Microsoft has always had a strange and evolving relationship with Apple. That Microsoft has stolen plenty of intellectual property from Apple through the years is public history. Even the early years of their relationship– Apple sold hardware, Microsoft sold software that would run on Apple’s hardware– contentions were the norm.
Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs once viewed IBM as the enemy, when, in retrospect, he should have worried far more about Bill Gates and Microsoft, the company that almost, but not quite, killed is company in the mid-1990s. A Microsoft financial investment helped to stabilize Apple, which back in the day, was synonymous with the Mac.
Until recently, Office for Mac was the ugly younger brother of Office for Windows, one of Microsoft’s two fat cash cows (Windows was the other; nothing else at Microsoft makes much money). Just as the hare slept while the tortoise lumbered along, Microsoft fell asleep at the wheel of Windows XP and missed the mobile device revolution spawned by Apple’s willingness to bet the farm on iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
Microsoft is back.
CEO Steve Ballmer was kicked out, Satya Nadella came in and told his people to build software that people want to use. If nothing else, Microsoft’s presence at Apple’s latest Special Event is an indication that CEO Tim Cook is more collaborative than the contentious Jobs. Apple’s iPad Pro is a perfect device for Office for iPad and it shows. Slide Over and Split View are features made to order for Office, and Microsoft wants to ensure that the most popular tablet in the enterprise also runs Office.
So, are Apple and Microsoft a thing again?
This time it’s Microsoft that needs Apple more than Apple needs Microsoft. Apple’s deal with IBM to bring the iPad into the enterprise is good for both companies, but so is Microsoft’s Office presence. Office is what most enterprise IT groups support and Cook’s Apple seems to approach such relationships– or, strange bedfellows– with more pragmatism than his predecessor.
I was surprised to see Microsoft and Office for iOS show up at an Apple Special Event, but in retrospect it makes sense. Ditto for Adobe’s presence on stage to highlight how the graphics design app company can retool itself to take a place in the mobile arena.
Part of that newfound pragmatism and confidence might be because Apple has finally grown up beyond the scrappy teenage years of hubris overflow and become an adult at the table. Under Cook, Apple knows what it is. It’s a hardware company. And a hardware company needs software partners.