Apple-IBM deal threatens Android's enterprise push

And BlackBerry may get caught in the cross-fire

The new Apple-IBM partnership seems sure to help Apple sell more iPads and iPhones to businesses while extending the reach of IBM's big data and analytics software. The deal may also be setting off alarm bells at mobile device management companies large and small.

Google is clearly one target of the new Apple-IBM partnership. The deal comes just weeks after Google announced an initiative to help business users adopt Android tablets and smartphones with new mobile device management software, including the ability to separate work and personal data. The business-related features are part of the coming Android update dubbed "L" announced in June.

Other targets are big and small makers of device and application management software that include Microsoft, Landesk, Symantec, BlackBerry, SAP and others.

To get the valuable IBM analytics insights to end users in corporations and organizations, Apple and IBM will build new native apps, but there will also be a reliance on IBM software for activation and management, which will also include IBM security-related tools. Apple will provide help desk email and telephone support and on-site repair and replacement of products through AppleCare. The details are described in a special IBM website that offers more information about the IBM MobileFirst platform for iOS. The site also includes a place to register for global executive briefings on the Apple-IBM integrated offerings in October.

Apple and IBM will build cloud software services for analytics, data security and device management that is "native to iOS," according to the companies. What isn't clear is how much of the software related to managing iOS devices will be new or will instead rely on IBM's existing software designed to work across mobile device platforms, including Windows, Windows Phone and Android.

In May, Gartner listed IBM as a leader among 14 vendors making client management tools, just behind top-rated Microsoft.

The analyst firm said IBM's Endpoint Manager software "excels in patch management, multiplatform support and overall scalability" and called the software a "good choice for organizations heavily focused on security configuration management, including patching and those that require strong multiplatform server management in addition to client management or scalability to support tens of thousands of endpoints."

But Gartner said in the May report that the IBM software is "not as good a choice" for those organizations that require simple usability, a failing which seems to beg for the kind of help that Apple may provide. Gartner also faulted IBM for complexity in its packaging, bundling and pricing of its various management software functions.

IBM purchased enterprise mobility management vendor Fiberlink Communications last December and is integrating its Endpoint Manager with Fiberlink's MaaS360 software, an involved process that will take several years, Gartner said.

IBM's MobileFirst will be full-service software to govern mobile device management (MDM), mobile application management (MAM) and other capabilities, predicted Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

IBM and Apple "need to offer a full suite of capability," Gold said, while noting that IBM has already been offering some cross-platform support of devices with Fiberlink. With Apple, IBM will be "offering a better integration, perhaps, but it's not a totally new direction."

While some analysts predicted the Apple-IBM partnership could hurt Google's recent pitch for enterprise device management, Gold said that Google and Android "right now are not a force in the enterprise, something that will change in the next 12 to 18 months."

Gold also said that IBM, at some point, will probably partner with Android device makers to offer device management. If IBM doesn't partner with Android players, other software makers will likely step in.

Google didn't comment on the Apple-IBM deal.

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