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Among IBM users, Apple agreement gets praise, questions

Many are asking: How will it work? Will it work? How does it help IBM?

July 17, 2014 07:08 AM ET

Computerworld - The IBM-Apple partnership resonates with Roxanne Reynolds-Lair, CIO at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles. Connecting Apple's mobile platform with IBM's back-end data is something she can use.

The fashion institute is an enterprise IBM user, but the students mostly use iOS. "Apple is by far still number one, by a long ways, with our student body," she said.

Reynolds-Lair said the agreement will "make dealing with Apple easier from an enterprise standpoint," as well as developing apps for its devices. Right now, the institute has to custom develop apps and push them out, she said.

"Apple is great at user-friendly design," said Reynolds-Lair. "IBM is great at enterprise and corporate and neither is necessarily great at the opposite, so I think it is a very complementary relationship."

But there are also questions from users and analysts, and no certainty the IBM-Apple partnership will succeed.

The hope is that Apple's collaboration with IBM will lead to mobile apps using back-end business services that are "as nicely designed and as compelling to use as your consumer apps are," said Daryl Plummer, an analyst at Gartner.

But Plummer tempers down some of the hype, such as the assumed belief that Siri, Apple's voice personal assistant, will play a role. Neither Apple nor IBM has said anything about using voice recognition capabilities in the mobile apps, said Plummer. However, "if they don't do that they just took a big swing and a miss," he added.

While the agreement cements the iPhone as an enterprise tool, "a lot people will say that IBM won't support other mobile devices - not true," said Plummer. IBM "will continue to commit to delivering back end services to Androidand Windows phones, but you know how people are, they will see this announcement as a statement of exclusive support."

Plummer isn't assuming this partnership will succeed, and puts the probability that Apple and IBM might do this right at "50-50." He'll know better once the first apps developed under the arrangement are released this fall.

Justin Porter, who heads IT consulting firm, First Technology Services and is on the board of directors of Common, an IBM Power systems user group, sees positives and possibilities in this agreement, but also has questions.

If IBM and Apple are talking about adding new cloud services that augment existing systems, "that doesn't necessarily simplify anything for me," said Porter, "It just means I have another moving part."

But, says Porter, if IBM and Apple are building a mobile platform that integrates directly with existing business system, that would be valuable. "I would assume that to some degree is the aim."

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