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Apple-IBM partnership thrives on iOS app design

Apple has taken IBM's mobility strategy to the next level, says Big Blue exec Phil Buckellew. He explains how Apple's Swift language and IBM Watson factor into the partnership.

IBM set its sights on Apple's Swift language because it can help build enterprise apps that perform well on both the front and back end.

Apple and IBM first partnered in 2014 to build 100 iOS enterprise apps, and this year, Big Blue added support for Swift to its Bluemix cloud development platform. Now that the powerful programming language is open source and supports Linux, Swift is especially useful for developing server-side apps, said Phil Buckellew, IBM's vice president of enterprise mobile.

Here, Buckellew describes what it's like working with Apple, and what iOS apps with Watson integration will look like.

Why is mobility important to IBM's overall strategy?

Phil Buckellew: If you go talk to any clients today on the consumer side, or teams building apps for internal use, they all want the business processes to work now, wherever they are, with this thing in their pocket. That's really been the heart of the MobileFirst initiative. Apple has really helped us move to the next level.

Phil Buckellew, VP of enterprise mobile at IBMPhil Buckellew

Why is integrating with Swift a big deal?

Buckellew: Swift has become a very popular language. It's powerful, reliable and easy to use. It's interactive and gives you powerful results. And, obviously, it's been at the heart of a lot of Apple's ecosystem. That's been compelling, as well.

We just saw a lot of potential with Swift, so when Apple put it toward the open source community, we said, 'This is great,' because this is a language that can work in the back-end side, too. That's why we've been investing in putting that capability in our cloud.

Why should developers use Swift with Bluemix?

Buckellew: A lot of the big problems with mobile apps is getting data out of the back end and getting different data sources together. It's better to mix and match some of that data in the cloud, rather than doing it all on the device. You get better performance in your app that way. We believe this will greatly simplify ... the ability to build awesomely performing apps on the front end that can get data out more easily on the back end.

Swift is something we could really benefit from on the server side.
Phil BuckellewVP of enterprise mobile at IBM

What has it been like working with Apple?

Buckellew: We've really learned about the way that Apple has such great focus on design. When you combine that with analytics and our capabilities in working with enterprises, it's really been a great match. In the process of building [100 enterprise iOS apps], our teams learned that Swift is something we could really benefit from on the server side in the cloud.

What is next for the Apple-IBM partnership?

Buckellew: One thing we talked about at IBM InterConnect was [the event-driven programming service], OpenWhisk. It will support Swift or Node.js [and Java], where the developer -- without needing to worry about standing up back ends or managing infrastructure -- can just upload little pieces of code that they need. That's a part of the story that, over time, more and more people will start seeing the benefits of. And because we take in an open approach with this service, Swift will make it easier for people to mix and match that, and use it in their own environments.

Ultimately, being able to use that type of solution that's really easy to consume services [from] will help people ... make their applications more contextual -- things like the weather, and including services from Watson to help build better apps.

What does a Watson iOS app look like?

Buckellew: There are a number of Watson APIs available on Bluemix. The teams are constantly experimenting with different ways to pull those APIs together to deliver business value. The heart of the MobileFirst apps that we built are analytics, and Watson will be important as we enter this cognitive era of taking analytics to make sense of things. We've invested in making those Watson APIs on Bluemix consumable with packages like Swift. That will up the value of the apps to improve customer service, make employees' lives better and get things done faster.

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