How much can your business trust Apple?

Apple's iPhone 5 connector calls into question the company's credibility in respecting specs business customers rely on

Not that I'm a big fan of outrage, but in the name of consistency, shouldn't there be some about Apple's new iPhone connector -- the one that renders all of your accessories obsolete should you update to the iPhone 5 and, as soon as Apple can release them, to every other latest-and-greatest iDevice?

Had Microsoft engaged in shenanigans like this, the protest would have been pandemic. We know this because of the widespread indignation felt in 1997, when the new version of Microsoft Office made the old Office file formats obsolete.

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Yes, there's an adapter. With it, some but not all accessories work with the iPhone 5, in contrast to the software adapter Microsoft provided at no charge for everyone who had licenses for previous versions of Office, which converted everything just about perfectly. (The offense people took over Microsoft's switch from the toolbar to the ribbon was, in contrast, entirely justified ... but I digress.)

For those who prefer to leave outrage to the professionals -- the political radio and television shouting class -- Apple's decision to "update" its connector to a new, proprietary replacement instead of the ubiquitious mini-USB alternative leaves those of us who work in business organizations with an important question: Can we entrust any part of our enterprise technical architecture to Apple?

Assessing Apple's credibility with business customers

This isn't about Apple's mostly excellent technology; it's about the company. When vendors choose to ply their IT wares to business organizations, their customers have every right to expect continuity -- that changes, especially interface changes, will happen only when there's a good reason, and the vendor will support older products and versions for a considerable period of time.

IBM is probably the most extreme example of this. Last I looked, Big Blue still supported OS/2, which nobody has cared about for a decade or more, and IMS, which was hopelessly obsolete by 1990.

But IBM's customers are just that: customers. Their relationship with IBM is businesslike, based on mutual benefit. Apple, in contrast, is accustomed to its customers being fanboys, willing to forgive just about everything in exchange for being allowed into the Cool Kids Club.

By itself, the Apple connector issue isn't that important for business organizations because I doubt very many enterprises have invested heavily in gadgets that rely on the connector. What matters is the thought process that led to the new connector. What we can infer is that when it comes to respecting specifications its customers rely on, Apple can't be counted on to do so.

What can a business do when adopting Apple technology? The right response isn't to ban Apple technology from the enterprise. It would be, if we were to base our decision on outrage. But business choices require pragmatism, not moral indignation.

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