The Problem With Apple: Product Or Platform?

Apple Is Starting To Play A Bigger Role In Every IT Department - Are You Ready?
Apple Is Starting To Play A Bigger Role In Every IT Department – Are You Ready?

In the world of IT we deal with lots of different questions: what project to take on, how best to align with the business, how to improve processes. One thing that we don’t really spend much time thinking about is if our applications should run on Microsoft or Apple platforms. Hmm, has Apple missed the boat here?

I bring this up as a discussion point because, let’s face it, Apple makes some fantastic products. Starting with the Mac, they went on to produce the PowerBook, the Newton (come on, you remember that one), the iPod, the iPhone, etc. However, they’ve never really been a platform company.

I’m playing games with words here and perhaps I should better explain myself. Michael Cusumano over at the Communications of the ACM gave this some thought awhile back and I think that he was on to something. He defined a platform as being something that had open interfaces and for which further development was encouraged and licensed. Apple doesn’t do this.

From an IT perspective, this causes a number of problems. There’s no question that Apple products are “sexy” and easy to use. However, since there is all too often only one source for features and applications, an ecosystem comparable to that which developed around Microsoft products never arose.

No big deal you say – Apple products are only found in graphic design shops and educational environments. Well, up until the iPhone came out I would have agreed with you. However, the runaway success of the iPhone and the demand for iPhone apps from the Apple store is starting to make it look like a dominate mobile computing platform.

As more and more of your staff start showing up sporting Apple iPhones, you are going to start to feel pressure to come up with ways to iPhone enable your IT department’s apps. This can be done, it’s just that you’ll find that it’s not as easy as connecting a Microsoft PC to your network.

Times are changing and Apple still makes great products. However, since they are not in the business of making platforms you’ve got your work cut out for you…

Do you already have Apple products that people are trying to hook into your network? Have you started to support these products? Does your staff have iPhones? Do they want to use these iPhones to access your network? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

12 thoughts on “The Problem With Apple: Product Or Platform?”

  1. Your statement about Apple not building a “platform” doesn’t make any sense at all. Mac OS X is built on BSD Unix, and is in fact, as of Mac OS X10.5, has passed the UNIX 03 certification. That Makes Mac OS X a legitimate UNIX variant now. The operating system itself is built on industry open standards (802.11, 802.3ad, LDAP, Kerberos, 802.1X, etc) and is designed to plug into virtually any type of network and work with very little configuration. It even has Directory Services plugins to make it talk to proprietary systems like Microsoft’s Active Directory, as well as the ability to speak in network protocols that include a vast array of standards.

    The iPhone itself is designed to plug in to Microsoft Exchange 2003 or 2007 in the same way that a Windows Mobile device using Microsoft’s ActiveSync technology. In addition, it can be configured to talk to just about any other type of standards based mail services. This will get even better in version 3 of the iPhone OS.

    In addition to that, Apple has a very robust set of developer tools for both Mac OS X and the iPhone OS (which is a variant of OS X) that are well documented, well developed, and free to anyone who wants to download them and use them. Beyond that, there is any array of command line languages that can be used like ruby, python, perl, and various other shell languages like bash.

    Looking at all of those things, I ask, how is that NOT a platform???

    • George: I’m not even going to try to compete with your Apple OS knowledge – you’ve got me beat. However, if Apple is as open as you point out, then why was it necessary to “jail break” the iPhone? I dont’ think that there has ever been a Microsoft equivalent. Once again, Apple makes fantastic products – I love them all. However, I can’t help but wonder if they could have been so much more with a different strategy…

      • Jim, your really pointing to just ONE device here, not apple as a platform. Also, there is an Windows Mobile equivalent, its called ROM COOKING. you can build your own OS and add/remove APPS as you see fit. ROM COOKING is not supported by ANY of the vendors, hardware or software. In fact, its very similar to Jailbreaking as it allows you to remove bloatware and unnecessary apps your carrier insists on being in there.

        Also, considering apples iphone developer program OUTSHINING every other phone hardware/software vendor….i’d argue again, its pretty damn open.

