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Apple could start offering an enterprise-grade cloud file sharing under its iCloud brand as a way to decrease its dependence on hardware, analysts from Barclays suggested in a recent note.
An enterprise tier of iCloud -- whose core version was introduced in 2011 -- would make sense given Apple's emphasis in recent years on services, including Apple Music and the App Store, as sources of revenue growth. That's important, because unit sales growth has slowed for Apple's biggest revenue generator, the iPhone.
Apple now has around 850 million iCloud users -- up from 782 million in February 2016 -- with around 170 million of them paying, estimated a group of Barclays analysts led by Mark Moskowitz. At this point, the key will be picking up more money from each person who uses Apple's products:
ARPU [average revenue per user] for iCloud is very low at estimated $2-3/month compared to $9.99 for Music and App Store spending. Therefore, in our view, accelerating iCloud business should benefit services and significantly improve both the top and bottom line. By offering an "iCloud for Enterprise" with a higher price point (i.e., $14.99-19.99/month), not only could the paid subscription penetration expand, overall monthly ARPU also could increase dramatically. Enterprise users normally pay higher premium for high-value added features like content management, sharing, collaboration, security, and analytics, which we view as a natural extension from traditional cloud storage.
The analysts believe iCloud represented 15 percent of Apple's services revenue in 2017. They explained how Apple could make the logistical shift to selling a business class of iCloud, thus entering into competition with the likes of Google's G Suite, Microsoft's Office 365, Box and Dropbox:
We believe the iCloud for Enterprise could be activated using a code provided by the employer through a separate app or when users set up personal iCloud account. The personal iCloud and professional iCloud could work separately, and data stored in enterprise iCloud will be monitored and managed by the employer. Users will be able to switch between the two environments freely and potentially experience lower latency (i.e., access time).
The analysts said Apple would have to hire people to build the features and infrastructure that would make iCloud more viable as an enterprise storage option, and it would also have to come up with a plan for getting companies to sign up.
But an acquisition might also be possible. Buying a company with cloud file sharing technology for companies could provide key accounts, among other things, the Barclays analysts wrote. Apple did try to buy Dropbox in 2009, but Dropbox didn't want to make the deal, as they pointed out.
Either way, Apple could allocate $4 billion to $5 billion to come up with an iCloud for the enterprise, the analysts wrote.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.