iPads and Jet Engines

Apple and GE Ally on Industrial Apps and Employee IT

Apple and General Electric (GE) announced a two-part enterprise partnership on 18 October 2017. One part of the deal makes Apple’s Mac products and iOS devices the default for GE employees. The other part will see the companies release a software toolkit enabling developers to create iOS apps for GE’s industrial analytics platform.

With more than 330,000 employees worldwide, GE has one of the world’s largest professional workforces. By standardising on Apple products for its employees, GE is likely to shift most of them away from Windows-based products, making this a noticeable loss for both Microsoft as well as PC makers. Although such changes tend to happen over several years, this is an important win for Apple given GE’s reputation as a venerable and conservative company. It’s another example of Apple finding a place in Microsoft’s heartland.

The announcement goes hand in hand with the launch of an iOS software development kit to hook into GE’s industrial Internet of things (IoT) platform, Predix. The solution was created for managing, analysing and storing data from machine sensors. It’s aimed primarily at regulated industries such as aviation, healthcare, transportation and oil and gas utility providers.

The iOS toolkit for the Predix platform will enable industrial customers to track the status of huge industrial equipment sold by GE using apps on iPhones and iPads. It will be released on 26 October 2017.

As the name implies, one of the principal uses of GE’s platform is to predict failures before they happen and reduce maintenance costs of equipment such as jet engines, wind turbines and locomotives. As an example, the companies pointed out how a Predix industrial app based on iOS could now be used to notify a worker on an iPhone of potential problems with a wind turbine, helping to prevent more serious damage to assets. Furthermore, the app could allow supervisors to collaborate with remote teams when performing inspections and repairs, collecting relevant data instantly. As the IoT market builds, there’s a growing need for visualisations and dashboards to boil down the massive amount of data collected, and to make it actionable. The development kit enables this to be done more easily through an app on an iPhone or iPad, devices that are attractive for the job.

This is certainly a win-win situation for both companies. Apple says its sales team will pitch GE’s Predix platform to its customers and developers in the industrial space, as it encourages other major companies to adopt and deploy Apple devices to their workforces. However, we’re sceptical that an operations team in an industrial customer would choose this IoT platform based on a recommendation from an Apple salesperson.

Furthermore, with over 500 IoT platforms on the market, an approach based on a special software development kit for each clearly doesn’t scale well. It would be useful if Apple could spell out its broader strategy for addressing this area.

During the past few years, Apple has established partnerships with Accenture, Cisco, Deloitte, IBM and SAP in an effort to boost business applications on iOS devices, making it more practical to deploy iPads and iPhones to global workforces. The deal with GE is another feather in this enterprise hat. For GE, a company which has been looking to reinvent its image as a more modern-day operation, the move will reflect well, particularly among younger employees.