Apple-IBM products in November? Not quite

Apple's Tim Cook said the first fruits of the partnership would come this month, but IBM now has its eyes on December

IBM appears likely to launch the first products of its mobile partnership with Apple in December, a bit later than Apple CEO Tim Cook had predicted last month.

The two companies joined forces in July to help enterprises mobilize their employees and applications. In the exclusive partnership, IBM plans to develop applications for specific industries that will run on Apple phones and tablets, which IBM will resell with its software pre-installed. IBM activation, management and security software are also involved in the deal. The partnership could give Apple the credibility it's never quite achieved in IT departments and link IBM to a popular mobile ecosystem.

On an Oct. 20 call to discuss Apple's fiscal fourth-quarter earnings, Cook said developers were working closely on the first set of solutions from the partnership, which would be ready "next month." Those solutions would cover six business sectors: banking, government, insurance, retail, travel and transportation, and telecommunications, he said.

With November winding down toward the Thanksgiving holiday Thursday, no products have yet launched publicly. A source who was briefed by IBM said the company expects to have some news about the products Cook mentioned in December.

Apple and IBM could not be reached for comment on the product timing.

Complex combinations of enterprise products don't live and die by firm ship dates the way consumer devices do. There's no holiday shopping season to miss, and customers can't exactly take these products home from the store and start using them immediately. It's likely anyone interested in buying one of the solutions is already consulting with IBM and knows where development stands, said Pund-IT analyst Charles King.

"Very often in the enterprise IT space, vendors communicate very clearly with the large customers that they're dealing with," King said. "If there are any sensitivities, I think they are being addressed behind the scenes."

Developing potentially hundreds of software components, mixed and matched in various combinations, takes place on a different timeline from an iPhone or an iPad, said analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates. "It's not like they were just going to pop out this whole suite of products," Kay said.

Yet Cook's comments stood out because the solutions he was discussing basically will be IBM's products, not Apple's, Kay said. It's rare for a tech executive to discuss ship dates for another company's products, even if that company is a partner, he said. "Almost everyone declines to do that," Kay said.

"My sense is that Tim Cook did not really mean to promise when IBM's products were going to come out," Kay said.

And Cook surely hasn't been in the dark about the project's progress, analyst King said. But running the world's most valuable company comes with a certain amount of confidence. "Tim Cook is not known for being shy," King said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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