It’s good to be king and have your own way
Get a feeling of peace at the end of the day
~Tom Petty, It’s Good to be King.

It’s often been said that marijuana is the gateway drug, but an article in this week’s BusinessWeek, The Mac in the Gray Flannel Suit, suggests that perhaps the iPod is a gateway gadget to more expensive hardware. That’s right, employees who love their iPods (and iPhones) are beginning to demand Mac hardware at work. Imagine that.

I keep having this image of Steve Jobs sitting on the steps of a large corporation in a trench coat. As an employee approaches, he throws it open revealing row upon row of shiny new iPod Nanos and Touches. “Hey kid, wanna buy an iPod. It won’t hurt you to try it just once.” But like those bad health class videos, you cut to the employee weeks later, shaking and sweating, begging the IT department for a Mac Book Pro or an iMac, swearing he has his Apple habit under control.

This may be a fun exaggeration, but the article quotes some eye-popping growth for Apple over the last five years:

"…Apple's total sales have surged from $5.2 billion in fiscal 2002 to $24 billion last year. Its share price has risen 2,300% over the past five years, giving the company a market capitalization, at $154 billion…”

So it seems that the elegant little iPod has lead people to buy Macs as their home computers, and from there, it’s a short leap to wanting to have a Mac at work too. It must get frustrating dealing with Windows during the day, only to return home at night to the machine you truly love, knowing that when the sun rises the next day, you need to go back to Windows.

The BusinessWeek article says that Apple has made its money by keeping its focus squarely on the consumer market, and that this sudden surge in popularity in the enterprise comes without making a concerted push to capture enterprise market share (usually the holy grail for computer companies). Of course, Apple dropped ‘computer’ from its name last year reflecting its status as a device company that happens to sell really good computers.

But that’s not to say that Apple isn’t trying to get enterprise market share at all. Evidence such as this article, A New Day for Macs in the Enterprise, suggests the iPhone application strategy could be a Trojan Horse to get a more significant presence in the enterprise, but even this article suggests it’s driven by consumer-side demand:

"Such a paradigm shift, they argue, could serve as the final ingredient in the boiling cauldron being stirred by employees at the edge of organizations who have become dissatisfied with corporate technology, and who have turned to innovative options in the consumer space to meet their needs.”

So it’s unclear if Apple is making its way into the enterprise on the strength of its consumer devices, or if it’s part of a strategy on Apple’s part to gain a foot-hold in the enterprise, but one thing is clear: those shiny iPods are driving sales of more substantial hardware, suggesting that for Apple, the iPod is their gateway gadget after all. And these days, for Steve Jobs, it’s good to be king, that’s for sure.