Almost a year after SAP teamed with Apple to develop business applications for smartphones and tablets, the German enterprise software developer is ready to unveil the first fruits of their partnership.
On March 30, it plans to release the first version of SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS, a tool to enable businesses to integrate Apple's handheld devices with their back-end information systems. And at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week it opened enrollment for SAP Academy for iOS, a mix of paid and free training services to help develop apps with that tool.
It may have looked as though Apple were retreating from the enterprise when it axed its Xserve rack-mounted server line in 2011, it, but since then it has multiplied its partnerships with enterprise hardware, software and service vendors, most notably IBM in 2014, Cisco Systems in 2015 and, last year, SAP.
The partnership with IBM has led to the creation of over 100 industry-specific apps for iOS, while that with Cisco allows enterprises to prioritize iOS app traffic and route iPhone calls over their networks.
As for Apple's work with SAP, it's all about simplifying access to business data from smartphones and tablets.
The SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS will allow enterprises to develop native apps drawing on data held in SAP Cloud Platform and S/4HANA, a business suite built on SAP's in-memory database platform. While developers could also have delivered a lot of functionality through a web interface, being able to build native apps using Apple's Swift programming language and SAP's Fiori interface design language give developers access to iOS functions such as Touch ID, location services and notifications.
Business software has a poor reputation for design and usability compared to a lot of consumer hardware, perhaps because the people choosing it are not the same people that have to figure it out and live with it. Companies like Apple, though, place a lot of importance on the way users experience their products.
That was one of the key reasons SAP wanted to partner with Apple, according to Rick Knowles, an SAP senior vice president and general manager for its Apple partnership.
"If you are going to have empathy with your user, who better to do that with than Apple?" he asked.
Although SAP wrote the code for the SDK, the company reviewed it frequently with Apple engineers.
"We would do line by line code scrubs to make sure we were using the features of the Swift language the right way," Knowles said.
SAP needs to build a new community of app developers at the intersection of two existing ones: the 13 million iOS app developers and the 2.5 million developers of SAP business applications.
To do that, the company is offering a variety of training courses through the SAP Academy for iOS. Enrollment starts now, and the courses will begin in May or June, after the release of the SDK.
Developers will be able to choose different classes depending on their existing expertise. SAP will offer courses in core Swift 3 programming for those who have never developed for iOS before, in the core of its SDK for iOS, and in integrating its Fiori user interface to iOS.
Those courses will all be charged for according to SAP's traditional educational model. But the company also plans to release around 40 videos focusing on particular aspects of using the SDK. Access to these videos, each around 10 to 15 minutes in length, will be free, Knowles said.
"If you know the platform well, you will be able to take advantage of free e-learning," he said.
Around a year from now, the company expects to be dispensing around one-third of its iOS SDK training online for free, and around two-thirds through traditional classroom courses.
"We are also building design classes because we believe design is lacking in the enterprise," said Knowles.