At this year's BoxWorks conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook sat down for a fireside chat with Box CEO and cofounder Aaron Levie.
Cook's appearance at the enterprise event was undoubtedly strategic. Business customers are becoming an increasingly important segment for Apple, which unveiled its iPad Pro tablet and Apple Pencil at a September press event.
Enterprise sales pulled in $25 billion for Apple during a year-long period that started June 30, 2014. While not a big number for a company of Apple's size, $25 billion is significant considering its longstanding reputation as a consumer-focused company.
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Cook's approach to serving the enterprise focuses on the consumer. Enterprise hardware is no longer separated from consumer-focused devices, he noted. Apple's goal is to develop services and appeal to iPhone and iPad users who work on devices other than their office PCs.
"If you want a smartphone, you don't say, 'I want an enterprise smartphone,'" he said. "You don’t get an enterprise pen to write with."
Cook spoke to the power of collaboration, not among business customers but among the companies building and distributing new technologies. Apple doesn't have deep knowledge of enterprise software, he admitted. Partnerships with major players will help it create and distribute products people need.
He cited Apple's relationship with Microsoft as a prime example. The power of Microsoft services on Apple devices has already become reality; with services like Office and Skype for Business now available for Mac and iOS devices. Microsoft also made an appearance at Apple's September event.
"We still compete today, but Apple and Microsoft can partner on more things than they compete on," said Cook. "Partnering with Microsoft is great for our customers. That's the reason we do it."
Its partnerships with IBM and Cisco are additional business deals in Apple's basket. Cupertino joined forces with IBM in July 2014 to bring mobile business apps and better support for Apple devices, to the enterprise.
With respect to the 2014 deal, Cook acknowledged the power of IBM to make Apple's products more appealing to business users.
"The kind of deep industry expertise you would need to really transform the enterprise isn't in our DNA," he said in a statement to Re/code. "But it is in IBM's."
As expected in a chat with Apple, mobile technology inevitably entered the conversation. Cook believes the best companies of the future will also be the most mobile ones. He doesn't think Apple is too late to compete in the enterprise because so many people primarily use email and browsing for work.
"It is shocking how many people haven't gone beyond emails and browsing," said Cook. This leaves plenty of space for Apple to push their devices with new work software it could develop in partnership with other companies.