Apple vs. Microsoft: The battle for the office heats up

Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Watch out Microsoft and Dell, Apple is coming after your bread and butter.

The iPhone and iPad maker is pushing into the business market, putting pressure on those hardware and software companies that have long relied on corporate clients for profits.

"Apple is moving into the enterprise in a dramatic way, mostly with iPhones and iPads. It's not dominating in computers yet, but it's certainly growing," said Ted Schadler, a Forrester analyst.

(Read more: How bad, outdated technology is costing companies)

The tech giant is doing everything from lowering the cost of its devices and giving away its software for free to ramping up security features to woo enterprise customers. And its efforts are working, analysts say.

In fact, Apple has already expanded its presence in businesses significantly in recent years. In North America, 18 percent of employees said they use an Apple device for work, according to Forrester data. Just a few years ago, that number was more in the 3 percent range, Schadler said.

The biggest force driving Apple into the workforce is simply because consumers want it there.

"It is the pull of the consumer, or the employee, who is helping Apple grow traction, both in mobile and in laptops," said Trip Chowdhry, an analyst at Global Equities Research. "Apple products are fundamentally built for ease and it has a user-centric interface. Microsoft does not. Employees feel more productive using Apple products, forcing IT managers to bring it in."

While consumer adoption no doubt got Apple's foot in the enterprise door, the company now appears to be trying to expand its business clients in a more proactive manner.

Undervalued Apple
Undervalued Apple

Apple appears to be increasing its internal support to attract and better serve enterprise customers. The company has posted multiple job listings on LinkedIn for positions at Apple that focus on growing its presence in enterprise.

One job listing posted to LinkedIn on Monday was for an Apple Enterprise Sales Representative.

"We are actively searching for an Enterprise Sales Executive focused on selling to the Fortune 1000 ideally out of irvine or San Diego CA," the company said in the listing.

Requirements for the position also include a "high-level understanding of IT infrastructure around device management, security, and infrastructure integration," according to the job post.

Other enterprise-focused positions recently listed include roles in technical support and other enterprise sales positions. In early October, Apple also hosted a recruiting event not far from BlackBerry's headquarters outside Waterloo, Ontario, where it was speculated that the iPad maker looked to recruit some of BlackBerry's enterprise architects, Schadler said.

Historically, analysts said that Apple has had a strong sales team focused on the education market, but not for the enterprise sector. Such a shift would be significant for Apple and its competition, Chowdhry said.

"So far, Mac has been successful without a sales team. Now, if you put a sales team in, that could create magic for Apple," Chowdhry said. "It's more bad news for Dell, Microsoft and the HPs of the world, though."

CNBC reached out to Apple to find out if the company was in fact making a concentrated effort on expanding it enterprise sales and support staff, but the company declined to comment.

Still, it's hard to deny the recent jabs Apple has taken at Microsoft, especially its announcement to give away its iWork productivity software and its updated Mavericks OS for free.

(Read more: Apple increasingly adopting freemium model)

"They are giving away a lot more software than they used to give away, and this puts pressure on Microsoft. It doesn't destroy their business model, but it puts pricing pressure on them," Schader said.

But Apple is making many other inroads into enterprise besides free software. The biggest way Apple is into the business world is in mobile.

The mobile workforce is an Apple workforce

With enterprise vets like BlackBerry and Microsoft having fumbled in mobile, the company is seeing most of its growth in the space come from iPhone and iPad users.

(Read more: Why things will only get worse for BlackBerry)

Businesses are expected to account for 18 percent of all tablet sales by 2017, according to data from Forrester Research, and that bodes well for Apple because it has the biggest tablet market share in the enterprise realm, analysts said.

"For Apple, it's an aggressive move. They have cut out a nice space in the enterprise market, especially with their iPad," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner. "Enterprises are finally figuring out what the tablets can do and how they can be used."

Apple's chief financial officer, Peter Oppenheimer, even made it a point to highlight during the company's fourth quarter earnings call late last month how companies were adopting its mobile devices and building in-house apps to enable employees to be more productive.

(Read more: Apple earnings: It's all about iPhone sales )

In fact, nearly 35,000 companies worldwide, accounting for millions of employees, are building custom apps for the iPad and iPhone, Oppenheimer said during the call.

In addition, in the second and third quarter of this year, the iOS platform accounted for 98 percent and 95 percent of total enterprise mobile app activations, according to data published in August from Good Technology, a company that sells mobile software to businesses.

This is pretty significant considering that only a few years ago IT departments shunned Apple's mobile products and platform because they were considered too expensive and difficult to control.

Yet because Apple's iPhone and iPad devices grew so dramatically, the enterprise market has been forced to accept Apple as a vendor.

An edge in security

But it's not just consumer adoption that is driving IT departments to implement Apple devices, it's also because Apple is increasingly considered to have a safer platform than other vendors.

Enhanced security features like the new fingerprint sensor in Apple's new iPhone 5S to unlock the device are likely to make it more appealing to IT heads, Schadler said. Developers still can't use the new feature in their apps, but that's likely to change in the future and in the interim there is an extra layer of security because the user's fingerprint is required, he said.

In addition, mobile's ecosystem is more heavily guarded than its competition.

"With Apple, you have the walled garden of iOS, which is much more secure than Android, which is an open platform" said Timothy Lesko, a principal at Granite Investment Advisors, which owns more than 20,000 Apple shares. "Most companies are being dragged to Apple because it makes more sense."

"Apple is a much better platform, Android is much less secure and Microsoft is just woefully late," Lesko said.

A similar argument can be made when a corporation is rolling out new laptops, Chowdhry said. Corporations have to consider what tech companies will provide lasting support and which ones have a working strategy, he said.

"Have you come across any laptop manufacturer that has said 'this is my strategic focus?' No, HP is struggling, Dell is struggling, Sony is going into the gutter and Acer just missed its numbers," Chowdhry said.

"If you are a CIO, CEO or another executive and you are sitting here and you have to make a decision between Apple, Microsoft and others, are you going to bet on Hewlett Packard, Windows, or are you going to Apple?"

—By CNBC's Cadie Thompson. Follow her on Twitter @CadieThompson.