Apple: Fashion over function doesn't mean business

No-one will deny that Cupertino's products are fashionable and beautifully-designed. But that doesn't make them enterprise-grade.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Last friday, many of us on the East Coast woke up to an 8am email that Apple's iPhone 6 was ready for preorder on their web site. They gleefully chose the size and color of their choice, before dragging out their credit cards and doing the deed and waiting to have it delivered sometime in mid-October.

Some of us even stayed up until 3am the night before so they could click the "Buy" button right after midnight, Pacific time.

And then there are those who are actually camped out in front of Apple stores, so they can get their place in line to buy it in person and have it in their hands before anyone else.

That is the definition of brand devotion, folks. Love them or hate them, there is no denying the allure of the products.

Apple gets repeat business, again and again, much to the frustration of their competitors who make equally or even more compelling stuff from a pure technical or functional perspective, but cannot match the repeat combination of marketing skill or the design sexy that makes an Apple product what an Apple product is.

Apple's smartphones have always been in my mind a fashion statement first, with technology artifact being second. 

I was, by the way, one of those folks who bought an iPhone 6 Plus at 8am on Friday. And I didn't even have to get out of bed to do it, I just pulled out the iPad Air charging on my night stand and used their Store app. Mine is in Space Grey and with 128GB of storage. 

I need that extra storage because I won't be backing up my photos or data to iCloud. But I digress.

I'm glad, finally, that Apple made a bigger iPhone, especially for my ogre-sized hands. My business smartphone is even larger, the beautiful 6" Nokia Lumia 1520, which won't be displaced by this new iPhone anytime soon. 

The 1520 is enrolled on my corporate network using Mobile Device Management. The iPhone 6 Plus is going to be strictly personal.

While nobody would stop me at my company from using our corporate resources with it, or shun me for walking around campus with an Apple product, I have very good reasons for leaving it strictly for personal use, just like I have a Surface Pro and a Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch for business and my iPad Air for after-hours.

There are other reasons, however, why I keep my personal and business life segregated from a device standpoint. And it has to do with how the products are designed as well as how they function.

The iPhone 6 and iPad Air are gorgeous devices. But if you want to carry either around on a daily basis, and expose them to the rigors of business travel, then you need to then do what many Apple aficionados find unacceptable -- shove them in ugly protective cases.

I'll be showcasing a lot of these ugly protective cases in the coming weeks. Apparently I am the ugly protective case guy at ZDNet. It's fitting because I am both ugly, and highly protective of my assets. You get the picture.

Apple's smartphones have always been in my mind a fashion statement first, with technology artifact being second. This should be readily apparent to anyone who has studied Steve Jobs' ethos on product engineering as well as anything that has come out of Cupertino since he and Jony Ive started collaborating on hardware designs.

While Jobs is no longer with us -- something that even I, one of his most firm critics still find difficult to accept -- his influence on the company's design ethos remains ever-present.

There has always been a lot of exposed glass on iPhones, but the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus takes this to an entirely new level. There's practically zero bezel to shield an impact on the new devices, and they are lighter and thinner than anything else that came previous.

Apple is prime influencer in what I call the "Unfixable future" -- a tendency towards tech that becomes abandoned every few years for the latest and greatest thing because they are engineered to be unrepairable. 

It isn't just Apple that does this now. Every hardware and consumer electronics manufacturer now engages in this. 

But the "Lighter, thinner" ethos that drives Apple's designs isn't good for the enterprise. It may be good for stuffing Apple's coffers with cash every time one of these devices is irreparably damaged after being dropped on concrete without a heavy case, but this is incompatible with true enterprise needs. 

It's a good thing that the basic 16GB 5S is now discounted at $99. Because as a fleet phone with an expected short lifespan given how most people treat their devices, the pricy iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus fail miserably.

Besides the design of the physical hardware itself, I also have to point out that from the standpoint of many business users, iOS itself lacks native features that would enable it to better adapt to enterprise use, because Apple sees their products more like appliances than actual computing devices.  

While there are ways to shoehorn iOS into the enterprise, primarily with 3rd-party products, and there are some new "enterprise" features within iOS 8, including their own cloud-based MDM service, known as the Device Enrollment Program, or DEP, there are some issues you just can't get around.

You can't adjust font sizes system-wide, nor can you change the colors or theme of the actual UI, via MDM enrollment or direct end-user settings. You can't do anything like custom widgets or live tiles. And unlike enterprise implementations of Android, BlackBerry OS 10 and Windows Phone 8.1, there's also no strong work/life balance data and app isolation capability if invasive BYOD or fleet purchase is really the strategy Apple is seeking.

These are only just a few of the many issues that irk CxOs with Apple stuff.

If Apple really wants to make enterprise inroads beyond just having the equivalent of having a daily visitor pass rather than being a trusted full time employee, then the company needs to really think about making changes to their products or introducing new ones that better serve those requirements. And I am not sure that is something Apple really wants to do.

Will the iPhone, iPad and Macs ever truly become trusted corporate citizens? Talk Back and Let Me Know. 

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