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6/22/2012
02:56 PM
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Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews

Short term, Apple will make more money. Long term, it will annoy, and lose, even ardent device fans.

This just in from Apple: "MobileMe ends June 30. Although there are good standards-based ways to make your contacts and calendars available, we will arbitrarily disable those features in OS/X until you upgrade your operating system and, we hope, purchase new hardware from us."

OK, maybe that's not the way Apple put it, but that's the message I hear. In my personal life, Apple is starting to drive me crazy with planned obsolescence. And now that the iPhone is a part of many of our enterprise deployments, Apple's planned obsolescence will start to drive us crazy at work, too.

As the headline writers pithily put it on a recent David Thier blog on Forbes.com: "Every iPhone Accessory You Own Just Became Obsolete." They were referring to Apple's plans to change the dock connector on the next iPhone. "Apple is great at getting us to buy new products, and this may be one its biggest coups yet," Their writes. That's fantastic if you're an Apple shareholder, but it's annoying and expensive if you have to replace a fleet of iPhone accessories every time you replace your organization's iPhones.

The typical knowledge worker who relies on a smartphone has a charger in the car, at home, and at work. During the transition from iPhone 3 to 4, most accessories were plug and play. That's not going to be the case now.

And don't think you'll be able to get inexpensive equivalents of accessories such as car chargers. From all reports, Apple will include a proprietary chip at the port that will disallow unlicensed accessories.

And let's not forget that if you want to keep the phone you've got and not upgrade, Apple's history is to force customers to use newer firmware releases to fix security problems. The "unfortunate" side effect of these software updates is that they make the phones slower, so that your end users will want the organization to buy them new devices. Eventually, of course, Apple stops supporting the old phone altogether, so that your organization must buy new ones.

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Is innovation really supposed to work like this? I don't think so. Here's how it's supposed to work: Supplier comes up with compelling value proposition for buyer. Buyer gladly parts with cash so that buyer can benefit from innovation. This planned obsolescence thing is simply a message that not only will you buy the BMW of smartphones, but you will replace it on Apple's schedule, not yours.

When you're the only game in town, you can act like this. But in a market where there are now many compelling alternatives, not so much.

I continue to be a fan of iPhone-the-platform, versus iPhone-the-upgrade-treadmill. And I maintain that those who selected iPhones rather than Android phones years ago probably face a lower support burden and fewer defects. But I welcome competition to discourage Apple's treadmill tactics, and I'm heartened by a couple of recent developments:

>> Software provider Magnifis has released Robin, which, from what I have seen, can take on Siri, the iPhone 4S' voice assistant, head-to-head. (As I've written before, Siri has such nagging problems that it's not hard to imagine just about any competitor taking it on.)

>> Android phones are getting better all the time. My colleague Fritz Nelson reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S III a few days ago, and he's impressed: "You're going to want this phone." Android will soon have "even more momentum ahead of whatever Apple has up its sleeves," Nelson predicts. Specs aside, if it's a reliable phone with few defects and a standards-based micro-USB dock, it'll be hard for buyers, even Apple fanboys, to dismiss.

You feel that, Apple? Those are the winds of change. It may be temporarily profitable for you to force your customers into spending on upgrades, but a little thing that we call customer lifetime value means that it's stupid to annoy your customers in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Jonathan Feldman is a contributing editor for InformationWeek and director of IT services for a rapidly growing city in North Carolina. Write to him at jf@feldman.org or at @_jfeldman.

At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.

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anon5598560211
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anon5598560211,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/13/2013 | 3:30:07 AM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
A theory of "Planned Obsolescence" applied to the iPad: http://bit.ly/1bquBLO
Dave_Aragorn1
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Dave_Aragorn1,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/10/2012 | 6:14:16 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
I got rid of my iPhone this past weekend... out of the Apple yoke at last... I went with an SIII... it's awesome.
Malky
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Malky,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/3/2012 | 5:56:00 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
I'm a long term Apple fan since the early days. I have two desktop Macs and a laptop. Two are on Snow Leopard and one Lion. I still use my iPhone 3G and have an iPad2. The kit is robust. If Apple change connectors for the sake of it, shame on them. If they do it for performance improvements, power to their elbow. However, 10.7 is slow and bloated - feels like a creaky experiment.
Duckie13
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Duckie13,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/2/2012 | 4:19:43 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
My iPhone was > 4 years old and I only upgraded to get new Hotspot and GPS features. Lasted longer than any of my prior non-Apple phones. Daughter's iPad is way more than 2 years.
ANON1237925156805
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ANON1237925156805,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/28/2012 | 8:22:31 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
Agree 100%. Above all I question the notion of a "Customer Revolt". This sounds more like one disgruntled columnist looking for an alarmist headline to draw in readers to that he can air his pet peeves. Mr. Feldman you are brilliant. This article is not up to your highest standards.
Bruce300
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Bruce300,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/27/2012 | 5:51:11 AM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
I am no Apple fanboy, but this article reflects total ignorance of the high-tech industry. Apple is innovating by incorporating advances in technology as they become available in a market that moves at light speed.

