Business Management

IBM and Apple Make Sense Together This Time Around

Almost 23 years ago, the newspaper I was working for splashed with ‘IBM and Apple Make History’. And so it seemed that day October 1991 as Apple and IBM teamed up with Motorola, making up a new triumvirate designed to change computers with a new standard based on the PowerPC architecture. They would create a new computer design with operating system and complementary tools. The unwritten task: to kick out the dominant Wintel PC duopoly forged by Microsoft and Intel. The PowerPC processor worked out quite well but the rest fell apart quite early on, ending more with a whimper than a bang when Apple plumped for Intel chips in Macs. Now IBM and Apple are working together again on another attempt to change enterprise computing and the omens are much more promising.

In 1991, IBM and Apple were much reduced versions of what they had been and what they were to become.

IBM was a mess and a relic to the extent that its press releases were full of IBM-speak: (‘display’ rather than monitor and so on) and the PR office spent most of their time ‘not commenting on unannounced products’. It was still pushing its dud operating system OS/2 and MCA bus architecture up a hill and had yet to make sense of the riches in its software group for the world outside of Unix and mainframes.

Apple, meanwhile, resembled a club for fan-boys and, outside of DTP, using a Mac was more a militant political statement or red badge of courage than anything else. The joke was that the Apple user conference could be held in a phone booth that year. Microsoft and Intel ran rings around the opposition as Windows became the default enterprise operating system and the 386 and 486 processors delivered thrilling new compute capabilities. A new wave of PC makers like Dell put PCs into more and more hands as price wars raged.

Today, things are very different.

Both IBM and Apple have delivered stunning revivals while Microsoft is the company that now looks out of its time and ripe for reinvention. But Apple has mostly based its success on the consumer front while IBM is, if anything, even more a corporate brand than it was all those years ago in 1991. The time is right for them to come together again and, adding to the potential for success, their ambitions are a whit more limited this time.

This pair of computing blue-chips stand an excellent chance of hitting targets in delivering vertical apps that sit on iOS devices and suck services from cloud computing. The iPhone and iPad have already barged their way into the enterprise through sheer user demand and CIOs can no longer justify delivering fleets of undifferentiated beige boxes in the name of order.

While others talk about ‘mobile first’ strategies, IBM and Apple are putting their money where their mouths are and the combination of east-coast pragmatism and west-coast creativity is highly promising. This time, the time is right.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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