Learn from Apple: Having fans means you're always forgiven

What lesson can IT take from Apple's new Lightning iPhone connector? That if someone is your fan, you can do no wrong

Mentioning Apple with anything less than admiration is like saying "Frau Blucher!" in "Young Frankenstein" -- the horses reflexively whinny. Last week's Apple/Blucher moment came when I suggested that the new Lightning connector for iPhone 5 calls into question Apple's credibility as an enterprise technology vendor. For those who missed it, the argument centered on respecting the specs businesses come to rely on, and while making a technological shift without supporting past standards may be OK for consumers, it's bad news for business organizations -- and a breach of trust.

It earned me admiring comments, like, "Get over yourself. There are bigger things to worry about. Get a real job," "Idiot," and (my favorite) "Nice faux outrage."

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My point wasn't that it's time for more outrage. It was that, when you're not Apple and you make a similar shift, the outrage is palpable. The difference comes from Apple having fans rather than customers -- a big difference that, once earned, you can exploit to your own advantage.

Connector changes: The past as prologue

Several commenters on last week's post listed past connector changes, about which yours truly expressed little or no concern, including the elimination of parallel ports, PCI interfaces, and PS/2 connectors, as evidence of my inconsistency.

There was, however, a huge difference between how the industry retired these interfaces and how Apple retired the old Dock connector: overlap. In every case, the technology replacing the connectors that went away (USB) appeared years before the old ones disappeared. Dual ports aren't practical on an iPhone-size device, so overlap wasn't an option, but that doesn't make the cases any more parallel.

As might have been expected, someone mentioned that Microsoft has shipped versions of Windows with significant security holes. Why isn't that a worse offense? First, Microsoft has steadily improved Windows security over the past decade -- this wasn't about how bad the old connector was. Second, the legitimate parallel with respect to new Windows versions would have been to note how Vista broke the device driver/Windows interface, which was probably undertaken to fix some of those security holes. That was a serious breach of trust, and many in the industry made a very big fuss, including me.

Finally, lots of folks defended Apple on the basis of the old connector being 10 years old and the Lightning connector being so much better. However, "better" turns out to mean you can insert it either way -- a convenience I'd be willing to pay as much as 50 cents for -- and it enables cool new capabilities no one can actually identify, but since they come from Apple they'll be awesome when they show up.

Here's one new feature: You can't use it to play video through the $29 HDMI or VGA adapter you already own. But why would you want to do that? Oh, that's right -- because you used to be able to. Guess you'll have to wait until Apple ships another adapter to connect Lightning to HDMI or VGA. Oh look, it just did. What will that cost you? $49.

As it isn't clear what the old connector can't do, my bet goes with the folks speculating that the "new features" Lightning brings to the table will be an improved ability for Apple to collect a license fee for anything that plugs into one of its iGadgets. That's just a guess. Maybe I'm getting cynical in my old age.

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