Apple Inc. and IBM Corp. have launched the first 10 apps born from a partnership announced this summer, unveiling enterprise-grade apps for businesses in finance, retail, air travel, telecommunications, and so on.
Dubbed “IBM MobileFirst for iOS,” the apps are exclusively compatible with Apple’s iPhones and iPads – and so far, they’ve already gained some traction, with IBM announcing Citi, Air Canada, Sprint, and Banorte as among its first clients.
The appeal here is that Apple and IBM have melded their strengths into one suite of apps, says Warren Tomlin, partner of global business services at IBM. Apple has brought in its experience with user design, while IBM has added its integration and analytics abilities to the mix.
“It’s not about [the bring-your-own-device trend] or calendar or email,” Tomlin says. “We looked at, how do we fundamentally transform enterprises? And the only way we think we can do that is if you really understand the industry.”
Based in Canada, Tomlin is the head of IBM’s North American labs, including one here in Toronto. He says Toronto’s developers were involved in the IBM-Apple project, but IBM also lent its expertise through its industry teams, which asked customers about the types of apps they wanted to see to help them do their jobs.
For example, Air Canada might be using the Plan Flight app, which helps airlines figure out how much discretionary fuel they might need for their flights. The app allows pilots to look at flight schedules, flight plans, and crew manifests, and it also allows them to report any issues to ground control, even if they’re still in the air.
Then there’s Passenger+, an app that helps flight crews offer passengers more personalized, targeted services. For example, if passengers are about to miss a connection, a flight crew can automatically bring iPads to their seats and offer them alternate choices for the next flight out.
“The question becomes, if you take an awesome form factor like an iPad with a very strong [operating system], how can you change the way that Air Canada interacts with passengers?” Tomlin says.
He adds that Apple and IBM have also added capabilities that enterprises will need, such as analytics. For example, retailers might want to track their employees’ sales goals, time spent with customers, and so on by leveraging Apple products like iBeacon. That would allow retailers to gauge where their employees are standing in the store, and whether they’re actually spending time helping customers and closing sales.
And for enterprise organizations that want to safeguard their employees’ Apple devices, they can tap into IBM’s mobile device management capabilities, ensuring their data stays on-premise if they require that.
Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner, has seen three of the 10 apps so far – Expert Tech for telecommunications and IT professionals installing cables off-site, Plan Flight for air pilots, and Incident Aware, which gives police officers access to maps, video-feeds of crime scenes, and so on.
“These are all impressive apps and point to the potential that mobile apps have to significantly alter business processes for the better,” he said in an email. However, he noted that it’s still early days among enterprise organizations, and it’s far from certain they’ll be adopting the apps right away.
“Time will tell on how well these apps are received,” Baker said.
Tomlin would not disclose how Apple and IBM are structuring the financial details of their deals with the businesses that will be using their apps. However, he did say the two companies are “in it together” in working with their clients.