        Now…can we all agree on this point…..No Vendor software will EVER be as open as open source projects. Right. Even with published API’s etc, or whatever, Vendors still do proprietary, hidden things in their own infrastructure and internal software.

        No software vendor is printing and giving away copies of their entire application architecture blueprints, and calling themselves an open platform!!!

  2. Apple’s a company. The Mac is a computer. OS X is an operating system platform, just as Windows is a platform or Linux is a platform.

    It always amazes me that people think OS X is a closed environment. It’s hardly sealed! While the GUI itself is somewhat proprietary, OS X uses some of the most open and standard tools in the industry, and it’s based upon certified UNIX.

    Once a year in June, Apple holds a developer conference. You can attend if you pay your dues. They also bundle X Code, their development environment, with every copy of OS X, and with every new Mac. You can choose to load it and try it, or not. It allows you to write applications using virtually all the same tools Apple uses to build theirs.

    Yes, we use Macs. I run Windows on a Mac, so I can use Windows apps only when I absolutely have to.

    There is a growing distaste among the public at large for all things Microsoft. People are fed up with bloatware, crapware, viruses, trojans, adware, spyware, and system error messages that only a C++ programmer can interpret.

    They’ve bought an iPod or two, they’ve at least seen the iPod Touch or the iPhone and think it’s cool, so yes, they’re looking at Macs for their personal — and increasingly business — needs.

    More and more people are discovering that you CAN have a single company to blame when things go bump in the night, and that because they make and sell all of the system (hardware, OS, and often software), it either just works, or they can make it work faster than the other guys would.

    This trend is viral, and it will continue. When you have a corporate culture based upon clear thinking, elegance, and simplicity, and yes, a tight modicum of control over the range of outcomes, you also produce products that make a lot of sense for their users.

    Easy is hard. (Making it easy for the user to use is hard for the programmer to do!) IT departments everywhere hate that, which is why they like Microsoft… They can program apps their own ways, because there are no user interface standards that mean anything! They win, the user loses, and Apple wins the long run race by default, because users finally figure out it’s worth it to pay for a less painful computing experience.

    Where does that leave IT? IT decides! Will IT be a TRUE service department, solving all users’ real needs, or will it be a dictatorial island that serves only those in power?

    Letting Macs (and Linux boxes) in the door is a good thing. It satisfies picky users, sharpens our skills, and ensures market competition that keeps players as large as Microsoft from being complacent and Microsloppy.

    Without competition, there is little incentive to innovate or to refine our techniques.

    • Bill: your points are all well made. The one nagging problem that I’ve always had with Apple desktops / laptops is that their market share in the past was soooo small. For education and graphic design, they own the market. Beyond that it always seemed to be a bit of a struggle and part of that had to do with 3rd party support. Things are changing and as long as Steve Jobs can come back, this may be the start of something big…

  3. Ok…the gents above me here are, in my mind, very much correct. It sound a little like the author of this post has only worked in “Microsoft shops”……which is becoming a real epidemic. Tons of tech’s who only work on ONE platform, nay saying the rest.

    I’m employed by a publishing company. We do business, we do graphics, we do offline DB apps, we do online DB apps. With 100 employees, we’re almost exactly 50% win 50% mac at the workstation.

    We run Redhat Linux ES4, Netware 6.5, Windows Server 2003, and OSX 10.5 server, mac and win workstations.

    We are truly a multi-platform shop. I’ll admit. I don’t like Microsoft’s products. I try to stay away from them. They cost too much, and fail WAY too much. (My netware boxes go hundreds of days without reboots….EVERY YEAR :), and even then it is for a reason, not a preventative maintenance tactic… redhat too. In fact the only ones that don’t are MS boxes!!!)

    I’m at a point where i want to phase out Netware mainly because our mac side is growing. But i’m not even considering putting in Active Directory. I’d choose Open Directory on OSX in a second. I might even run NDS if i can!

    (PS for you MS’ers….Novell created directory services. and it kicks all the others asses)

    My 1 apple server is capable of running ALL of our core server needs, eliminating 3 novell boxes, an 1 win2003 box. We might just do it, and i have NO fear.

