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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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PJS880
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PJS880,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 5:34:49 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
In the pursuit of evolution is about to get even more exspensive!
Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
ANON1237837896902
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ANON1237837896902,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 5:24:35 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
Apple makes virtually NOTHING!!!! on dock connector licensing. The idea that they would transition off the dock connector (a powerful lock in for many i-Device users) to something new as a way to increase sales of cables and adapters is so stupid it makes me wonder how anyone would have come up with it. AND IT IS STILL JUST A RUMOR!!!!

I hope the dock connector gets updated soon to make even faster interfaces available (USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt) as well as higher power transfers to allow things like the iPad 3 charge faster.
Tronman
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Tronman,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 5:20:35 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
"Apple is great at getting us to buy new products"

I am happy to say that, for me, Apple has failed miserably.
ANON1237837896902
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ANON1237837896902,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 5:20:08 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
This might be a great idea if USB carried everything necessary for every accessary that anyone would ever want, but it doesn't. This was a stupid idea!

Along those same lines, I have not purchased a car or wall charger that wasn't simply a standard USB adapter for 5 years. All I will need are some new cables and the primary one will come with my phone.
eric.robichaud
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eric.robichaud,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 4:56:30 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
I hear your point, but I don't think is a fair statement. That dock connector has been a standard across ipod, ipod touch, and all generations of iPhones, for 10 years now. At some point you need to move forward and keep evolving. Should we still be using 8" external floppy disks and pinfeed dot matrix printers? It's not like they keep changing interfaces with each device to make you buy new stuff -- it's been TEN YEARS! Just like they dropped the floppy before anyone else, and now have dropped the CD drive in their newest machines and even hard drives in favor of SSD and dropped Firewire for Thunderbolt, it's just a matter of evolution. As an ipod/iphone user, I agree it's less than optimal. I have a bunch of now "old" interface devices too. But in the name of innovation and moving the ball forward (so to speak), I can understand why they're downsizing to make things continually smaller -- for a mobile device, that's a good thing.
ANON1252035144238
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ANON1252035144238,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 4:46:24 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
One question what has Apple obsoleted so far?

Has he a brain to discern before shooting from the hip hoping to catch some clicks.

Sad to read such a hitwhore of a blog.
FritzNelson
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FritzNelson,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 4:17:27 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
Jonathan -- I agree with the thinking behind your frustrations, but it is also being reported that Apple is changing the dock connector to conserve space -- either to reduce the footprint of their device to better compete with these larger, yet slimmer/lighter phones like the Samsung Galaxy SIII, or to improve the battery capability, or both. Both changes are necessary, and if a dock connector makes that possible, it puts Apple between a rock and a hard place, and us, as customers, between those two as well. Thinking of all the iHome gizmos and the $100+ Mophie cases . . . heck, I've spent maybe $500 or so over the years just on that stuff.

I do like MyWOr1d's question about standards. And one wonders whether micro-USB should be the simple answer. But at this point, I'm not sure Apple has much choice -- unless the change to the connector actually isn't necessitated by the two factors I mention.
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
6/25/2012 | 1:43:05 PM
re: Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews
Whatever happened to the EU technology movement from just a few years ago that championed mandated standard connectors (power and audio) for mobile phone devices to be marketed? The goal was to open the market to accessory producers (with competitive cost reduction) and inhibit vendor lockin.
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