On Tuesday, Apple and IBM issued a joint press release to announce an exclusive relationship in which IBM will create and distribute business applications for large corporations using Apple’s mobile devices (iPads, iPhones). On its surface, the Apple IBM alliance appears to have little impact on small businesses as IBM’s marketing of small business products and services is focused on what marketers describe as “medium” businesses, small businesses that employee 50-1,000 employees. And while iPhones and iPads can be found in businesses, large and small, Apple is, at its core (no pun intended), a consumer marketing company.

However, the announcement is layered with great significance to both the history of work-related PCs and future of how all businesses will use at work what we in the past called “computers” (now, more likely we call them our “laptop,” “tablet,” or “smartphone”). Moreover, if IBM’s army of engineers and developers are creating apps for its enterprise clients, the adaptation of those apps to a long tail of smaller business users will naturally follow.

The Office Suite vs. Apps and How We Work

Of more significance to those who spend much of our working hours in front of screens, the announcement could have a long-term impact on the ways in which we interact with the screens we use as our tools of the trade.

For example, yesterday a post on SmallBusiness.com introduced a new series of guides, tips and how-tos about using the cloud-based, office suite software of Google and Microsoft. As noted, an office suite refers to the traditional types of software we all use at work each day: Word processing, spread sheets, presentations. While Apple has such a suite, they’ve never shown the ability to crack the enterprise market at the cloud-level.

In other words, Google and Microsoft are battling one-another for the small business (and enterprise) cloud when it comes to the way in which we, as screen-bound workers, have historically perceived as the primary software of business: the office suite.

However, since the introduction of the iPhone, and especially the iPad, more and more things we do that interact with screens at work have moved from the traditional metaphors of the office suite to metaphors attached to mobile apps.

Some business people use an app like Evernote more often than a word processing document. And hundreds of calculator apps have replaced those things we used to do with a spreadsheet.

Seen as a battle for the cloud between a task- or function-focused app with a traditional office suite strategy (but on the cloud), an alliance between Apple and IBM takes on more significance. Apple/IBM will be using apps as their definition of what our software at business should be like, while Microsoft and Google are in a marketshare battle over who can win the Office suite.

With Apple and IBM pooling their hardware and enterprise software strengths, it will be interesting to see if the future of the devices we use will be more like using apps, or more like using a cloud-based office suite.

More information about the announcement on IBM’s and Apple’s websites