Over the past decade, the role of developers as agents of business and technological change qualifies as one of the tech industry’s biggest evolutionary shifts. It started with developers driving cloud computing and bring your own device (BYOD) adoption, then accelerated rapidly as organizations moved from massive, monolithic business applications to quickly created, continually evolving apps and mobile services.
Not surprisingly, how and how well businesses support their developers can impact a company’s market position and its ability to compete. While there’s no single, unchanging approach to successfully facilitating developers, it’s important to track leading edge efforts. The latest evolution of the four-year-old partnership between IBM and Apple is one of those.
IBM and Apple – In the beginning
When the pair first announced their budding relationship, it covered fairly conventional ground and was at least partly reflected in partnerships Apple pursued with other vendors, including Cisco. In essence, Apple agreed to work with IBM to create enterprise-focused apps that would be made available and supported via the Apple Store.
For its part, IBM agreed that along with adopting evangelizing Apple’s platforms and tools to its developer partners, Apple would be IBM’s preferred vendor for endpoint devices (PCs, smart phones and tablets). Alongside that agreement, Apple also agreed that IBM would offer enterprise customers onsite repair and replacement services for Macs, iPhones and iPads.
This all may seem somewhat mundane, but the agreement created a platform for Apple to argue the enterprise readiness and capabilities of its iPhones and other products. The company had been vocal about those issues previously, but it never developed the market position or imprimatur of recognized enterprise-class endpoints, like Blackberry solutions. Plus, as demand for smart phones, including premium priced iPhones flattens, it’s increasingly critical for Apple to expand sales among large business customers.
How well have IBM and Apple done together? Not too badly, overall. According to reports, the companies have sold corporate apps to over 800 business customers and built about 100 apps tailored for specific vertical industries. The pair isn’t talking about resulting revenues—not unusual in this kind of deal. But this new announcement signals that the companies are satisfied enough with the deal to keep it rolling.
IBM Watson + Apple Core ML
While the original partnership focused very much on IBM and Apple, the latest offerings target customers’ developer organizations by delivering services accelerated with artificial intelligence (AI) tools and services. Dubbed Watson Services for Core ML, the new solutions link IBM’s Watson platform with the Core ML developer tools that Apple unveiled last year.
In essence, the solution supplies developers the means for using machine learning to easily and cost-effectively create and deploy AI-enriched business apps. The machine learning heavy lifting will be done behind the scenes on IBM Watson. The machine learning-based models can then be deployed on iPhones via Core ML to support specific AI processes, such as visual pattern recognition.
How would this work in real world circumstances? IBM offered an example of how Watson could be trained via machine learning to recognize specific machinery or electrical equipment. That model could support an iPhone app that field technicians would use to scan electrical equipment and detect any damage, unapproved changes or other anomalies. In fact, IBM and Apple noted that Coca-Cola is currently utilizing Watson Services for Core ML for improving vending machine inspection.
There’s one other platform that supports similar phone-based machine learning models—Google’s TensorFlow Lite. However, Google appears to be supplying the machine learning training data for those applications while Watson Services for Core ML allows customers to use their own data resources. As a result, IBM and Apple appear to be well ahead of the competition in terms of delivering highly sophisticated machine learning and AI capabilities across an integrated data center-to-endpoint commercial ecosystem.
Overall, this extension of IBM and Apple’s partnership should result in powerful, sophisticated new business- and industry-focused apps that are created more quickly and operate more seamlessly than alternatives that require data to be laboriously moved to and from data centers for analysis. In other words, if organizations and developers want to create and deliver AI-enabled apps that are ready for enterprise Prime Time, Watson Services for Core ML is the way to go.