IBM to sell business-optimized iPads in unexpected partnership

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Apple and IBM announced Tuesday that they’ll be working together to support iPhones and iPads specifically designed for businesses. The mobile devices will come with a suite of more than 100 industry-specific apps, giving Apple a much stronger path into the lucrative enterprise space that’s traditionally been the province of Windows PCs.

The phones and tablets will be part of a new joint initiative called IBM MobileFirst for iOS. The deal hearkens back to the days of the IBM-designed PowerPC processor, which was used in early Macintosh computers.

Both Apple and IBM will provide the apps along with services that tap into IBM’s cloud capability, including device management, security, analytics, and mobile integration. The apps will target retail, healthcare, banking, travel and transportation, telecommunications, and insurance, the companies said. There will also be new packaged offerings from IBM for device activation and management, IBM said. 

IBM will sell iPhones and iPads with the industry-specific solutions to business clients worldwide. Apple will add a new tier of AppleCare service and support geared for the enterprise, apparently adding on to the "Alliance" support tier already in place.

"Mobility—combined with the phenomena of data and cloud—is transforming business and our industry in historic ways, allowing people to re-imagine work, industries and professions," said Ginni Rometty, IBM’s chairman, president and CEO, in a statement.

"This alliance with Apple will build on our momentum in bringing these innovations to our clients globally, and leverages IBM’s leadership in analytics, cloud, software and services. We are delighted to be teaming with Apple, whose innovations have transformed our lives in ways we take for granted, but can’t imagine living without," Rometty said. "Our alliance will bring the same kind of transformation to the way people work, industries operate and companies perform."

IBM and Apple didn’t divulge details about which company would sell the new iOS devices, what they would be priced at, or what apps the devices would be preloaded with. It’s likely, though, that the new devices won’t see retail shelves, and will be rolled out on a company-by-company basis.

IBM said nothing about whether broad artificial intelligence technologies like IBM’s "Watson" would be included. 

It’s worth noting that IBM is the company Apple originally took aim at with its famous "1984" commercial, urging consumers to break free from IBM’s drab, beige boxes and enterprise focus. With the new partnership, Apple is acknowledging business customers can have the best of both companies.

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