Crafting Apple in Your Own Image

September 7th, 2009

It’s very easy to tell a company what you want them to build and what features to include. Apple gets huge numbers of wish lists from you and me — and then goes off and does its own thing anyway.

Actually, despite what some might claim, Apple really and truly does listen to its customers, particularly when it impacts the sales charts. If sales aren’t terribly high, a product might be discontinued, upgraded or, as in the case of Apple TV, regarded as merely a “hobby,” so you don’t expect too much from it. Microsoft, in turn, will just throw more money at the problem without regard to whether the investment will ever pay off.

However, it’s one thing to send Apple feedback about a specific gadget you’d like to see them build, or a feature you want added to the Mac, the iPhone or the iPod. It’s another thing to tell Apple how they should be running heir own business. This is particularly true if you have no experience whatever managing a multinational corporation.

I suppose you can say that Steve Jobs didn’t know how to run a big company either at one time, but he learned from experience, good and especially the bad, and by hiring people who knew what they were doing. But there are some members of the media who seem to feel that they know more about Apple when it comes to running a business, and there’s not an ounce of evidence for that.

This is particularly true for some of those so-called financial analysts that are free and easy with advice, but can’t offer even the tiniest bit of evidence that they have the experience to demonstrate those suggestions will work. Not now, not ever.

Take the oft-repeated demands that Apple needs to find a better way to work with the enterprise. Right now, Apple’s primary initiative has been to sell direct to consumers and educational systems, although they are now offering evaluation licenses for businesses to examine Snow Leopard Server.

The question is, of course, why must things change? Is there something about selling to 10,000 users at once that would be more effective than reaching customers one at a time as it does now? The problem goes back to the fact that far too many of these analysts and media pundits want to rebuild Apple in Microsoft’s image.

We all know that Microsoft earns the lion’s share of its income and profits selling to PC makers and big companies. I’ve already weighed in extensively on the ethics of their business practices, but they are certainly entitled to choose the kinds of customers that most suit them. If anything, Microsoft is trying to be more consumer focused, but their efforts to follow in Apple’s shoes, particularly with the Zune media player, haven’t fared terribly well and I can’t help but remain skeptical as to whether anyone truly cares that there may be a Microsoft Store may be coming to their neighborhood.

It’s a peculiar situation, really. Microsoft has seen declining sales and profits from its present business plan. They want to reach the end user. So in a sense, they are trying to succeed using the opposite approach the analysts and pundits are saying Apple should follow.

Does that make sense to you?

If it’s not working for Microsoft, why do they think Apple should follow that approach? Where’s the evidence that it would make any sense whatever for Apple to suddenly change its business model and go after the enterprise in a way they haven’t up till now.

This doesn’t mean, in fact, that Apple doesn’t care about business customers. It’s just that they go about that initiative in a different way. Consider, for example, how the iPhone is becoming more and more acceptable for business users, not by abandoning its existing customer base or changing things in a way that isn’t acceptable. Instead, Apple has added tools that aren’t visible unless you actually need them, such as Microsoft Exchange Server and VPN access. These and other capabilities were baked into the iPhone because business users needed them to deploy iPhones in their systems.

Snow Leopard also has the Exchange support for a similar reason. Apple isn’t suddenly rushing into the enterprise and exhorting them to buy Macs and iPhones. Their advertising campaigns remain consumer-focused and low-key. At the same time, check the enterprise-oriented publications, such as InfoWorld, and you’ll see greater and greater coverage of using Macs in business. Apple’s approach is in fact working, since they are really penetrating the business market.

Remember, too, that when a corporate executive goes to the IT department and informs them they need to make that executive’s new iPhone or Mac work with their networks, the admins will do what’s necessary to make it happen. At the same time, seeing the growing ease with which Macs integrate with Windows boxes on a corporate installation, they have fewer objections to adding other Macs too.

In the end, Apple’s approach appears to be paying off. They are plucking more and more customers from Microsoft’s user base. But they find it better to handle this conversion one customer at a time. That may not appeal to the analysts and pundits who know nothing about running a company, but you can’t argue with success.

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4 Responses to “Crafting Apple in Your Own Image”

  1. Tom B says:

    We always used to call IT the “department of NO”. A sorry statement for a department that is supposed to be an asset to a company. I daresay, when the current crop of IT Luddites weaned on DOS line commands, starts to retire, it will be like Enterprise computing is suddenly awakening from a decades-long slumber. For Apple to try to educate these people against their will is simply throwing money away. Rather, we just have to wait. Time is on our side.

  2. SteveP says:

    Both are “The Parties that say ‘Ni’ – to each other! 🙂

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