When developers bank their product’s success solely on another platform, I get nervous for them. Many in the tech industry might recall Facebook’s Platform in 2007, which many - both young hopefuls and established creators alike - jumped on eagerly. Some followed Mark Zuckerberg’s urgings to build specifically for the platform, forming whole businesses on top of the new technology. As Pando so elegantly put it, they ended up getting “Zucked over” in the end, as the platform first changed and then was abandoned.
It’s easy to draw similarities between that situation and the new IBM and Apple partnership announced in December (though the two are not identical). In both situations, a well-respected technology brand urges developers and consumers alike to rely on their proprietary offering to serve as the foundation of their business. This requires a gamble of time, effort and funds in the hopes that the new platform succeeds in conquering the market, in which, if they lose, all developers involved lose as well.
The IBM/Apple partnership seems especially risky for developers, as it maneuvers to ensure that all clients, and ideally all enterprises use Apple hardware exclusively. While this may seem reasonable to some - Apple has 41.9% of market share in the US - it’s less likely for organizations that have any part of their operations outside of the US, which isn’t rare these days. Given that, at the last measure by IDC in May of 2014, Apple only controls 12% of the global market in comparison to Android’s 85%, I feel it can safely be stated that an exclusively iOS mobility suite would be a tall order for any global business .
There are two sides to this enterprise versus Apple tug of war, one of which must prevail:
- The enterprise will either begin to deploy fleets of iOS devices, from iPhones to iPads to Apple Watches.
- Or Apple will allow IBM to port apps to Android, and develop later apps for both operating systems under their partnership agreement.
Looking at this from an outside perspective, I can’t help but draw on my personal experiences. We’ve heard from many of our clients that, while they find great software all the time in the Apple store, they find it almost impossible to deploy if there isn’t an Android version of the product as well. If the software doesn’t work in all of the countries they operate in for each of their connected employees, there’s often internal push back and accusations of isolating teams, or of the brand not being a truly global company or team player, which is why we, and many other great enterprise applications, make sure to develop for both iOS and Android at a minimum. Apple trying to force hardware choices seems like a huge risk - even for such a successful business - given the rapid globalization of business and the development of a more contiguous world economy.
Given these factors, it seems only logical that Apple is at least considering an agreement with Google to co-offer the business applications. I imagine that there must be some clause built into the agreement between the two involving a time limit on adoption - if Apple does not take market majority of global enterprise businesses by a certain date, they must allow the applications developed in the partnership to be ported to Android devices. Even some Apple fans, such as Matt Egan of MacWorld UK, think that this would be a sound tactical decision. In his roundup, “7 Lessons Apple Could Learn From Microsoft,” he urges the software giant to go cross platform:
This may be a controversial viewpoint, but in an era in which loyalty to hardware products it at an all-time low, Apple continues to write great software to sell its excellent hardware, available only on its own hardware. It is clearly working well, for a billion reasons a quarter. But isn’t it possible that Apple is in danger of missing a boat?
This may be hinged on a pre-determined date that IBM and Apple have agreed upon and we’re all in the dark, or it may already be on the back burner for Apple in anticipation of the impending post-PC world, a prediction originally made by MIT’s David Clark, in which desktop computers become obsolete, making way for mobile devices, and made popular by Steve Jobs coining the term “post-PC,” given as a reason for the launch of iCloud. However, if there is no such contingency plan, it would seem that Apple is playing incredibly close to the edge with their adoption rates, and relying too heavily on the enterprise backing down and accepting Apple hardware as a necessary business investment.
This modern day game of chicken between Apple and the enterprise may end up being determined by a third party - that being global companies’ employees and their demands. Every single employee must be on board with protocols and procedures and able to perform the same actions with the same tools, or chaos ensues - or at least a systemic slowdown in productivity and action.
I think it’s important to point out that not only are large companies hiring more global employees, but all businesses are beginning to use more contractors - to the extent that a recent Intuit study found that by 2020 over 40% of global workers will be freelancers . It’s incredibly easy to hire remote workers, with services such as Elance, Odesk and Guru growing every day, and it’s only going to become simpler. Any company, even a single individual, can hire help around the world with a few clicks of the button. This isn’t a trend that Apple can just wait out or hope will go away and yet many of those contract workers will rely on the devices of their choosing.
I’m only one CEO in a sea of developers and entrepreneurs that are targeting the enterprise space, but I can’t see how this situation could play out any other way. What do you think will happen? Do you think Apple will “win” the enterprise, or do you think the iconic company will be forced to adapt to our changing - multi-platform - technology landscape?