    MS server products suck. come on. would you really rather run a server OS cause it has a “Suite of products”, from a big name vendor. Or do you want solutions that work?

    The comments about OSX on BSD are right on. I’ve taking apps straight up for Unix/Linux and dropped them on OSX no prob.

    Most if not all major database vendors offer a version that will run in some way under OSX, even if the DB is built for unix/linux.

    to me, OSX is the best of all worlds. The command line power of a “nix” OS, the GUI of a Mac, all the services you could ever want, all in one box. And here is a shocker…i don’t have to pay Apple forever to use what i already bought.

    So what exactly about Apple makes it NOT a platform?

    In fact i’d argue that MS is a more predatory platform. Their goal is to lock you into using them. Simple as that. You are fooled by the illusion of choice.

    I see the best desktop, laptop, and mobile products i’ve ever seen/used coming from apple.

    If you do run a “Microsoft Shop”, i feel for you. Trust me, no matter what your license reps say….the grass is GREENER and CHEAPER on the other side…come join us…

  4. Oh yeah…and out of 52 win XP boxes and 48 OS 10.4…..we do 50%+ LESS support for mac users.

    On winXP we run ACT CRM and MS Office, and two DOS apps. That’s it.

    On Mac we run high overhead CS2, and CS3….as well as video editing, photo editing, automated page layout software, run PDF automation, XML conversion to layouts ready for Print. Probably 15+ apps compared to half a dozen on Windows.

    I should also mention that for the fist 10 years of my career I was personally and professionally a win user.

    Within 6 mo of switching my self to mac, i switched ALL of my family, 65 year old dad to boot, and my IT department except for one user who still uses XP as her primary PC. Our dept, and operations are more reliable than ever.

    • Kbot215: ok, ok – you win! I’ll tell you what, no matter how anyone feels in regards to OSs, platforms, etc. Apple has won hands down in terms of user loyalty. Linux is doing a pretty good second, and maybe Sun comes in third. Not bad considering that none of these OSs have a dominate market position. Ok, enough said!

  5. Great subject for a post!

    The Apple influence is a constant challenge for the IT departments I am familiar with. Thing is, Execs want sexy products to show off to their Exec peers. There is constant pressure to provide these gadgets to satisfy this need! They just ain’t appropriate for an enterprise environment (yet?) – true in any case when I remember the IT depts I’ve worked in.

    iPhone is a marvel – I want one myself. But the one thing that attracts people to them now is the wide variety of gimmicky apps you can download, such as the spirit level and games. Allowing this in the enterprise creates control issues that most IT managers just won’t tackle right now!

  6. Dr Jim has been slammed about for his questions about apple as a platform. It’s not really fair because he is making the assertion from a point of view that is prevalent in both the MS and Linux worlds.

    Couple of things that I thought of while reading the comments
    1. Apple as one stop source of support is what is winning over the new converts. Hardware and Software conflicts are minimal (not non-existent) when you buy a Mac. The Wintel PC industry is much more reliant on pointing the finger at someone else.

    2. While it is incredibly easy to add and remove programs on the Mac, the iPhone is restricted to the App Store on iTunes. This is what most folks are talking about when they say it is closed platform. This is the primary reason for jailbraking a phone. The reasons for it are fairly straightforward – it was (and remains) the primary method for exploiting the hardware to do what the _cell phone carriers_ don’t want you to do. It doesn’t hurt that it also means that Apple gets a cut from each app just like the gaming console makers (talk about a closed platform).

    3. Owning the whole value chain is what most companies aspire to, but they tend to wait until they are dominant in one part before pursuing the other areas. Jobs’ point of view is that you should make it elegant and people will pay for the quality. The combination of Jobs’ vision and the focus on the whole value chain is what has kept Apple’s market share small. Both are responsible for the higher costs because efficiencies are rarely realized when you go after the whole chain in one sitting and you want to maintain quality.

    “Of course that’s just my opinion I could be wrong.”

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