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SAP and Apple join to link SAP HANA Cloud Platform with iOS

A new partnership between SAP and Apple for an SDK that enables developers to build iOS apps that link with SAP HANA Cloud Platform underwhelms some observers.

SAP and Apple are joining forces on a new SDK, but questions remain about the overall impact of the partnership.

The software developer's kit (SDK), announced last week, will enable SAP developers to build native iOS applications based on SAP HANA Cloud Platform (HCP). These apps can access core data and business processes from S/4HANA and take advantage of iPhone and iPad features, such as Touch ID fingerprint recognition, Location Services and Notifications, according to Kevin Ichhpurani, an SAP executive vice president.

"The purpose is to deliver new experiences for customers -- with either new applications or new experiences with existing applications -- for a more beautiful, powerful and engaging experience," Ichhpurani said. "This comes through deep design collaboration between the two companies. We're going to embed and colocate resources together, and they're going to be instrumental in the design of our new solutions, but there will also be engineering collaboration."

Best of two worlds for developers?

This should give the best of both worlds for SAP's 2.5 million developers and Apple's 11 million developers, Ichhpurani said.

"Those developers who want to build enterprise-level applications will be able to leverage the HCP SDK to extend any SAP solution and build innovation on top of SAP and non-SAP apps without leaving the development environment that they're comfortable with," he said. "They'll be able to actually drag and drop SAP microservices, which could be a tax calculation or a shopping cart, into the [iOS] application. So, this allows us to go after a much larger developer community to innovate and leverage SAP."

The partnership also includes a software developer's "training academy" that will teach best practices in development for iOS and SAP HCP. Both the iOS SDK and the training academy are expected to be generally available by the end of 2016.

Partnership doesn't excite industry observers

The announcement was met with interest, but not breathless excitement by several observers.

"I don't see this as that dramatic of an announcement because a lot of the things in it have been a long time coming," said Jon Reed, co-founder of Diginomica Ltd. "SAP has been transitioning into HANA Cloud Platform as the centerpiece of mobile app development for a while now, and SAP has partnered with Apple for quite a long time now, so a lot of this stuff isn't all that new, but I was fairly impressed by how front and center everything is."

Reed said the platform specificity will be welcomed by developers who have been disrupted by the lack of clarity in SAP's past announcements. The timing of the announcement, just before SAP's high-profile Sapphire Now user and partner conference was curious, Reed said, but was probably done to give developers a heads-up.

"They want to start preparing partners for the news and they think they would have a more productive time with their partners at Sapphire if this thing was seeded beforehand," he said. "That makes sense, because for partners who are either developing SAP mobile apps or considering that, it's probably good to be seeding this ahead of time so they can ask more questions when they are on the ground."

The partnership may give Apple some enterprise credibility and open potentially lucrative markets for its devices, which could be valuable at a time when the consumer market appears to be softening. Reed said it also appears that Apple CEO Tim Cook has a real understanding of what SAP is doing with HCP, and that can be very important. However, from the SAP side, Reed cautioned that the touted connections to S/4HANA may be a little overblown at this point.

"I would take the S/4HANA aspects with a grain of salt, in as far as they are trumpeting S/4HANA pulling in real-time data," Reed said. "Obviously, a developer would need access to that environment, but there are just not that many S/4HANA environments out there. SAP can make some hay on this by working on some apps that show off real-time stuff, like a predictive maintenance app where they'll have live real-time information, but you don't need S/4HANA and real-time data to build cool mobile apps."

Going native may not be the best path

The announcement appeared to be a press release in need of some proof points, said Josh Greenbaum, founder and principal analyst of Enterprise Applications Consulting.

"In theory, the focus here is on native applications as far as I can tell, which are, by definition, more adaptable than a generic HTML5 app," Greenbaum said. "It's certainly good for SAP to have potential access to Apple developers through this SDK, and it's good for Apple to have some way in which it can claim to be more enterprise-focused. However, I'm not sure that native apps are necessarily a good way to go or the best way to go because there are lots and lots of other devices out there."

Greenbaum added that these devices don't necessarily have telephony or any kind of human-to-human communication inherent in them, so the SDK may not be helpful in building apps for them. The ability of Apple developers to understand enterprise requirements is also questionable.

"I don't think that Apple developers that develop for the iPhone or the iPad really understand the enterprise very well," he said. "And I would argue that enterprise developers looking to hit the biggest market would be a little foolish to just go after Apple, considering the dominance of Android and the potential from the Windows standpoint of reaching a lot of embedded devices."

Ethan Jewett, owner of data management and visualization consultancy Coredatra LLC, in Madison, Wis., also asked where the beef was.

"My view is still coalescing, but I'm waiting for a better explanation of the value of the announcement," Jewett said via email. "My opinion is that there was nothing technical stopping SAP from creating this kind of iOS-specific SDK before now, and since the announcement contains no information about revenue sharing or sales incentives -- the IBM-Apple announcement did mention this kind of thing -- it's difficult for me to see how this is more than a marketing push."

However, Jewett said the release of Fiori guidelines for iOS was quite interesting. "They look quite immature, but it's good that they exist," he said.  "As always, the proof will be in the pudding; that is, the release of the actual iOS SDK that SAP promises in this announcement."

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