IBM on the iPhone

January 16, 2008 10:09:29 AM PST
E-mail software from IBM Corp. will be available on Apple Inc. iPhones and iPod Touch devices under a new partnership that brings together two big rivals of Microsoft Corp. IBM plans a formal announcement of the Lotus Notes e-mail package for Apple's portable devices at its Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Fla., next week. The software, which requires use of IBM's Domino e-mail server program, will be free for users who already have a Lotus Web-access license and start at $39 per year for new users.

IBM also plans to release Lotus Notes and the free Lotus Symphony "productivity" package which includes documents, spreadsheets and other Microsoft Office-like software for Apple's Macintosh computers.

With these moves, IBM is trying to find more avenues for its software and take advantage of Apple's natural affinity for Microsoft alternatives.

The iPhone already can connect users to Web-based e-mail services and to corporate e-mail sent over Microsoft's Exchange e-mail platform, though businesses rarely enable the setting that makes it possible.

If IBM, which counts 135 million Lotus users worldwide, can get companies to let their employees check Lotus e-mail on iPhones, the partnership could make Apple's gadget more competitive with Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry and other business-targeted smart phones.

IBM and Apple, competitors in the early years of the PC market, traditionally have not worked closely together in software, though Apple used IBM chips in some Macs for several years until ditching them in favor of Intel Corp. processors in 2005. But now the sides appreciate that "we have a lot in common," IBM spokesman Mike Azzi said. "We're going to cross-pollinate."

One reason for the distance between the two companies is the small overlap between Mac users and the big corporate customers that commonly buy products from IBM.

Now, Apple hardware has become a broader platform with the popularity of the iPhone and Web-enabled iPod Touch devices. However, Apple has delayed fully opening the devices to third-party applications; a "software developers' kit" to enable that isn't due until next month. Apple and IBM have been working together on their own.

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