Apple and IBM – trick or treat?

Apple and IBM – trick or treat?

General Manager at Four J’s Development Tools

The last couple of weeks have been quite eventful in the computer industry: Microsoft’s somewhat unsurprising layoffs and well, what to make of that Apple/IBM announcement?

The cynic in me wondered whether this was going to be another one of those high-profile affairs that play to the gallery with little depth or follow through. Apple and IBM have had many partnerships over the last 30 years and not all of them have been productive.

After chewing it over, my gut tells me that this deal makes sense and has substance. What’s more, I think it’s the catalyst the mobility market needs to drive it to the heart of the enterprise.


First, it can’t be said that mobility has so far really penetrated line of business applications. Yes, Apple has a good penetration in western enterprises, but only in the context of BYOD; with the individual. IT shops view mobility as hard: a lack of security, deployment, and legacy integration solutions make for cautious progress.

Second, Apple understands consumers, but it doesn’t really understand business systems. IBM on the other hand, understands businesses, but like Microsoft, not really consumers. That’s why this relationship feels different from the rest.

In the past, the two challengers (to Microsoft) teamed up to try and devise winning combinations. But the overlap was huge and partnership strife over architecture and UI stifled progress. This time the overlap is low and it feels like a real symbiosis. Apple brings state-of-the-art mobile terminals and IBM the domain knowledge and trust to fit them into the enterprise. Its mobility expertise, MaaS360 offering and the 100 or so apps it intends to develop over the coming months and years will go along way to soothing CIO concerns about security, provisioning, management and after sales service.

This is why I think this relationship will have a profound impact. IBM marries Apple with the piece of the puzzle that was missing.

Is this event going to drive Oracle, SAP and app developers at large massively into the hands of Google? Not sure, maybe. As Google struggles to create a unifying force around Android, it wrestles with its key partner Samsung over Tizen, for the same reasons that drove a stake through the heart of previous Apple/IBM partnerships – the struggle for differentiation. Except that Apple doesn’t need to differentiate with IBM any more.

Google remains a force to be reckoned with and developers find them much, much easier to work with than Apple. But perhaps it needs to see the threat in this announcement and focus on the rest of the software industry rather than tinkering with Google Glass prototypes and self-driving cars that will never achieve competence or legitimacy beyond motorway driving. That is if it wants to stay in the mobile game.

It feels like the application development industry is settling into the next 10 years (at least) of focus on mobility, Cloud and embedded systems rather than on the Microsoft dominated client/server architectures of the past.