Bad Apple: An Inside look At The Rotting Relationship Between Apple And Its Partners

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When Mike Hadley, president and CEO of iCorps Technologies, heard the news about Apple and Cisco Systems teaming up on enterprise deals, he wasn't excited. He was apprehensive.

iCorps Technologies, a Boston-based Apple partner for 21 years, has seen its revenue from Apple products and services shrink from 100 percent to less than 10 percent of its overall business over the past five years, due in part to what he says is Apple's lack of attention to the channel. Hadley is no alone—his situation is indicative of a larger trend reported by solution providers across Apple's channel ecosystem.

"We haven't seen much of a focus on our partnership from Apple," said Hadley. "Hopefully, they'll see that's not a good approach because we're the ones who can build relationships. Apple's whole channel focus has changed, but there's still a good [number] of partners working with businesses to create Apple deals and pushing Apple products."

Cisco and Apple on Aug. 31 disclosed a partnership to optimize Cisco networks for Apple iOS-based devices and apps, as well as work together to make the iPhone a better business collaboration tool in Cisco voice and video environments.

The deal, a follow-up to Apple's widely publicized enterprise-targeted partnership with IBM last year, is yet another step from Apple to drive deeper into the corporate market, relatively unfamiliar territory for the consumer-centric Cupertino, Calif.-based company.

[Related: Apple Partners Speak Out On Channel Conflict]

But solution providers worry Apple's enterprise odyssey will snub the true pioneers of large corporate business sales—the channel—and instead focus on direct sales.

Apple's relationship with the channel has been rocky for many years, and partners say it has not gotten noticeably better in the four years since CEO Tim Cook took the reins, a disappointing turn of events given that Cook is actually a channel man. He previously served as COO for the PC reseller division at Intelligent Electronics, and later headed Apple's Macintosh division, where he is credited with continuing the development of strategic reseller and supplier relationships.

Now the onetime channel champion seemingly has become channel-agnostic, solution providers said. One channel source, who worked with Cook at Intelligent Electronics, said he finds Cook a channel paradox.

"I think it is fascinating that a channel guy like him could run one of the most important companies in the world," he said. "He is not a technologist. He came into Apple to do supply chain management. I'm not surprised he hasn't made a big channel move. I don't think the channel matters that much to Cook and Apple."

Fifty-eight percent of solution providers said that the channel's relationship with Apple under Cook's leadership has either stayed the same or gotten worse, according to a June CRN Intelligence survey of 150 solution providers. Three percent of those surveyed said the channel's relationship with Apple has gotten much worse under Cook. Thirty-seven percent of solution providers said their relationship with Apple has gotten better under Cook, according to the survey.

Meanwhile, 55 percent said Apple's overall ability to build mutually profitable third-party partnerships under Cook's leadership has either stayed the same or gotten worse.

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