The author cites BMW and that "Android phones are getting better all the time." Does the author honestly believe that a new BMW will last forever or that Android phones and related operating system versions will still be current 3, 2 or even 1 year from now?

Pick any high-tech hardware/software combination and a similar argument can be made. Stand still and die in your tracks.

The above having been said, changing the connector is a big deal. Perhaps Apple will create an adapter.
apummer945
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apummer945,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/27/2012 | 12:19:59 AM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
the compare Apple, BMW is not correct, the BMW is the ultimate drive machine, a long lasting technical perfection, Apple phone is one expensive jewel with many little technical issues.
Aden11
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Aden11,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/26/2012 | 7:04:02 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
Thanks for the comments, Stahmasebi9211. I am glad I am not alone, I share your feelings.
ANON1237925156805
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ANON1237925156805,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/26/2012 | 5:04:16 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
I happened to come into the Apple mobile device environment right before the last cable change and I thought oh GREAT. This is manipulative. Now that I've been using the same cables through multiple generations of iPhones and iPads over five years, so my grumbling days are over.

Apple puts a lot of thought into things like connections; it's in their DNA to do so. So Mr. Nelson's suggestion that there are form factor and/or technological reasons behind this change makes sense to me. I'm fine with this. I just hope that they know enough to manage this transition a bit. As Mr. Feldman points out, they are no longer the only game in town and perception is critical.

Here's what I'd like to see: First, give us a hint why you're changing the connectionand articulate that you don't plan to do this capriciously every year. Second, sell just the cables. That would allow me to swap out just the cables in my home, office, car, and flight bag while keeping my existing plugs.

Third, make one or more adapters that will sit in the iPod docks of our speaker systems, CD players, camera connectors, etc. and allow us to dock the new phone. Perhaps an adapter with a couple of collars. Want to do something really radical and much appreciated? Include the adapter "for free" with the next round of iPhones, iPods, iPads.

Re third party chargers, batteries, etc., if there is proprietary chip at the port but if there is one, then its functionality won't be new. In the past this has been all about Apple's protecting its "it just works" branding by warning about junker devices that were not up to standard. Belkin products, say, never a problem. Apple should not tigthen this policy and they should make it clear that they are not doing so.

If we want a universal standard port, then let's push for one that would make Mr. Jobs excited. (That's a good Turing test for hardware design, no?) When we get something that passes the "Jobs test" then let's put pressure on every mfr to adopt it. For now I prefer Apple's cables to micro USB, which is just too easy to accidentally disconnect.

Finally a word about upgrades. True that some security patches require firmware changes. True that that can slow down the phone. Apple should avoid it where possible and if that means re-architecting then that would be a good idea if they mean to protect their new position of respect in the enterprise.

On the other hand, smartphones are computers. Computers get slower as they are asked to work with new technology. When that slowness becomes an obstacle to working then upgrade the user and hand down or recycle the old phone. Until that point just say "no" or "on your own nickel".

rmichaels85701
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rmichaels85701,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/26/2012 | 3:46:57 AM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
I forgot to tell the folks that my son has been one of the top ten sales people for AT&T and his favorite phone was the Blackberry -- for about a week. He not only worked for AT&T but he was recruited by Verizon and T-Mobile and he was their top salesman, too. So what? Well, he shared with me the popularity and issues with each smartphone handled by these companies. Blackberry -- unimaginative and doomed. Android -- the system that had the most returns, the most difficulties, the most refunds, the most instability.

Apple iPhone -- no issues, no problems of substance. Buy this one and forget about all the hype about android if you want reliability and professionalism overall.

Just thought you'd want to know.
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