Apple Teams Up With Cisco, Expanding Corporate-Sales Push

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  • IPhones to work better with Cisco's WebEx, videoconferencing
  • Cook, Chambers unveil alliance at Cisco sales event in Vegas

Apple and Cisco Team Up to Improve Corporate Networks

Apple Inc. is teaming up with Cisco Systems Inc. to make its mobile devices work better with corporate networks using Cisco’s equipment, part of a push by Apple to expand sales to business customers.

The partnership, announced on Monday by Cisco Executive Chairman John Chambers and Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook at Cisco’s annual sales meeting in Las Vegas, will make it easier to use iPhones and iPads together with Cisco’s products, including videoconferencing systems and the WebEx online meeting service.

Last year, Apple and International Business Machines Corp. set aside a three-decade-old rivalry to create business software for iPhone and iPad users, seeking to cater to an increasingly mobile workforce. While Apple is pursuing a bigger slice of the market for corporate users of smartphones and tablets, IBM and Cisco are looking for opportunities in the mobile-computing boom.

"This is a major strategic partnership, something that neither
company has done before," said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group. "We have a shared vision of a completely seamless experience." 

Engineers from both companies have been working together for 10 months, and Cisco and Apple salespeople will go on joint sales calls, he said.

Mobile Enterprise

For example, iPhone users could click on a calendar appointment, and immediately start a videoconference or Cisco’s Spark chat application, instead of having to pull up each separately. IPhone users’ personal contacts can be integrated with directories on their desk phones. And since workers are increasingly mobile, calls from work colleagues would automatically ring on both the desk phone and iPhone. 

Apple and Cisco are also working on behind-the-scenes networking enhancements. Using a feature called Fast Lane, a videoconference that’s critical to closing a deal can be given more bandwidth priority over YouTube video streams to desktops. Cisco is also developing ways to help companies prevent network slowdowns when Apple releases updates to its iOS software, by storing parts of Apple’s software code so that iPhone owners on Cisco networks won’t have to download it from a far-off data centers.

With sales of iPhones to consumers slowing, companies are becoming more of a priority for Apple, said Anurag Rana, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. Apple has said that more than 95 percent of large companies have employees using its products, mostly because they insist on being able to use their personal devices for work. Apple has only recently started to customize its products for office workers’ specific needs.

"Apple’s closed nature has always made it very difficult for enterprises to use iOS because they cannot customize it," Rana said. "This could make their products somewhat more appealing to enterprise IT. The big question is how far is Apple willing to go to please the IT department, from being an absolute closed operating system. It’s a step in the right direction."

Apple, Cisco

Apple is holding an event on Sept. 9 in San Francisco, where it’s expected to unveil the latest iPhone, a new Apple TV set-top box and other updated products.

Cisco’s collaboration business grew 14 percent in the company’s most recent quarter, its best performance in at least three years, according to Trollope. Cisco recently updated WebEx, and has seen strong demand for new, cheaper versions of its Telepresence videoconferencing systems, he said.  

"Cisco was positioned for the corner office in the past, but 50 percent of conference rooms are going to have video," he said. "Telepresence is the fastest-growing part of this business."