Hot Off The Press From AppleSoft

Whilst I was watching the Apple event on Wednesday, one particular phrase sprang to mind:

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

There’s a few things that I’d long thought impossible in the world of technology. One: travelling through time. And two: the biggest tech companies in the world working together for the greater good (ok, working together to get more GP).

Turns out, I was wrong about one of these things. And unfortunately for all of us, it’s not time travel (yet).

As one journalist put it, hell ‘froze over’ when Apple invited a Microsoft executive onto the stage to talk about the features of Microsoft Office on the iPad Pro.

Actually, hell has been going gently glacial for a good while now, thanks largely to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s ‘nicely nicely’ approach to the very same competitors they’ve been having public slanging matches with for decades.

In the last few months and weeks, this has really stepped up a notch. We’re seeing more and more partnerships between technology giants.

I’ll come onto this, but first a quick overview of what was unveiled at the Apple event.

Apple showed off the new iPhone (the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus), the new iPad Pro, designed to attract business users, a new version of Apple TV, and….some other stuff which I won’t focus on in this post.

It was quite a serious affair on Wednesday. Perhaps this was because (particularly with the iPad Pro) Apple now have a real focus on businesses, as well as consumers. Steve Jobs cared far more about consumers, so he had a very relaxed but warm presence on stage.

Famously, with reference to the interface when he revealed the iPhone in 2007, Jobs uttered, “A stylus? Who wants a stylus? Yuck.”

In a sign of how much times have changed, Tim Cook announced on Wednesday that Apple had made, yes, a stylus. Or the ‘Apple Pencil’ if I was on brand. This works with the iPad Pro and is designed to exactly replicate the pencil so you can create some pretty awesome drawings. Creative companies will no doubt love this, although I’m still in the Steve Jobs camp as I gave up on the Pen for my Surface Pro 3 some time ago.

The iPad Pro has a 12.9” screen with 4GB of RAM (the iPad Air 2 has 2GB so this is quite a jump). The highest spec (128GB of storage, WiFi and LTE connectivity) will set you back $1,097 and if you want the Apple Pencil ($99) and the Smart Keyboard ($169) you’re looking at $1347. There is a 32GB version and you can get it without LTE – that version with the accessories will cost you $1,217.

On the face of it, there’s not a great deal of difference between the iPad Pro and the MacBook. The costs are pretty similar, processors a bit different, but crucially the MacBook runs OS X whereas the iPad Pro sticks to iOS. Symbolising the fact that Apple still see the Pro as a tablet, with functionality for office use as well.

Apple making their first ‘2-in-1’ device is interesting as it was only a few years ago that Tim Cook laughed at the mere idea. “You can merge a toaster and a refrigerator, but that’s probably not going to be pleasing anyone,” was his retort when asked if Apple would ever make a hybrid.

He took a bite at the competition too – “Our competition is confused. They’re turning tablets into PCs and PCs into tablets.” This was firmly aimed at Microsoft, and, to be fair to Cook, Microsoft had only brought out the Surface RT at this time, which was, quite frankly, abysmal.

However Microsoft turned a corner with the Surface Pro 3. Suddenly, by making a device people actually wanted to use and genuinely could use it for both on the go and in the office, businesses are really seeing the appeal of only one upgrade cycle (rather than multiple ones for separate PCs and tablets).

And it’s because Apple want to get into the business space that they’ve had to swallow these words slightly. As Jonathan Vanian writes in this Fortune article,

“By inviting a Microsoft employee to demonstrate the popular Office software on a new iPad, Apple hoped to convince corporate buyers that its gear is business-friendly. Having a Microsoft employee doing the presentation made it that much more convincing.”

Even before Kirk Koenigsbauer (Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Microsoft’s Office Division who gave the presentation) took to the stage, Apple’s chief marketer said, “Yeah, these guys know productivity.”

Tim Cook stated that the iPad Pro is ‘as powerful as 80% of the PCs shipped last year’. So now that both Apple and Microsoft are in the 2-in-1 device market and are both pitching them as laptop replacements, what’s likely to happen?

Possibly we’ll see more partnerships like the ones announced just this week between Microsoft and Dell, and Microsoft and HP (seen by many as a ‘pre-emptive strike’ to the likelihood of Apple revealing their new iPad).

Both Dell and HP, despite having their own hybrid versions, will start reselling the Surface Pro 3. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I guess was the thinking here. Microsoft aren’t too worried about the hardware – it’s the cloud services and mobility that they’re focussing on. So some help with the distribution is entirely welcome in their eyes.

Last week, Apple announced that it had partnered with Cisco to get enterprises to buy iPhones and iPads. This is on the back of the IBM partnership who are making business applications for iOS. Since the iPad Pro in particular is Apple’s attempt to get into more businesses, this partnership makes a whole lot of sense.

So Apple and Microsoft have both come to the realisation that making sure their products are compatible with other companies is the way to get more market share. Even if they once compared that company to ‘MacDonald’s’ (a Steve Jobs classic there).

Satya Nadella is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at SalesForce’s annual conference this year. I’m now waiting for Tim Cook to walk onto the stage at Microsoft’s next World Partner Conference to unveil Windows 10 for the iPhone.

Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer…