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It appears that the partnership between SAP and Apple has gone from romance to serious relationship.

The companies announced their intentions to wed the back-end SAP systems with front-end Apple devices via SAP Cloud Platform in May 2016, and now SAP said that the SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS will be generally available on March 30, 2017. SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS allows SAP developers to create applications natively for Apple iOS devices, such as iPads and iPhones.

SAP is also opening the SAP Academy for iOS, a developers' education platform intended to teach SAP developers the principles of Apple iOS design and Apple developers the basics of enterprise development on SAP systems, according to the company. The announcements were made at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Feb. 27.

"Any partner or developer will be able to download and start building mobile applications to extend SAP application functionality or third-party systems to iOS," Rick Knowles, SAP senior vice president and general manager of the Apple partnership said in a briefing before MWC. "The SAP SDK sits and integrates on top of the iOS SDK, so everything that's in the iOS SDK is leveraged and flows through the SAP SDK, bringing the enterprise capacity and capability on top of the iOS SDK."

SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS allows developers to build powerful enterprise-grade apps for iPhone and iPad, based on SAP Cloud Platform and built with Swift, Apple's open programming language. The SDK also has a library of prebuilt user experience (UX) components and access to iOS device capabilities such as Touch ID, location services and notifications. SAP design elements can make their way to Apple devices, Knowles said.

"SAP is porting in the Fiori design language and UI controls, exposing different landscapes to preconfigure templates so developers can pick from a library to use -- saving programming time -- along with a library of APIs that reside inside the SDK," he said.

Going native is the better way

Mindset Consulting, an SAP partner based in Minneapolis that specializes in developing mobile SAP applications, is one of the SDK's early users. The company is currently developing iOS applications for one of the world's largest food companies that are designed to improve and digitally transform the company's transportation systems. The SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS will make this a lot easier because they can now develop natively in iOS, according to Gavin Quinn, Mindset Consulting's founder and chief architect.

There have always been ways to develop mobile apps for SAP, but the iOS SDK makes a big difference, Quinn said.

"There's a few ways to do mobile SAP development; you can do Fiori as a sort of website or have Fiori hybrid app development libraries, and we've done those before," he said. "For this one in particular we want to do a native application, and that's the key. One of the big struggles that Fiori development has is with performance, as it's just not super responsive in certain scenarios, so that's a big driver in doing these native applications."

Educational options for SAP and iOS developers

Education is one way to spur developers from both sides of the fence to get on board with the new SDK, Knowles said, and SAP is launching the SAP Academy for iOS to address this. 

The SAP Academy for iOS launches next week with three foundational classes: iOS basic programming skills for Swift 3; essentials of the iOS SDK; and a week-long class that teaches developers and engineers how to use the SAP SDK to build enterprise-grade mobile apps and use the back-end services, Knowles said.

"Education is important because Apple has 13 million developers in their world and there are 2.5 million SAP developers, but we want to create a new and unique community of developers through this community in the enterprise centered specifically around iOS," he said. "The education tenets have to be in place to support the development of this new community."

The Apple development community doesn't necessarily know back-end systems and it can be difficult for developers to tie into mission-critical systems like SAP, Knowles explained.  On the other hand, SAP developers know the back-end systems very well, but they don't always know the front-end UX controls and iOS design concepts.

"In order to marry those we had to develop an educational platform to satisfy that, so if they come in from the Apple side they're going to take more out of SAP Cloud Platform educational offerings and our course on how to leverage the SDK," he said. "Whereas ABAP developers may need to start learning Swift 3."

There's a lot of pent-up demand for the development resources, according to Knowles, who said 11,000 people have taken an openSAP course on the introduction to Fiori design language that was expected to draw about 5,000 attendees.

"We are oversubscribed for early adopters and every time we've done a session at TechEd [developers' conference] we were oversubscribed for people trying to get in the room to get an early view," he said. "So I believe we're going to have really good demand."

Next Steps

SAP Cloud Platform has several mobile app development tools for creating hybrid applications.

Here are some ways to spur Java, JavaScript and .NET development for SAP HANA.

The SAP and Apple partnership benefits both parties.

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