OPINION

The Big Honking Business-as-Usual IBM-Apple Deal

The news that Apple and IBM have joined forces sent a shockwavethrough the Apple-focused world this week, and I admit it, I wassurprised. At first glance, the deal seems to be this big group hugwith the two companies becoming inextricably entwined.

Yeah, it’s not that.

Upon closer inspection — despite the fluffy and vague announcementsput 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 dealthat really isn’t all that “BIG” that I’ve seen in a long time. Itseems groundbreaking — and it will pay off handsomely for both Appleand IBM — but it’s really just an extension of business as usual forboth companies.

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 andnot fundamentally change? I’ll try to explain how I see thisshaking out.

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 meansless room for Android and Windows encroachment. This deal is alow-risk tactical move to sell more existing products and hammerboards over the enterprise door to keep competitors out.

While Apple is already in the vast majority of the Fortune 1000companies, it doesn’t have a good reputation for playing nice toenterprises or listening to their concerns and demands — especiallywhen it comes to planning.

I don’t think this deal is going to changethat; however, this deal will mitigate Apple’s lacklusterreputation for IT support by letting IBM shoulder most of it. IBM has a greatreputation for IT support and for listening to its largest customers.If IBM customers believe they can count on IBM to make sure their BigData and cloud-based applications function flawlessly on their shinyiPads, it removes one element of doubt surrounding Apple in theenterprise.

As part of the partnership, Apple will offer a special AppleCare forEnterprise support service. How will this differ from existing AppleCareProfessional Support services? Probably not much. Why not? TheAppleCare for Enterprise service is just 24/7 telephone support. IBMwill be responsible for on-premises support services.

So IBM gets to continue to support its customers directly around the world, plusgets to offer a new IBM MobileFirst Supply and Management service thatincludes device activation for iPhones and iPads — with leasingoptions, which is handy for accounting purposes for enterprises. (Bythe way, nowhere does this offering seem to imply that IBM will service iOS devices exclusively, which means you can bet that IBM will help outwith Android or Windows devices if its customers want it to.)

Business as usual.

IBM Don’t Need No Apple

In fact, IBM already develops apps for mobile use on iOS. Why doesIBM need an Apple deal to continue to do that?

Answer: IBM doesn’t truly need Apple. However, a partnership with Applelets IBM use Apple’s name to help market its new line of enterpriseanalytics. A partnership with Apple lends IBM some sexiness — some ofApple’s mojo.

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 backdoorBYOD channels.

Apple, in fact, has slowly and surely continued to build and improveon its enterprise device management capabilities. Apple has a bigreference site for developers called “Reinvent yourenterprise with iOS.” Where is IBM on it? Answer: Nowhere.

As an extension of the ability to sell its own apps to its enterprisecustomers, IBM says that its IBM MobileFirst Platform for iOS willdeliver the services required for an end-to-end enterprise capability –from analytics, workflow and cloud storage to fleet-scale devicemanagement, security and integration.

Enhanced mobile managementincludes a private app catalog, data and transaction securityservices, and a productivity suite for all IBM MobileFirst for iOSsolutions. In addition to on-premises software solutions, all of theseservices will be available on Bluemix, which is IBM’s developmentplatform on the IBM Cloud Marketplace.

IBM easily could have accomplished all of that without announcing aspecial partnership that included PR photos of Apple CEO Tim Cookwalking beside IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.

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 industryissues or opportunities in retail, healthcare, banking, travel andtransportation, telecommunications and insurance, among others, thatwill become available starting this fall and into 2015.

IBM has been building these sorts of apps for vertical industries foryears. Does the company really need Apple to do it? No. The questionis, how much will Apple really collaborate here?

I’m guessing Applewill collaborate only on making sure that Apple builds in theappropriate security and device management hooks needed to makeenterprise mobile management a secure breeze.

Apple would have donemuch of this anyway, eventually, but a formal agreement has thepotential to open a door for Apple to hear what largeenterprises 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 morefocus on its devices. This deal doesn’t mean that IBM is going tochange Apple’s core operating principles or values as a company.

Apple will be able to build whatever the heck it wants — and IBM will getto 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 theprocess, which seems unlikely since most consumers don’t pay attentionto IBM marketing anyway. It’s targeted at adults who work inbusinesses.

The best potential side effect of this deal could be that third-partyapp developers who aren’t trying to write the next viral Flappy Birdgame actually can create an interesting business app and gain somesales 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 aseriously large customer base for Apple. Along the way, IBM may beable to influence Apple to create changes in hardware and software tobetter serve this large customer base.

At some point, Apple might beweak 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 holdonto major revenue streams rather than innovating — previous techdarling Microsoft tried to hold onto and protect Microsoft Officerevenue for years, “enhancing” the suite into a mess that customersstarted rejecting.

Once you open the door and let a massive companyinto 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 partnershipis actually as tight as the initial marketing wants everyone to think.From what I can tell, it’s pretty loose and leaves Apple offthe hook for delivering anything more real than its logo.

TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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