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Apple Obsolescence Debate: More Analysis Please, Fanboys

The Apple-can-do-nothing-wrong crowd cranked up the hate machine when I questioned the vendor's upgrade treadmill. Some responses and clarifications are in order.
"MobileMe is ending soon." Those four words, combined with the revelation that for iCloud, MobileMe's successor product, Apple is dropping support for the version of MacOS on my one-year-old laptop, prompted me to write a column on June 25 questioning whether Apple's upgrade treadmill would be palatable to CIOs.

That column led to some serious debate and discussion on InformationWeek.com, but it also brought out the mindless haters. Some responses and clarifications are in order.

1. MobileMe vs. iCloud. I totally agree that Apple has done a fantastic job with change management for this product upgrade, issuing periodic reminders of the transition and setting a long transition period. But I didn't criticize Apple for their change management. I criticized Apple for arbitrarily deciding to make iCloud break if you don't upgrade your desktop OS. I am NOT making that up, as some of the haters have accused.

Apple itself says Snow Leopard won't work with iCloud. An Apple support article spells this point out nicely. Hacks are available (aren't they always?), but the point is this: Apple is telling us that calendar and contact sync will break on iCloud with older versions of OS/X, and that the only service available will be email. Corporate help desks don't do hacks; they want support from the manufacturer.

2. Dock. Yes, it's just a rumor that Apple plans to change the dock connector on the next iPhone, a move that would force customers to replace their iPhone accessories. But enough industry insiders have been talking about it to make me believe it.

[ We don't just criticize Apple. Sometimes we take its products apart. Read Teardown: Inside Apple MacBook Pro. ]

I agree with the comments that the current dock port has been around a long time. I just hope that if/when Apple changes the dock, it delivers the promised value. And if it's all about saving space, why is there enough space for an extra chip on that valuable real estate to prevent knockoff accessories?

Apple has every right to recoup its investment in innovation by protecting its intellectual property. But Apple had better deliver some value, not just obsolescence. A new connector isn't an innovation. But if the new connector is on par with MagSafe, the power cord on my MacBook Air, I'm sold. I don't know how many times I murdered my previous Macs because I tripped over a power cord while doing a presentation and knocked the Mac off the podium.

3. Conflict Of Interest. I don't own stock in Apple or its competitors, despite what the haters surmise. I like Apple's technology enough to have become an enterprise customer a few years ago, but I made that decision for business, not personal, reasons. Some of the haters don't seem to understand this point, because they're responsible only for their own technology.

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It's more disturbing when a website whose business model and existence depend on Apple starts flaming InformationWeek and me for daring to have an opinion about Apple in an opinion column. Who has the conflict of interest?

4. Lifecycle. To clarify, one of the reasons I've been drawn to Apple over the years is because of its decent product lifecycles and strong ROI. Arbitrarily forcing customers to update because they've adopted Apple products across the board is causing me to rethink that lifecycle recommendation. When I see a sign that Apple proudly wants its customers to keep using their products as long as they want, I'll gladly recant.

5. Our "Inflammatory" Headline. Some of the haters called the headline on my recent column inflammatory. As you may or may not know, the author of a column or story usually doesn't write the headline. I had suggested "Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Enough Already," which my editors changed to "Apple's Planned Obsolescence: Customer Revolt Brews?" Well, considering my own experience with Apple, and those of some of my peers, a revolt could be brewing.

Finally, as for the haters in general, it's startling to me how blind loyalty to a vendor and product can make folks lose their sense of civility. The Apple-focused website (the one with the real conflict of interest) wrote an insulting headline about our beloved InformationWeek and me, and it encouraged readers, based on pieces of my column it threw to them, to send hate mail. (All 10 of its readers sent me pretty nasty emails.) Whereupon I tried to initiate a conversation with some of those folks based on the facts, and their response was to shout me down.

Some of that vitriol made it to the comments thread underneath my column on InformationWeek.com. It's as if calling me names and questioning my motives make them right. I do want to thank those people who have kept the discourse civil, whether they agree with my point of view or not. You have swayed my opinion on some of the issues, and persuaded me to clarify others, which is the real benefit of an analytical discourse.

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 [email protected] or at @_jfeldman.

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