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Apple and SAP team up on iOS software at work

Apple has quietly built a $25 billion business of selling to large companies.

Apple/Roy Zipstein

Apple is teaming up with the German business software giant SAP in a deal meant to expand the appeal of its iOS mobile operating systems to large businesses and software developers.

This is the third such deal in as many years for Apple — the first two were with IBM and Cisco Systems — and will help solidify iOS as the preferred mobile platform for large businesses, many of which are already SAP customers.

Terms of the deal call for SAP to develop a bunch of iOS native applications for the iPhone and iPad, and to deliver a new software developers kit for applications that will connect to SAP’s HANA database, its bet-the-company creation that is intended to serve as the foundation of a new generation of business applications, and which is also meant to break its reliance on database software from rival Oracle.

The agreement simply formalizes what had already been kind of a fait accompli going back to the earliest days of the iPhone and iPad. SAP has historically been one of the most aggressive software companies when it comes to adapting its business apps for Apple devices, especially the iPad, and has bought a lot of the devices for internal use by its employees.

SAP is the world leader in a type of software known as ERP, which stands for enterprise resource planning. It’s a horrible acronym that describes software that large companies use in planning their day-to-day operations in a soup-to-nuts fashion, from the purchase of raw materials through the manufacturing, sales and distribution and payment processes.

And while Apple doesn’t have a sizable sales force dedicated to selling to large companies, its partners — which now include SAP — do.

On top of that, there’s a global network of some 2.5 million software developers who work with SAP applications, building custom apps specific to their companies that rely on data that lives in the mainstream SAP applications. They’ll now have more support and resources to call upon from both Apple and SAP, and iOS will become the de facto preferred mobile platform. SAP will still support Google’s Android — some customer will prefer that — but the iOS users will get more love.

Large companies are steadily becoming more important to Apple. CEO Tim Cook said on an earnings call in October that it had a $25 billion business that had been “quietly built in not too many years,” and that the opportunities to grow it are pretty significant. That works out to nearly 11 percent of 2015 sales. Expect more attention on this portion of Apple’s business as the months wear on.

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