The lessons IT must learn from Apple

Apple has wormed its way into the broad population, creating new expectations -- and a model -- for IT

For fanboys, it's vindication. For old-school IT, it's a nightmare. For those not in either extreme, it's further sign of the fundamental shift known as the consumerization of IT. This much debated milestone? A recent CNBC survey shows that more than half of U.S. households now own at least one Apple product. The iPod leads the list, followed by iPhones, then iPads and Macs.

So what's the big deal? -- for nearly a year, half of new cellphones sold in the United States have been smartphones, and a slight plurality of those run Android. Shouldn't that be as significant as the Apple penetration?

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No -- Apple's reach into people's everyday lives is not merely changing their expectations for what technology should do, but ironically can serve as a guide for IT on how to get what it wants. However, IT must understand the real lessons of this shift. The people most likely to be avid Apple product users are better-paid men, the survey shows -- in other words, the businesspeople with authority who often call the shots and set the business expectations of technology in general and IT in specific.

Apple effect isn't merely consumerization effect
Users are shifting into mobile devices, and its implications on computing are indeed profound. But we already know that and can see it manifest itself in everything from Microsoft's attempt to reinvent Windows and the notion that we're entering a post-PC era.

Certainly, the fact that the one remaining U.S. PC retail chain, Best Buy, keeps failing to make money and is now regrouping as more of a mobile phone store (sort of like RadioShack has done), tells you that "traditional" PCs are, though still useful, not important -- sort of like toasters and microwave ovens.

Apple rides this trend, as does Google's Android. But Apple lit the fuse with its iPhone, which redefined both mobile computing in particular and computing in general. The iPad lit the second fuse, breaking the separation between mobile and desktop computing. In some cases, an iPad is the primary computer already.

More critical, Apple is defining very much what the new computing means, as well as training users on what to expect computing to be. As the notions of user technology and personal technology continue to blend, Apple's ideas are reshaping the expectations and requirements of corporate IT as well. Nobody, and I mean nobody, else is doing that. The traditional tech vendors are mainly copying the superficial form of Apple's directions. Yet it's clear that users don't want inferior, superficial copies.

The entrancing Apple ecosystem
Many in IT don't get it. They'll say that iPods are irrelevant to computing technology, and the fact that those are the majority of Apple products in use distorts any alleged Apple effect. The facts speak otherwise. That CNBC survey shows that the 51 percent of households that have an Apple product have three Apple products each on average, and a quarter of those plan to buy an additional one this year.

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