IBM Is a 'Kindred Spirit': Whoa, Tim Cook, Whoa
The Apple deal with IBM has shown us a whole new side of Tim Cook -- the gushing, hype-laden, excited-but-still-vague Tim Cook who says things like "kindred spirit," "fits together like a puzzle," "huge opportunity," "radical step for enterprise," and "new level to achieve in business." Who peppers his speech with words like "profound," "complementary," "landmark" and "thrilled."
Now, I'm a big fan of Tim Cook, but when he uttered this in an interview with CNBC, "We fit together like a puzzle, and so this is profound. It is landmark. It's historic," my mouth dropped open and I felt compelled to look away.
Where's the Beef?
I understand it when Cook hypes up Apple products he's excited about, and off-the-cuff video interviews are hard to do well -- but there's more. A lot more.
In this week's fiscal Q3 conference call with Wall Street analysts and investors, Cook talked up the IBM partnership multiple times, while offering almost no real details as to what Apple actually will do with IBM, or how the business end of the partnership actually might work.
What strikes me as most important here is how Cook is putting his name behind the deal with IBM. In fact, I think it's startling how much he has been willing to hype this deal -- putting his reputation behind the partnership, which isn't even a slam dunk.
While it looks like IBM can start peddling iPads for Apple, the whole point of the deal is getting IBM's MobileFirst for iOS Big Data apps down to the "fingertips" of enterprise workers, which requires a helluva sales effort on the part of IBM -- none of these apps or services are cheap, no-brainer buys, and most of them tend to have long sales cycles.
Of course, you can expect Apple to generate revenue when iPads are sold (or leased) into IBM's enterprise accounts around the world, but is that it? Enterprise AppleCare is likely part of the revenue deal, but what about the multibillion dollar value of all these new IBM MobileFirst for iOS enterprise apps? Will Apple share in the revenue generated by them? Or simply be happy with hardware sales?
What about their so-called collaboration? If IBM or Apple has said that IBM would be developing MobileFirst apps exclusively for iOS -- and not for Android or Windows -- I haven't seen it. Now that would be a landmark deal. But maybe Apple is simply willing to help IBM make better mobile apps than what it might be able to create with, say, Android-based apps.
To what degree will Apple actually help IBM do this? How many Apple developers and UI experts actually will engage with IBM? Will a dedicated team of Apple employees actually work side-by-side with IBM employees on more than 100 industry vertical apps? Or will IBM's people just tell Apple's people what sort of security challenges its customers face and let Apple decide whether to address those concerns -- or not -- in future releases of iOS?
Spell It Out, Tim
What I'm saying here is this: If this deal is so amazingly "landmark," the details provided do not match the hype. If the collaboration is real, it would be fairly easy for Tim Cook just to say something like this: "We have a dedicated team of two dozen Apple design or programming experts who will work directly with IBM to make sure that IBM is able to unlock existing features -- and some future enhancements -- in iOS and iPads, so that hundreds of new enterprise apps will be able to take advantage of our tech more quickly than ever before."
That's still relatively vague, but at least it would give us a hint that the collaboration with IBM would extend much deeper than collaborating on how to handle invoicing.
IBM, it turns out, on its landing page for hyping the partnership, provides something slightly concrete: "Right now, engineers, designers, and developers from both organizations are working on more than 100 end-to-end mobile solutions, including a new category of mobile apps, that are ready for the enterprise."
That's still vague, though. If IBM were working with only one Apple liaison, it would still be true -- and there is nothing even close to that on Apple's much smaller iPad in Business landing page.
Personally, I'm taking all this with a grain of salt. Enterprise via IBM may seem like a low-risk way to generate iPad sales, as well as a way to hedge against scrutiny over Apple's ability to grow. However, if iPad sales should continue to slow -- particularly in the U.S. -- and if Apple's competitors should gain a foothold, then Tim Cook may find himself taking a whole new blast of heat from Wall Street.