designsoliman - Fotolia

Apple-SAP deal gives enterprise developers new iOS SDK

Apple and SAP agree to a deal similar to that of Apple and IBM's, where SAP will use its technologies to better enable iOS apps. The two companies will also help businesses build their own.

IT shops will be able to build more enterprise-grade apps for iOS using an SDK from the new Apple-SAP partnership, but the deal will primarily benefit SAP customers.

Apple and SAP will offer a software developer's kit (SDK) to customers so they can build their own iOS apps that take advantage of SAP technologies. Additionally, the German software giant will build new enterprise apps for iOS itself. SAP's 2.5 million developers will be able to build the apps using Apple's Swift programming language and back the apps with SAP technologies, including the HANA cloud database management system for built-in data analytics.

"This will save customers money," said Michael Finneran, president and mobile analyst at dBrn Associates in Hewlett Neck, NY. "Using technology more wisely by better integrating technology in the business process always saves money. It's about better functionality with the apps, whether it's entering work orders in the field or any one of a million things a business has to do."

The goal of the partnership is to deliver high-end back-end technology with SAP enterprise resource planning and real-time data analytics on the consumer-level interface of iOS. And with the SDK, businesses will be able to take even better advantage of SAP's software as they see fit.

"An SAP customer would jump all over that," said Doug Grosfield, president and CEO at Five Nines IT Solutions, an IT consultancy in Kitchener, Ont. "The SAP software can better enable the device."

Apple and SAP will release the SDK by the end of the year, they said.

How Apple-SAP changes the enterprise landscape

I'm not entirely sold on the impact that the IBM relationship has had on Apple's business.
Jack Narcottaindustry analyst, Technology Business Research

For Apple, the objective of this deal is to have its own customers and partners, in addition to SAP, build iOS enterprise apps with Swift on a large scale. That could expand iOS devices in the enterprise by better enabling them with SAP software, and it could increase Apple's market for Swift.

Apple has made a strong effort over the last two years to expand its footprint in the enterprise, inking deals with IBM and Cisco. The Cisco agreement is centered on improving network connections to iOS devices in the enterprise. Similar to the Apple-SAP partnership, the deal between IBM and Apple includes IBM making iOS business apps using Swift.

Apple revealed in September that it had grown its enterprise business to $25 billion. Despite that growth, and the attention these enterprise partnerships received, it is not certain that they played any part in Apple's success, said Jack Narcotta, senior analyst at Technology Business Research in Hampton, N.H.

Following the announcement of the IBM partnership in 2014, Apple CEO Tim Cook said dipping iPad sales drove the company to ink that deal. The goal for Apple was to expand the device's user base, and it saw the enterprise market as a way to do that. Apple has yet to report positive iPad sales in any quarter since.

"I'm not entirely sold on the impact that the IBM relationship has had on Apple's business," Narcotta said. "[It] hasn't saved the iPad. ... Even if Apple's enterprise business is growing, I'm skeptical that it wouldn't have happened anyway."

Apple's growth in businesses likely came from employees pressuring IT to support their personal devices, he said.

The Apple-SAP partnership targets the large market of existing SAP customers, and it's unlikely businesses outside of its customer base will switch to SAP because of the new apps, Finneran said. Of the 2,000 largest businesses in the world, 87% are SAP customers, according to the company. 

"Dropping an Oracle and going to an SAP, for example, is not something that happens every week," Finneran said. "You don't see a lot of large customers making migrations at this level."

SAP's goal is to better enable its customers' apps and make its technology easier to use, thanks to iOS.

"It allows the organization to be more mobile by building apps, and iOS is the platform of choice," Finneran said.

Apple and SAP did not disclose when the first round of SAP-made apps will be available.

Next Steps

Explore iOS app distribution

How iOS 9 caters to the enterprise

Apple partners with EMM vendors

Dig Deeper on Apple iOS in the enterprise