"The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
Apple could build its entire iPhone strategy on this one Arabian proverb. The combination of the rising smartphone stake held by the iPhone, and Microsoft's dominant position among enterprise communications and productivity applications could create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
My PC World colleague David Coursey has already pointed out how Apple seems to be embracing Microsoft in an attempt to combat its new arch-rival, Google, and the rising threat of Android-based devices like the Verizon Droid and the rumored Nexus One. While Apple has been seemingly dragging its feet on approving various Google apps for the iPhone, the Microsoft Bing app sailed through.
That may just be a coincidence rather than a sign of any larger strategic initiative. But, if Apple and Microsoft haven't considered the strategic value of a smartphone partnership with each other, they should step back and take a look at the benefits such an alliance could bring.
For Microsoft, there is no reason not to wholeheartedly embrace the iPhone. It is a solid and popular smartphone platform. For its part, Microsoft should be actively developing apps for, and fostering partnership with, all of the smartphone platforms. Regardless of which smartphone you choose, Microsoft benefits from the continued reliance on Exchange Server, and Microsoft Office applications.
The Windows Mobile operating system has been languishing, and Microsoft recently reported that the already-late Windows Mobile 7 will not be available until late in 2010. With its own platform being relatively stagnant, Microsoft could strike smartphone gold by riding on the iPhone's coattails.
For Apple, the ability to seamlessly integrate with Microsoft's server and productivity applications would fill a void in the iPhone and lend it instant enterprise credibility. The iPhone is already gaining on BlackBerry in the smartphone arena, but the lack of a viable enterprise management tool to rival the BlackBerry Enterprise Server is an Achilles heel that will prevent many businesses from adopting the iPhone.
If Apple were to also create an iPhone management tool that works in conjunction with Microsoft Active Directory and Group Policy to allow administrators to manage and maintain iPhones internally, it would provide some ammunition to attack the enterprise dominance of RIM and its BlackBerry devices.
Google would be the glue that would bind together any alliance between Apple and Microsoft. Apple and Google formed a united front against Microsoft until recent months. That alliance has quickly devolved into a bitter rivalry with Google competing head-to-head with Apple in a number of areas.
Google seems to be stealing a page from the Apple playbook. Apple is notorious for tightly controlling all aspects of its equipment — from software to hardware, to sales, and support — in order to ensure the best possible user experience. Recent reports suggest that Google is working closely with mobile handset and netbook hardware manufacturers to develop Google-branded devices to serve as platforms for the Android and Chrome operating systems.
Google is competing in the Web browser, mobile operating system, netbook operating system, search engine, email and instant messaging, office productivity applications, and many other areas that encroach on either Apple or Microsoft territory — or in many cases both.
An alliance between Apple and Microsoft to deliver seamless Microsoft integration with the iPhone could create a smartphone tour de force that could fend off the rising threat of Google, and crack the enterprise armor of the BlackBerry all at the same time.