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Apple and IBM partner to gun for Microsoft and Google

In a surprise move, IBM (IBM) and Apple (AAPL) announced a joint plan to bring mobile even further into a big corporate setting. The two companies have been developing the program over several months.

The cooperative venture brings together two historic competitors. It also spells potential big trouble for Microsoft (MSFT) and Google (GOOG).

As CEOs Tim Cook and Ginni Rometty told Re/Code, the two companies are largely complementary. They bring strength respectively in consumer and corporate markets and expect to pursue opportunities with large business clients. As the New York Times reported, Apple and IBM are "jointly working on more than 100 business software programs developed exclusively for Apple's iOS operating system and for use on iPhones and iPads." In addition to leveraging the popular consumer devices, IBM adds strengths with cloud computing, large-scale business software, infrastructure, and relationships with a wide array of corporate customers and industries.

The partnership smartly offers new opportunities for both companies that could enable significant revenue streams for each. Apple moves more firmly into corporate computing than it has been able to in many years, and IBM gets to ride the current wave of mobile. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently admitted in a public memo that his company must bridge the boundaries between work and personal use of computing.

The combination of Apple and IBM could spell danger and pain for Microsoft and Google. Google has a dominant mobile platform but has faced difficulties in getting broad official acceptance by large corporations for its software cloud services. Business users have been an historic strong suit for Microsoft, which has been expanding its cloud services, but the company has often faltered in designing mobile products that attract a large percentage of the consumer market.

The relationships among all four of the companies have been historically complicated. Microsoft and IBM originally partnered in the personal computing market and both were competitors with Apple. Microsoft eventually competed with IBM in business computing.

Microsoft and Apple would remain both competitors and business partners. Apple licensed aspects of its Mac interface to Microsoft, which created Windows. Eventually Apple would sue Microsoft but lose. And yet, a cash infusion from Microsoft kept Apple alive at a time when its future was bleak.

Google and Microsoft have turned into bitter enemies, each trying to supplant the other. Apple and Google were once close, with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt serving on the other's board.

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