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Apple fashions 'brilliant' partnership with IBM for instant enterprise cred

Gregg Keizer | July 16, 2014
The business-focused deal between Apple and IBM unveiled Tuesday is "brilliant," one analyst said, noting that Apple now gets into the enterprise through the front door rather than the back.

That argument — that IBM has promised an end-to-end solution on integrating mobile with corporate systems and services already in place — is what made the deal, from Apple's perspective, so enticing.

"As a one-stop shop, I can think of only one that could do that, and that's IBM," said Forrester's Gillett.

But Gottheil called out another reason Apple did this with IBM, rather than another major technology player — a Hewlett-Packard or Dell — for instance: IBM doesn't sell devices any longer, and has zero footprint in the consumer market, where Apple excels. "They don't conflict in any way, shape or form," said Gottheil. "There's no collision, there's no conflict, it's all upside."

The experts were split on whether the partnership would result in a major uptick in iPhone and iPad sales, but most agreed that Apple will benefit in other ways. "From a brand perspective, IBM is all about the enterprise, so this says, 'Apple is ready for the enterprise,'" said Moorhead.

Perception, in fact, was one area where Apple will come out smelling sweeter. "This should give a nice boost for IBM but is a considerably bigger deal for Apple, maybe more for the changed perception," said Gottheil. "The idea is that Apple must now be a real business vendor if IBM is building for you and selling for you. Little Apple has just grown up."

"There's a big perceptional element to this," agreed Moorhead. "Apple's not the corporate standard. But IBM has credibility there, it's known for the enterprise, so the perception will be, 'If it's good enough for IBM, it's good for everybody else,'" Moorhead added, perhaps intentionally echoing the old phrase, "No one ever got fired buying IBM."

Not all were willing to say that all Apple got out of the deal was a newly-burnished reputation among business customers. "It's more than perception. Apple will now be easier for businesses to do business with," argued Gillett, who cited the enterprise-necessary experience that IBM brings to the table, especially its global reach in sales, service and support for Apple's hardware.

The analysts did have concerns, however, ones that might not be addressed for some time.

"IBM can do the first part, sell the iPhone and iPad, falling out of bed," contended Gillett. "But can IBM deliver on the promise of unique app experiences for IBM software products? Tying these devices to this wonderful infrastructure is a tall order, and will take time to prove out. Apple wins regardless, I think, but it wins much bigger if IBM comes through with what they promised."

Moorhead, too, had unanswered questions. "How will things change at Apple for longevity of support?" Moorhead asked. Microsoft has a 10-year support cycle for its operating systems, he noted, while Apple's is, well, undocumented.


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