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Why the Apple-IBM deal matters

James Niccolai and Martyn Williams | July 16, 2014
Times have changed since Apple's '1984' commercial bashing IBM.

Apple's partnership with IBM to tackle the mobile enterprise could have lasting ramifications for both companies — as well as for rivals Google, Microsoft and BlackBerry. It could also make life a lot easier for IT staff at large enterprises.

Apple and IBM announced an "exclusive" deal on Tuesday in which IBM will build a new line of enterprise-specific apps from the ground up for Apple's iOS, aimed at companies in retail, health care, transportation and other industries.

IBM will create "unique cloud services" for iOS, including tools for security, analytics and device management. It will also resell iPhones and iPads to its corporate customers, and Apple will roll out new support services for businesses.

In other words, Apple and IBM are putting a full-court press on the mobile business market. And they're doing so in a tightly wedded fashion: The companies used the word "exclusive" four times in a statement announcing the deal.

That suggests Apple won't run off and do a similar deal next week with Hewlett-Packard. More significantly, IBM, at least for now, is throwing all its chips in with Apple —apparently at the expense of Google's Android OS and Microsoft's Windows Phone.

"We are saying these [apps and services] will be specifically for the iPhone and iPad," said a spokeswoman for IBM, when asked what's "exclusive" about the deal. "They are the best mobile devices in the world, from our view," she said.

The deal is significant for several reasons. Apple devices are widely used by businesspeople, but the company has thus far been a "renegade" in the corporate world that slips in the back door with little regard for the needs of IT staff, said analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies.

"If IBM can come in and say, 'We'll make sure this Apple stuff works well with the other stuff you've got already,' it will make the IT guy feel a lot better," he said.

They had already been partners to an extent, he said, but until now IBM has had the same access to Apple's APIs (application programming interfaces) and tools as other vendors did. Tuesday's deal might give IBM greater access to Apple features like Find My Phone and its remote wipe capabilities, allowing IBM to integrate them with its own mobile management tools, for instance, Kay said.

"It helps IBM a lot to have Apple's blessing, so they're not standing at the front door like everyone else saying, 'Please accept our app,'" he said.

It's also a shift for Apple, which until now has shown little concern for how businesses cope with the influx of its devices. "Apple hasn't come out and said, 'We don't give a [damn] about enterprises,' but that's basically how they felt," Kay said.


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