Not invented here: Apple's secret applications

With Apple preparing to face the 'antenna-gate' music at a media event tomorrow, today seems a good day to explore another big Apple secret -- that not all the software used internally is 'Made In Cupertino'.

[This story is from the new Apple Holic blog at Computerworld. Subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

We know Apple doesn't like to talk about this.

I can still recall briefly meeting with a member of the iTunes team when I asked if the Genius feature was purchased from another company.

He laughed, saying, "We're Apple, we make the software."

I gently reminded him of Cassady & Greene, the now defunct developer of SoundJam MP, the software Apple acquired as the basis for a little application called iTunes. Our meeting then fell into a bit of a decline.


See, Apple keeps secrets, and while it has managed to become a little more ecumenical in enforcement of its once legendary, 'not invented here' approach, it does like to create the illusion that everything at Apple, is, well, Apple.

Except it isn't.

Like any other business, the company relies on a wide range of non-Apple products, including some which don't even run on a Mac (shh).

Anyone with half a brain will be able to tell you Apple doesn't run on iWork alone (you'll find dozens of posts requiring MS Office skills on Apple's recruitment website), and I doubt it uses iPhoto for all its graphics needs.

So what are they using?

Strike one: SAP

SAP is the industry standard resource planning software for high-end, big-time enterprise users.

Incredibly complex in some ways, this software is also incredibly powerful and designed to coordinate all the resources, information, and activities needed to complete business processes such as order fulfillment or billing.

This means SAP is the software Apple likely uses to ensure it keeps its inventories low. I've been unable to confirm if AAPL does, or does not, make use of all five of the most-used SAP modules: Financials and Controlling (FICO), Human Resources (HR), Materials Management (MM), Sales & Distribution (SD), and Production Planning (PP).

You can make a reasonable guess that Apple uses this software in sales and distribution and materials management.

I say reasonable because a search of Apple's recruitment site quickly reveals the importance of SAP to the company, with Apple Store Back Office Reps, AppleCare planners and many other admin/management posts required to possess at least some experience with the powerful enterprise software.

SAP sits at the core of Apple's business machine.

Of course, there's a little Apple in its admin systems. FileMaker is an independent company that's entirely owned by Apple, and the company does look for knowledge of FileMaker's database software and/or mySQL in some data management-related posts.

Strike Two: Adobe

Adobe and Apple are friends really, you know. Certainly they may be in dispute over fading multimedia standard, Flash. And sure, that dispute has generated some pretty emotional chatter and upset on both sides.

You can't keep everyone happy, even old friends.

Change happens. Move on.

Apple and Adobe cooperate in the creative markets, a sector Apple traditionally dominates. For many years, Mac usage was almost symbolic of a job in the creative arts. For the people who 'think different', you know?

Still, with maybe two-thirds of Adobe's flagship Creative Suite products coming from Mac users, the two firms have a deep bond.

Deeper -- Apple is also an Adobe customer.

Take a look through Apple's recruitment pages and you'll soon see that familiarity with Adobe's creative products is de rigeur for Apple's creative workers -- including familarity with Flash:

Take a look: Photoshop and Flash skills are named on postings for an Interactive UI Engineer and a Safari Web Technology Engineer.

There's a little Adobe inside iWork, too, where an ad posting confirms a preference for a Sr. User Interface Designer for iWork to posses Photoshop and/or Illustrator tools. To make the logos, icons and more.

Photoshop is also a player within the iTunes interface team, where familiarity with the software is seen as preferred experience, (alongside with APP, JavaXScript, HTML and CSS knowledge, to be fair).

Strike Three - interface design...

Maya and 3D Max may have made it to the Mac, but they aren't made by Apple.

It is no surprise that familiarity with both applications is one of those desired requirements for people involved with System and iPhone graphics, particularly for the iPhone Gamekit Artist post here.

The position on the team is to help design, visualize, enable and implement interface, 3D characters/environments, animation, texturing as well as original concept artwork.

Strike Four - Ive's insiders

All those beautifully-designed iPads, iPods and various iterations of Mac are defining whole industries and creating a reputation for Apple's Jony Ive-led design team that should set them up for their natural lives.

But these beautiful products aren't 100 percent Apple -- they're mocked up using AutoCAD, Alias Studio, Rhino or other tools, some of which don't even work on a Mac!

Ive's team consists of about a dozen world-class designers. In terms of access to future information on Apple products, these are Apple's top brass. Alongside Apple CEO Steve Jobs and a few hand-picked top executives, Ive's team get to see all the products in development, including the ones which never leave the labs.

Within this team of top secret sharers, there's another level of folk....Ive's CAD operatives.

See, Ive's designers all have access to on-site computer modeling experts who are tasked with making 3D renderings of concept products.

And keeping their mouths tighly shut while they do.

This isn't just a theory -- this has been a folk legend among Apple watchers for years, and got big proof last year when the Dezeenjobs website published an ad requesting the following:

"CAD sculptor/digital 3D modeler needed to create high quality CAD models used in the industrial design and development of new products," the ad said.

3D CAD data is used to develop product concepts and details for appearance models and renderings as well as production level surfaces used for engineering and tooling.

As Cult of Mac (which revealed the ad) reflected then:

"The vast majority of Apple employees don't see a final product until the day it is launched, even if they helped build it. Software programmers never see the actual hardware, and hardware engineers work on bulky prototypes housed in big polypropylene boxes."

These 3D folk are at the center of secrecy, right inside the vortex of the Jobsian distortion field.

Strike Five: Back-up

Sometimes you have to ask yourself if Apple misses some things deliberately. Take back-up, for example: while the rest of us look to Time Machine and MobileMe and wish iDisk was a more powerful creature, the people inside Cupertino must be using something?

For me, chief suspect has to be Code 42 Software's CrashPlan Pro. It is rumoured that the enterprise version of the otherwise free (for consumers) software is backing up perhaps up to 10,000 Macs in Cupertino.

While Code 42 is happy to talk about some high profile clients in Silicon Valley, when questioned about Apple it becomes curiously (and well advisedly) tight lipped.

Signing off, I suspect that some Apple insiders may also be using Omni Graffle Pro or Omni Outliner Pro to help plan, mind map, and organise projects.

Are you aware of any other non-Apple solutions used inside Apple? Tell us about it in comments below.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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