29 March 2011

Why corporations are still not buying many Apple products.

Apple is in a position no technology company has been in previously: To control the entire technology ecosystem. With their control of flash memory resources they have built an astounding arsenal of devices that cannot be matched in price or elegance. Consumers are lining up around Apple stores to be the first to buy these devices unseen because they are confident their friends and relatives will be jealous that they got it first. Cupertino products are part fashion statement, part Star Trek gadgetry, part Jobsian magic all rolled up into a price that Americans cannot resist owning. We love them so much that Apple technology is replaced within two years, not because it needs to be, because we cannot keep ourselves from owning the latest device as soon as we can afford to. You could even argue that the demise of cable TV is a direct result of our need to save money to buy more Apple gadgets. Yet with all of this well earned success Apple continues to give the corporate workplace a middle finger salute.

Few people know this but the first question Adam asked Eve (yes, she was the biblical CIO): Why is it that we do not use Apple products here? Much like me, I suspect Eve carried an Apple computer for personal use but would not put them in their corporate pasture. I happily sport a MacBook Air, an iPad and an iPod Touch, partially as a product of making certain our remote access functions for our employees and partially because they are amazing devices. However, for every day work in the office Apple makes it impossible to seriously consider these because they refuse to address the needs of a corporate environment.

This is not necessarily a negative thing to say about Apple. Steve Jobs has proven that he can take over the market without bending over to the needs of suits. The problem for those in charge of business technology is that the suits want to carry Apple products. There are very few people who do not love to make a fashion statement and there is none finer in the technology universe than a device created with Apple magic. Still, they have not made huge in-roads for some very good reasons:

The MacBook Air is an amazing piece of hardware and my favorite computer ever made but I cannot afford to put it in our corporate environment. The first issue is OS X and the lack of native support of Active Directory and Group Policy. Computer systems in a corporate environment are managed through these core systems and while Apple could support them they refuse to do so. Still, you can (and I do) run Windows 7 on the device which is, arguably, as good as OS X so why not just do that? I will attest that I think it is the ideal laptop but the expense will run you from $1200 to $1800 which is double what a Windows 7 laptop with a manually installed SSD will cost. Smart corporations use Citrix or Terminal Services for access from a laptop which makes them glorified terminals and anything over a grand is out of the question. And, anyone who follows Apple knows that they really do not have a true corporate desktop option.

Then there is the iOS saga. An outstanding consumer operating system that has no peer, but I would argue that it has created some enemies in the corporate environment. One example is the original iOS devices used to lie to Exchange Servers saying they were storing the data encrypted locally when, in fact, it was in plain text and could easily be extracted with nothing more than an iPod cable and a computer. Were that not jarring enough Apple decided to not tell anyone and simply fix the issue with a release that left all older iOS devices unable to connect to work email, calendars and contacts. How do you think iPhone and iPod Touch users felt when their devices suddenly were unable to work with the only option to buy a new Apple device? Some are still convinced it was those big bad computer people in the basement that did it.

Any technology director worth their salt immediately banned iOS devices and the ones who are really concerned about security turned off ActiveSync when they realized a developer as large as Apple could fib and open up a gaping security hole in their corporate communications infrastructure. People wonder why Research In Motion's BlackBerry continues to sell so well in the corporate environment and in a lot of ways that Canadian company has Apple's early mistakes to thank for it.

It has been a couple years since that incident and you would think Apple would have learned their lesson, but that is only partially true. The latest 4.3 operating system with the new Safari JavaScript engine killed off access to Outlook Web Access, which just may be the only avenue available to iOS users for accessing email since the last Apple blunder may have disabled their devices from direct ActiveSync connections. Déjà vu as the trouble tickets throughout America rolled in when home employees were unable to access work on their devices. Fortunately this time Apple released a patch to fix the problem rather than forcing folks to buy a whole new device, but it is a painful reminder of why Apple products are not always a CIO's best friend.

I am a huge fan of Apple hardware and their contracts for flash memory have enabled their devices to be not only the best but the least expensive around. The MacBook Air single-handedly destroyed the Dell Adamo within weeks and the HP Envy has not had a second look since leaving Samsung to lone competitor at hundreds more than Apple's offerings. The iPad sent every manufacturer back to the drawing board and while Google's Android platform is getting close there has yet to be anyone who has truly matched the five hundred dollar marvel. Microsoft's Ballmer is still the ostrich in the corner office with his head so far up the Windows sphincter that he has yet to realize his products are universally ignored these days. That said, it is Apple's occasioanlly buggy software that continues to cause grief, or perhaps the arrogance that Apple has toward corporate policy. Either way, if Apple wants to finally eat a sizable percentage of the business world's technology needs they are going to need to check their software and arrogance before they launch it on the public.