The new Apple-IBM partnership seems sure to help Apple sell more iPads and iPhones to businesses while extending the reach of IBM's big data and analytics software. The deal may also be setting off alarm bells at mobile device management companies large and small.
Google is clearly one target of the new Apple-IBM partnership. The deal comes just weeks after Google announced an initiative to help business users adopt Android tablets and smartphones with new mobile device management software, including the ability to separate work and personal data. The business-related features are part of the coming Android update dubbed "L" announced in June.
Other targets are big and small makers of device and application management software that include Microsoft, Landesk, Symantec, BlackBerry, SAP and others.
To get the valuable IBM analytics insights to end users in corporations and organizations, Apple and IBM will build new native apps, but there will also be a reliance on IBM software for activation and management, which will also include IBM security-related tools. Apple will provide help desk email and telephone support and on-site repair and replacement of products through AppleCare. The details are described in a special IBM website that offers more information about the IBM MobileFirst platform for iOS. The site also includes a place to register for global executive briefings on the Apple-IBM integrated offerings in October.
Apple and IBM will build cloud software services for analytics, data security and device management that is "native to iOS," according to the companies. What isn't clear is how much of the software related to managing iOS devices will be new or will instead rely on IBM's existing software designed to work across mobile device platforms, including Windows, Windows Phone and Android.
In May, Gartner listed IBM as a leader among 14 vendors making client management tools, just behind top-rated Microsoft.
The analyst firm said IBM's Endpoint Manager software "excels in patch management, multiplatform support and overall scalability" and called the software a "good choice for organizations heavily focused on security configuration management, including patching and those that require strong multiplatform server management in addition to client management or scalability to support tens of thousands of endpoints."
But Gartner said in the May report that the IBM software is "not as good a choice" for those organizations that require simple usability, a failing which seems to beg for the kind of help that Apple may provide. Gartner also faulted IBM for complexity in its packaging, bundling and pricing of its various management software functions.
IBM purchased enterprise mobility management vendor Fiberlink Communications last December and is integrating its Endpoint Manager with Fiberlink's MaaS360 software, an involved process that will take several years, Gartner said.
IBM's MobileFirst will be full-service software to govern mobile device management (MDM), mobile application management (MAM) and other capabilities, predicted Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.
IBM and Apple "need to offer a full suite of capability," Gold said, while noting that IBM has already been offering some cross-platform support of devices with Fiberlink. With Apple, IBM will be "offering a better integration, perhaps, but it's not a totally new direction."
While some analysts predicted the Apple-IBM partnership could hurt Google's recent pitch for enterprise device management, Gold said that Google and Android "right now are not a force in the enterprise, something that will change in the next 12 to 18 months."
Gold also said that IBM, at some point, will probably partner with Android device makers to offer device management. If IBM doesn't partner with Android players, other software makers will likely step in.
Google didn't comment on the Apple-IBM deal.
The benefits to Apple in the Apple-IBM deal are far greater than they are to IBM.
"This is more about positioning iPads as productivity tools," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar WorldPanel. "There is a wider opportunity for iPad, especially as Android has not made much headway in the enterprise with tablets and since Microsoft is still playing catch up. The opportunity as enterprises go through upgrades is huge, and this is why these vendors care. IBM takes away the biggest complaint IT managers have about Apple, that they do not understand enterprises."
Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, added that it is "nearly impossible to beat IBM at back-end software." He said the Apple-IBM pairing will be much stronger than Google's Android L announcement, which includes use of software from Google's acquisition of Divide and some elements of Knox software for enterprises from Samsung.
"It is hard to beat IBM in the enterprise, and iOS starts out being naturally more secure than Android, so the Apple-IBM combination represents the very best of both worlds in terms of consumer focus on the device side and enterprise focus on the solution side," Enderle said.
"IBM has a century of doing business with companies who want a vendor who understands their needs and will listen. Meanwhile, Apple, Samsung and Google all have a history of not listening to the enterprise. Enterprise needs are very unique and vastly different from consumer needs," Enderle said.
We're already doing this, say rivals
BlackBerry has begun offering device support for other platforms than its own in the past year, part of an appeal to keep its customers interested in its BlackBerry Enterprise Server software. Milanesi, in comments to the IDG News Service, said Apple's deal with IBM could be the "last straw" for BlackBerry.
However, Gold said the Apple-IBM deal doesn't put more pressure on BlackBerry, partly because BlackBerry is "already slipping badly in market share and doesn't have a tablet to offer." Tablet sales is where Apple stands to benefit the most.
In a statement, BlackBerry said the deal between Apple and IBM "underscores the ongoing need for secure end-to-end enterprise mobility solutions like those BlackBerry has delivered for years." BlackBerry said it has the most secure devices, software, servers and network to "enable enterprises to be confident that their data is protected from end to end."
BlackBerry warned potential Apple-IBM customers to "think twice about relying on any solution built on the foundation of a consumer technology that lacks the proven security benefits that BlackBerry has always delivered."
Rick Costanzo, general manager of global mobility solutions at SAP, said the Apple-IBM deal "validates what SAP has been doing for the past couple of years."
Instead of Apple-IBM's plans to build 100 services including apps for iOS, SAP has built 300 industry-related mobility apps for 20 industries in the past two years, Costanzo said in an interview. "Our reaction is welcome to the party," Costanzo said. SAP builds mobile apps for iOS, Windows Phone and Windows and Android, he noted. He also said that SAP has the ability to resell Apple hardware. The Apple-IBM news is "important but we've actually been doing this already."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
Read more about mobile device management in Computerworld's Mobile Device Management Topic Center.