Why there was a Microsoft executive at Apple's event

Kirk Koenigsbauer (left) is greeted by Apple's Phil Schiller as he takes the stage to discuss Microsoft Office for the iPad Pro during an Apple media event in San Francisco on Sept. 9, 2015.
Beck Diefenbach | Reuters

"Hell froze over."

That is how some are describing the moment when a Microsoft executive took the stage at Apple's annual product event in San Francisco on Wednesday. The two tech giants share a long history, with plenty of acrimony. Steve Jobs, for example, famously said that Microsoft had no taste, according to Walter Issacson's biography of the Apple founder.

But times have changed.

At the event Wednesday, Apple announced, among other things, a new iPad that starts at $799. CEO Tim Cook's mission is to make this larger iPad Pro, measuring 12.9 inches, more appealing in the workplace.

"The iPad is the clearest expression of our vision of the future for personal computing," Cook said. "A simple, multitouch piece of glass that instantly transforms into anything you want it to be."

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Cook knows that, while the broad tablet market has plateaued, the percentage of tablets that companies are buying and managing continues to increase. Research firm Forrester estimates that tablets bought by enterprises will represent 20 percent of the overall market by 2018, up from 12 percent last year.

Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy, a tech analyst firm, says that Apple executives also know that, in order to market and sell the iPad Pro as an effective productivity tool, the tablet has to run a first-rate version of Microsoft's Office Suite.

To that end, Apple invited Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate VP of Microsoft's Office Division, to address the crowd of iOS fans at the event Wednesday. He took the stage, showcasing how the Office software worked on the iPad Pro.

(Phil Schiller, Apple's head of marketing, introduced Koenigsbauer to the audience, and complimented the software giant, saying: "These guys know productivity.")

As for Microsoft, CEO Satya Nadella, with his mobile-first, cloud-first strategy, wants as many people as possible using his company's apps and tools. If that means aligning with rival platforms, then so be it.

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In fact, one of the more surprising recent developments under Nadella is Microsoft's transition into a true industry collaborator, unbundling its technology and announcing integrations with a range of companies, from Salesforce to Citrix to Box.

One question is what this alliance means for Microsoft's line of Surface tablets. Moorhead says it does not indicate that Nadella in any way is giving up on his own ambitions when it comes to this product category. The Surface Pro, he notes, is a direct competitor to the iPad Pro.

Bottom line: Even among friends, there can be fierce competition.