Apple, IBM and Japan

I am always intrigued when I hear an analyst or commentator suggest the Apple/IBM relationship is more show than substance. I have followed both companies since the early 1980’s and, while each has had their ups and downs over the last 35 years, both are still very powerful companies that, when joined at the hip, could end up being a new powerhouse, especially in IT and mobile enterprise projects.

A great example of this comes with the announcement last week that Apple, IBM and Japan Post, which is a postal, insurance, and bank holding company, joined together to help the elderly in Japan. The program will provide iPads with apps designed to help senior citizens manage daily life. IBM will provide cloud services and help create apps to improve senior citizens’ quality of life, whether that means finding a plumber, keeping in touch with distant family members or remembering to take medications.

A few years ago while in Japan, I was told about a WiFi tea kettle. As you know, the elderly are revered in Japan and their children and grandchildren remain close all of their lives. More importantly, as their children leave home, the kids want to stay in touch and make sure they are OK but as discreetly as possible. So, some smart entrepreneur created a tea kettle that had a WiFi connection. When the kettle was lifted, it sent a message to the child’s phone and let them know their parents were active. This works well because, at a certain time in the late afternoon, the elderly, who still honor traditions, do their tea ceremony. When they lift the tea kettle, they send a quiet message to their kids.

One aspect of the IBM/Apple deal that models this idea is that, for a fee, a Japan Post mailman can actually go to the house of an elderly person on a regular basis and check on them and, via a special app, report directly to the family about their state and let them know if there are any things they should be aware of regarding their needs.

When the folks at IBM told me about this service I told them the US Post office should add this as a service, given the rising baby boomer population becoming senior citizens in very large numbers these days.

This type of deal between IBM and Apple is a tip of the iceberg of this partnership that defines the type of relationship they are developing. The deal with Japan Post is out of the box thinking both local and global in nature. Conventional thought about the Apple/IBM deal announced last fall was that it would be focused solely on IT to help Apple gain more access to the traditional enterprise as well as help IBM extend their own reach into IT departments that are becoming interested in Apple products. While I have no doubt this is part of the motivation behind the partnership, this deal with Japan Post shows creative thinking and their ability to uniquely provide solutions to all types of customers even if its focus is not necessarily a traditional enterprise project.

More importantly, Apple and IBM deliver the types of services and direct customization for these types of solutions and together can guarantee the technology works as planned. In this type of application this is critical. While not exactly a health app, the program implies that what is delivered is timely, accurate and dependable.

I say tip of the iceberg because I don’t think the market really understands the breadth and scope of this partnership and where it can go. IBM is committed to converting over 100 of their own mobile products to iOS and is willing to customize new apps for dedicated projects like this Japan Post deal. In talks with both Apple and IBM, it is clear they see this as a long term relationship and are willing to work closely to extend both of their businesses in new ways to IT. The Japan Post project is the first of many unique international projects I hear are in the works as both see these markets as important to their future growth.

One product that might help them with their strategy is the iPad Pro. While still only rumored, I have talked to the supply chain that suggests Apple will introduce a 12.9 inch tablet at some point and its focus is primarily business users. With a third party keyboard, I suspect it could compete against Microsoft’s Surface Pro but am told this is not the way it will be positioned if it makes it to the market. I am hearing its role may be more as a part of a set of vertical solutions Apple and IBM will target that would compete head on with large Win 10 tablets in IT where mobile clipboards or slates are key to a solution. I also am hearing that a product like this, along with custom solutions created by IBM, could be at the forefront of a major push by both companies to enhance their IT positions in mobile.

Both of these companies are great individually but together they could be even more successful in future mobile IT projects. I suspect the Japan Post arrangement is just the beginning of their joint venture to bring mainstream and custom solutions to the business world and help both extend their market presence in traditional and non-traditional IT programs.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

9 thoughts on “Apple, IBM and Japan”

  1. First of all Tim, thank you very much for going into detail about Japan in this article. I very much respect the fact that a non-Japanese knew about this kettle and immediately referred to it on the news of the Japan Post Office programme.

    There are a few small inaccuracies though which, as a Japanese person, I feel obliged to nitpick on.

    First, the WiFi kettle, at least initially, did not use WiFi at all. It was an electric kettle introduced on March 2001, that used NTT Docomo’s cellular connection to send emails to certain recipients, notifying them it is was used or not. The kettle was called the “i-Pot”, and I heard that it was a slight issue when the Apple “iPod” was introduced half a year later on November 2011. The manufacturer of the i-Pot is Zojirushi, a company that I hear Horace Dediu of Asymco is a fan of.

    Second, Japanese electric kettles have electric pumps to pour hot water, so you don’t have to lift the kettle to pour water. You just push a button. They are pretty cool.

    Third, Japanese seniors don’t do the real tea ceremony no more often than English have tea with cakes on a tiered stand. However, they do drink a lot of tea with rice crackers, just like the common English person would have tea with McVities digestive biscuits or Jaffa cakes.

    —— End of nitpicks
    I would be very interested in the potential of this service in the US. I don’t know how people in the US take care of the elderly who live alone in their homes, or what the relationship the citizens have with the US Post Office delivery people. I would very much like to learn about this in the comments.

    1. It really varies by social norms and individual settings. In France, I wouldn’t say the elderly are revered as a matter of principle; and elderly care or abandonment varies by family. You get the occasional story about a long-dead body being found, but also families where a daily phone call and weekly Skype with the grandkids is the norm (and not just a duty, at least the phone call part ^^).

      I’m not sure this matters though: regardless of social mores, service to the elderly is both a public health issue, and a business opportunity. A few dollars a day to say hello and make sure a person is ambulatory, cogent, clean, and fed (which takes all of 2 minutes) quickly adds up to millions in revenue and savings from health care emergencies downgraded to routine by being caught early. This works for the gamut from overprotected elderly to abandoned ones.

    2. Thanks for the feedback. When I was told of this the execs in Japan used the term tea ceremony and I am quoting their comment. However I suspected that a formal tea ceremony was not what they talked about. I asked around and the issue was that usually in the afternoon at some point the elderly do have tea as you mentioned and this triggered the signal. I had heard that initially a cellular connection was tied to the teapot but by the time I was told about it they moved more of them to WIFI…

      I am not aware of technology being used this way with elderly in other countries. The closest thing we have to this is a device that can be worn that has the ability to call 911 if a elderly person falls or needs help. As you say, this is a serious issue and what the idea that the postman can check on loved ones like this is innovative and I hope catches on in other regions of the world

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