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Why the Mac was left out of Apple and IBM's landmark agreement

Fredrick Paul of Network World last week wrote that the conspicuous absence of the Mac from Apple and IBM's landmark partnership agreement represents a huge squandered opportunity for Apple.

At the same time, leaving the Mac out of the IBM/Apple partnership removes the pressure on Microsoft's core Windows business. As long as Windows remains the desktop standard for corporate America, Microsoft will still be able to fund its war chest for assaults on the mobile market. A similar IBM/Apple alliance to push Macs into the enterprise would have been truly frightening for Microsoft. As it is, Redmond will have to fight a little harder to make itself relevant on mobile devices, but its home planet is not being threatened.

While this line of reasoning carries some weight at first glance, Apple focusing solely on iOS makes perfect sense for a number of reasons.

From a broad perspective, the real opportunities for growth lie in mobile, not desktop, computing. This is as apt for the consumer market as it is for the enterprise. And though pushing iOS deeper into the enterprise may not have a titanic impact on Apple's bottom line, a mobile oriented strategy has much more of an upside than one focused on Macs.

But couldn't Apple focus on both mobile and Macs? Sure, but instead of fighting against an entrenched Microsoft position, a mobile-only strategy enables Apple to shift the battle to an area where they have the upper hand.

With Tim Cook recently claiming that "laptops still outnumber tablet computers three-to-one in business environments", there are two approaches Apple could take to get further into the enterprise. It could try to convert those laptops to Macs (a tough sell), or it can try to convert those laptops into iPads (a much easier sell in an increasingly mobile world). As Paul mentions, Windows remains the desktop standard for corporate America. Fighting that battle would be an uphill and likely futile struggle to say the least. In the realm of tablets, however, Apple has the advantage, which is why playing up the transition from desktops to tablets is a shrewd strategic move.

In other words, Apple is able to deftly switch the conversation from "Mac or PC" to "PC or mobile device".

Also worth noting is that PC growth is contracting as mobile devices continue to grow in popularity. From that vantage point, Apple likely views a fight for desktop supremacy in the enterprise as a battle not worth fighting, and likely unwinnable to boot.

Indeed, Tim Cook explained not too long ago that "the innovation [of the PC market] has moved to tablets and smartphones.

Put simply, the recent IBM deal represents Apple playing to its strengths and focusing on where the money is. As the chart below indicates (taken from Apple's 2013 holiday quarter), the vast majority of Apple's revenue comes from iOS sales.

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