The Apple-IBM blockbuster deal may finally give Apple its long-denied entrée into the enterprise. But it also may signal something even more surprising: That the future of innovation now belongs to Microsoft, not Apple.
The deal will give Apple entrée into the enterprise in ways it's never had before for iOS devices. That sounds like a good thing. But it may not prove as fruitful as it sounds. Management consultant Peter Cohan, writes in Forbes that:
"Based on the time I spent working with the Watson Research Center at IBM I see two organizational forces that will make it hard for this partnership to yield significant revenues."
He says that it's likely that the commissions that IBM sales and service people will get for iOS devices will be lower than they get for IBM products and services, and so they will have little incentive to push Apple rather than IBM. And he notes that the cultures of IBM and Apple clash --- IBM slow and conservative, Apple faster-moving.
And analysts say that Microsoft has little to fear from the partnership. Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, told Computerworld's Gregg Keizer:
"I don't see a huge negative impact on Microsoft here, because the demand in enterprises is for heterogeneity, not homogeneity. I see Microsoft's mobile strategy supporting Windows, Android and iOS. IBM will do a really good job with iOS, I expect, but that will come at the expense of Windows and Android. So if you're a major enterprise looking for a partner, looking for more than just really, really great apps on Apple, for a heterogeneous environment, I think you'll look elsewhere."
The move very clearly signals, though, that without Steve Jobs, Apple can't innovate. With Steve Job's passing, more than just an individual died. So did innovation at Apple. Has Apple done anything truly innovative since he's been gone? No. The company has merely milked existing markets. When it's tried to get into a new market, rather than develop something internally, it's tried to buy its way in, evidenced by the company's Beat Music buyout as a way to push its way into the digital music-streaming future. And now it's turning to IBM, the antithesis of everything Apple has always been about.
So it's at Microsoft that you should look for innovation. I've covered Microsoft for a long time, and I can't remember the last time the company was in so much ferment. Steve Ballmer being replaced by Satya Nadella as CEO. Buying Nokia. Releasing Office for the iPad before the Windows 8 touch-based version is ready. Committing big-time to Android. Recognizing that Windows is no longer the center of its universe. On and on it goes.
Even the bomb that was Windows 8 showed that the company was at least trying something new. It saw that it was behind in mobile, and instead of standing pat, it doubled down on Windows 8, trying something new and drastic.
Unfortunately, it lost the bet, and designed what is probably the worst operating system in the company's history. But often the only way to win a bet is to first place a few losers, even big ones.
After years of stagnation, Microsoft has recognized it needs to make big changes, and the kind of ferment it's in right now eventually leads to innovation. Over at Apple, stagnation seems to be the business plan. That may pay off in the short run -- after all, it did for Microsoft for years -- but in the long run it's a losing proposition. Microsoft has finally recognized that, and that's why it's the place to look for innovation.