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Tim Cook says workplace tech is 'not a hobby' for Apple

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Apple CEO Tim Cook says his company is only going to get more serious about pushing its hardware and software into the workplace, and partnering with once-rival companies like Microsoft to get it done. Cook spoke today with Box CEO Aaron Levie during the BoxWorks conference in San Francisco, highlighting the iPhone maker's focus on serving companies as well as it serves the average consumer. It's part of a gradual shift for Apple, which has been using its ubiquity in the consumer hardware realm to carve out a stronger position in the market for business software.

Cook said that serving businesses racked up $25 billion in sales for Apple in the 12 months ended June 30th. "So this is not a hobby," he added. Cook pointed out that, for a long time, the world was bifurcated between consumer and enterprise hardware, just as there was a division between workplace software and software for your home computer. But the hardware division has gone away. "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."

"If you want a smartphone, you don't say I want an enterprise smartphone."

Now Apple wants to cater to all the people who work on their iPhones and iPads while not at their office computer. It's not just a lesson Cook thinks is relevant to Apple; it's something he believes every company needs to do to succeed today. "To take advantage of [mobile] in a huge way, you have to rethink everything," Cook said. "The best companies will be the most mobile."

He pointed out how rethinking the Apple Store retail experience resulted in the doing away with traditional point-of-sale systems. Instead of lining up, customers can check out with any Apple Store employee thanks to an iPhone-based checkout system. Because in a mobile world, retail means "bringing the checkout to them," Cook said. That kind of thinking, he added, is what will transform how people work when it's applied to businesses.

Apple has been making an effort of late to expand iOS into the business realm through partnerships. The company teamed up with IBM last year to co-develop mobile apps for specific industries, with IBM coding the software and Apple helping with design and ease of use. IBM would then sell the software preloaded on iPhones and iPads to customers.

Apple's enterprise business racked up $25 billion in annual sales

"We’re good at building a simple experience and in building devices," Cook told Recode at the time. "The kind of deep industry expertise you would need to really transform the enterprise isn’t in our DNA. But it is in IBM’s." For Apple, it was rare admittance of weakness, but also a sign of Cook's leadership style that emphasizes partnerships and weaves Apple into other industries it's incapable of reinventing.

Cook reiterated that point onstage with Levie. "We don’t have deep knowledge," he said of enterprise software. "In order to do great things and give people great tools, we need to partner with great people." On partnering with more companies, including Microsoft, Cook is open to anything that will strengthen its products as toolsets for businesses.

"We still compete today, but Apple and Microsoft can partner on more things than they compete on," Cook said. "Partnering with Microsoft is great for our customers. That's the reason we do it. I'm not a believer in holding grudges."