The news that Apple and IBM have joined forces sent a shockwave
through the Apple-focused world this week, and I admit it, I was
surprised. At first glance, the deal seems to be this big group hug
with the two companies becoming inextricably entwined.
Yeah, it’s not that.
Upon closer inspection — despite the fluffy and vague announcements
put out by IBM and Apple, and some vague-yet-fancy landing pages on their websites — the scope of the deal, which is characterized by IBM’s “MobileFirst for iOS” initiative, is incredibly simple.
In fact, this is the biggest deal
that really isn’t all that “BIG” that I’ve seen in a long time. It
seems groundbreaking — and it will pay off handsomely for both Apple
and IBM — but it’s really just an extension of business as usual for
The No Big Deal
So how can a partnership be a big deal but also be business as usual?
That is, how can Apple and IBM become partners in this world and
not fundamentally change? I’ll try to explain how I see this
It’s a big deal because it will help sell more Apple devices and cement Apple’s position in the enterprise. That’s it. More sales means
less room for Android and Windows encroachment. This deal is a
low-risk tactical move to sell more existing products and hammer
boards over the enterprise door to keep competitors out.
While Apple is already in the vast majority of the Fortune 1000
companies, it doesn’t have a good reputation for playing nice to
enterprises or listening to their concerns and demands — especially
when it comes to planning.
I don’t think this deal is going to change
that; however, this deal will mitigate Apple’s lackluster
reputation for IT support by letting IBM shoulder most of it. IBM has a great
reputation for IT support and for listening to its largest customers.
If IBM customers believe they can count on IBM to make sure their Big
Data and cloud-based applications function flawlessly on their shiny
iPads, it removes one element of doubt surrounding Apple in the
As part of the partnership, Apple will offer a special AppleCare for
Enterprise support service. How will this differ from existing AppleCare
Professional Support services? Probably not much. Why not? The
AppleCare for Enterprise service is just 24/7 telephone support. IBM
will be responsible for on-premises support services.
So IBM gets to continue to support its customers directly around the world, plus
gets to offer a new IBM MobileFirst Supply and Management service that
includes device activation for iPhones and iPads — with leasing
options, which is handy for accounting purposes for enterprises. (By
the way, nowhere does this offering seem to imply that IBM will service iOS devices exclusively, which means you can bet that IBM will help out
with Android or Windows devices if its customers want it to.)
Business as usual.
IBM Don’t Need No Apple
Answer: IBM doesn’t truly need Apple. However, a partnership with Apple
lets IBM use Apple’s name to help market its new line of enterprise
analytics. A partnership with Apple lends IBM some sexiness — some of
The C-suite already prefers to use iPhones and iPads. This partnership makes it just a little easier for enterprises to acquire iOS devices through its IBM channel rather than dealing directly with Apple — or supporting iOS through the original backdoor
Apple, in fact, has slowly and surely continued to build and improve
on its enterprise device management capabilities. Apple has a big
reference site for developers called “Reinvent your
enterprise with iOS.” Where is IBM on it? Answer: Nowhere.
As an extension of the ability to sell its own apps to its enterprise
customers, IBM says that its IBM MobileFirst Platform for iOS will
deliver the services required for an end-to-end enterprise capability —
from analytics, workflow and cloud storage to fleet-scale device
management, security and integration.
Enhanced mobile management
includes a private app catalog, data and transaction security
services, and a productivity suite for all IBM MobileFirst for iOS
solutions. In addition to on-premises software solutions, all of these
services will be available on Bluemix, which is IBM’s development
platform on the IBM Cloud Marketplace.
The most interesting element of the Apple-IBM partnership is this nugget:
The companies will collaborate to build IBM MobileFirst for iOS Solutions
— a new class of made-for-business apps targeting specific industry
issues or opportunities in retail, healthcare, banking, travel and
transportation, telecommunications and insurance, among others, that
will become available starting this fall and into 2015.
IBM has been building these sorts of apps for vertical industries for
years. Does the company really need Apple to do it? No. The question
is, how much will Apple really collaborate here?
I’m guessing Apple
will collaborate only on making sure that Apple builds in the
appropriate security and device management hooks needed to make
enterprise mobile management a secure breeze.
Apple would have done
much of this anyway, eventually, but a formal agreement has the
potential to open a door for Apple to hear what large
enterprises around the world truly care about.
IBM Is Not Changing Apple’s Core
The reality is that Apple doesn’t have to do jack to let IBM put more
focus on its devices. This deal doesn’t mean that IBM is going to
change Apple’s core operating principles or values as a company.
Apple will be able to build whatever the heck it wants — and IBM will get
to sell it directly and talk about it and market it directly, too.
This isn’t so different from an iPhone commercial you see on TV that actually was produced by AT&T or Verizon. It’s just another revenue stream that comes through a business relationship — like Apple with cellular service providers.
Business as usual.
The only potential downside is if IBM makes Apple seem stodgy in the
process, which seems unlikely since most consumers don’t pay attention
to IBM marketing anyway. It’s targeted at adults who work in
The best potential side effect of this deal could be that third-party
app developers who aren’t trying to write the next viral Flappy Bird
game actually can create an interesting business app and gain some
sales into businesses they might not have been able to get into as easily. Big deal? Not yet, but it has potential.
Except, Might IBM Be a Slippery Slope?
There is a chance, however, that IBM will start to represent a
seriously large customer base for Apple. Along the way, IBM may be
able to influence Apple to create changes in hardware and software to
better serve this large customer base.
At some point, Apple might be
weak and build (or not build) something in order to preserve multimillion dollar accounts. It could be a slippery slope for Apple. The competition is getting better, and consumers are fickle.
The business world is littered with companies that struggled to hold
onto major revenue streams rather than innovating — previous tech
darling Microsoft tried to hold onto and protect Microsoft Office
revenue for years, “enhancing” the suite into a mess that customers
Once you open the door and let a massive company
into your house, it’s hard to reject all its interests and money. Throw in a pessimistic Wall Street with a failing Apple stock price, and the pressure could become unbearable to ignore — maybe even for Apple.
But hey, this risk exists only if the integration of this partnership
is actually as tight as the initial marketing wants everyone to think.
From what I can tell, it’s pretty loose and leaves Apple off
the hook for delivering anything more real than its logo.