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Apple Watch: Big deep blue

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Once upon a time, the epitome of business computing (and all that was wrong with it) was held to be Big Blue - IBM. Apple's very first Macintosh ad, the infamous Chiat/Day Superbowl '1984' ad made by Ridley Scott, was a direct tilt at what Apple felt about IBM: the monolithic corporation that had a monopoly on computing and that failed to see, and cater to, what the people wanted. The promise of the groundbreaking ad was that, thanks to Apple's new Macintosh personal computer (the first of the now 30-year-old line), 1984 need no longer be like the 1984 of in George Orwell's vision. Simplistic, yes. As all socio-political messages need to be. Powerful ... yes.

You see, IBM was the powerhouse of computing worldwide. IBM's systems ran banks, universities - even governments. They were big systems - they needed their own rooms to run in! IBM seemed to be unshakeable, but it had made one very damaging mistake. In 1980, it came up with a viable personal computer concept (and the 'PC' term, actually), but then it let Bill Gates supply the operating system for it (MS-DOS). Bill Gates managed to talk IBM into letting Microsoft retain the rights to MS-DOS, which meant he could market it separate from the IBM PC project - to anyone else who made a PC with similar components, in other words.

Perhaps worse, since IBM's first real mass-produced personal computer was built from off-the-shelf parts ('open architecture') and marketed by outside distributors (initially, by Sears & Roebucks and Computerland), pretty much anyone could build it. Which of course, many companies went on to do. Therefore, in some kind of lapse of vision or judgment, IBM invented a new chariot, then handed the reins for it to all and sundry.

Cue IBM losing out big time to have its brand on most PCs as people rapidly took them up.

This should have crushed IBM utterly, but somehow management had the wherewithal, after mass layoffs and hardships, to stay in the game. Strangely, IBM even went on to have a hand in the 6800-series CPUs that went into the PowerPC CPUs of the Macs of the 1990s, in a co-manufacturing deal with Apple and Motorola. Of course, eventually Apple went to the Intel CPU while, perhaps even more strangely, Microsoft chose the PowerPC architecture for Xbox at around the same time.

In the meantime, IBM has been plugging away in the supercomputer and research space, and has managed to stay a big player in world computing in a good lesson to any corporate out there.

And on the 16th July this year, the former jousters Apple and IBM announced an exclusive partnership to team the strengths of each company to transform enterprise mobility through a new class of business apps. In other words, IBM's big data and analytics capabilities will be coming to iPhone and iPad.

The partnership aims to redefine the way work gets done, according to Apple's press release, "addressing key industry mobility challenges and spark true mobile-led business change."

The new class of apps will offer four core capabilities:

More than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions including native apps developed exclusively from the ground up for iPhone and iPad plus "unique" IBM cloud services optimised for iOS, including device management, security, analytics and mobile integration.

A new AppleCare service and support service will offer tailored addressing of the needs of enterprise, and there will be new packaged offerings from IBM for device activation, supply and management.

IBM has big data and analytics capabilities, with over 100,000 IBM industry and domain consultants and software developers behind it. Apple offers its consistently high-rating consumer experience, hardware and software integration and its developer platform. The combination will (hopefully) create apps that can transform specific aspects of how businesses and employees work using their iPhones and iPads in the hope of "allowing companies to achieve new levels of efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction - faster and easier than ever before."

That's all good, but this shocked me: IBM will also be able to sell iPhones and iPads with the industry-specific solutions to its business clients worldwide.

On this I have to agree with Tim Cook: "This is a radical step for enterprise and something that only Apple and IBM can deliver."

So far, anyway, that's probably true. You can imagine Microsoft may once have been able to do something like this with Google and Android - instead, under Ballmer, Microsoft chose to launch its own very poorly-performing (in sales anyway) Windows Phone.

What's interesting to me about this is that Apple and IBM appear to be dealing with each other as equals - something unfeasible over most of the last three decades.

Ginni Rometty, IBM's Chairman, President and CEO, had statements to make, too: "Mobility - combined with the phenomena of data and cloud - is transforming business and our industry in historic ways, allowing people to re-imagine work, industries and professions. This alliance with Apple will build on our momentum in bringing these innovations to our clients globally, and leverages IBM's leadership in analytics, cloud, software and services. We are delighted to be teaming with Apple, whose innovations have transformed our lives in ways we take for granted, but can't imagine living without. Our alliance will bring the same kind of transformation to the way people work, industries operate and companies perform."

The last part sounds to me like Ginni loves her iPhone and iPad, even if she still uses an IBM mainframe in her basement for doing her day-to-day computing.

But if you thought IBM wasn't a player any more, IBM employs 5000 mobile experts and IBM has secured over 4300 patents in mobile, social and security "that have been incorporated into IBM MobileFirst solutions that enable enterprise clients to radically streamline and accelerate mobile adoption, help organisations engage more people and capture new markets."

IBM has been making security acquisitions over the past decade, and now has has more than 6000 security researchers and developers in 25 security labs worldwide - they work on developing enterprise-class solutions.

IBM has "the world's deepest portfolio in Big Data and Analytics consulting and technology expertise based on experiences drawn from more than 40,000 data and analytics client engagements. This analytics portfolio spans research and development, solutions, software and hardware, and includes more than 15,000 analytics consultants, 4,000 analytics patents, 6,000 industry solution business partners, and 400 IBM mathematicians who are helping clients use big data to transform their organisations."

Well, I did hear that Apple was trying to improve its diversity profile, but I didn't expect this!

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