Devices

The iPhone Configuration Utility is a PC application designed to manage a fleet of Apple devices and, despite the software’s phone-centric name, is a great way for small businesses to manage iPods or iPads, too. Made by Apple, the program allows businesses to give their iOS devices “profiles,” or templates of options that govern how the handheld computers can be used. For example, companies can use the utility to require the Apple device to use security passcodes, to restrict users from installing apps, to disable the cameras and even to block services like YouTube.

The software can also restrict the handhelds from connecting to any Wi-Fi network except for those owned by the business, coordinate contact and calendar syncing, and hook the Apple devices to a company’s virtual private network (VPN) for secure data transmission. The iPhone Configuration Utility is a powerful but easy-to-use, free Windows application.

Add Ease to Email Configuration

Like most companies, Acme started using smartphones simply to give its mobile workers access to email while in the field. On their desktop and laptop computers, Acme employees access their messages through Microsoft Outlook, but on the iPhone, they use the Mail app, included in the operating system. "Setting it up was simple,” says Rockhold. “You don't need to know a lot of technical information — just your login and your password.” Apple devices work with a wide range of email providers, including AOL, Gmail and Yahoo, and even businesses’ in-house Exchange servers.

Access Work Anywhere with the Cloud

Since the iPhone’s release in 2007, handheld computing has seen many advances, and one of the most important has been cloud computing. Able to connect to both PCs and handheld devices simultaneously, these Internet-hosted storage spaces — like Dropbox, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Apple iCloud and Google Drive — work as central data repositories for many businesses and apps. So, instead of having to save multiple copies of a file on a computer and a smartphone, a business can store just one in the cloud — where it can also be edited — to minimize syncing problems.

Companies large and small use the cloud to manage their data and files. For instance, Acme uses Dropbox to store presentations, which are accessible by the sales staff in the field through their iPhones. “I’d add it from my PC to Dropbox, then that syncs automatically with the cloud, and you're done,” says Rockhold. “You never have to worry about losing that information. If for some reason your iPhone dies, the information's still up there in the cloud.”

Picking the Best Tool for the Job

Despite being equipped with iPhones and iPads, Acme sales staff and installers also use Asus and HP laptops, and the company’s offices have Windows-based workstations and servers. According to Rockhold, though his staff could do all their paperwork on their Apple devices — their iPads even connect to the company’s VPN server — most use their laptops to file reports and proposals. "Sometimes it's hard to do document creation on an iPhone, because the screen is so small and your thumbs are so big,” he says. “It's just easier with a keyboard and a mouse on a laptop.”

Apple iPhones, iPods, and iPads are great tools that give companies more capabilities than ever before. But using them with PCs — not instead of them — has the best effect, in terms of productivity and on the bottom line.

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