How Apple's secrecy hurts business customers (and Apple)

Apple is a company of secrets, but keeping them hurts its sales to businesses. It's time for Apple to open up

Apple's notable successes, the iPad and iPhone, hide an important fact: Apple's secrecy comes at the expense of success with business customers. In essence, Apple accepts a position of limited influence in the business world in exchange for a marketing strategy that manipulates consumers brilliantly.

Apple's marketing plan, which involves delivering exciting products to easily excited customers, relies upon the element of surprise.

That's what the Jobsian "reality distortion field" is all about. Think about Apple's products rationally and they are impressive. Add the self-reinforcing hype, and even something fairly mundane, such as the iPad, becomes a runaway smash hit.

Apple's Iron Curtain

Key to its ability to manipulate consumers is Apple's culture of secrecy, which has been much in the news lately thanks to a misplaced next-generation iPhone. Maybe the involvement of law enforcement and, perhaps, the courts should tell us that this has gone just a little too far.

This lack of anything approaching transparency means business customers can never quite be sure what Apple will do next.

When will new hardware and operating systems be released? What will they include? Will the next version of OS X be a problem for hardware they already own? Or for applications built internally? How secure is Mac OS, really?

For all its faults, Microsoft is pretty upfront about the threats Windows users face and how it deals with them. Patches are plentiful and frequent. Customers know when to expect them and where to get information about why the patch was released and what it fixes.

Microsoft fixes are big news. Apple's, by comparison, seem almost hidden and barely discussed.

Granted, Apple doesn't face the threats Microsoft does, but its approach to patching OS X seems almost haphazard. Fixes show up, users accept them as part of an update, and little more is said (or can be easily discovered).

This is not how corporate IT wants to be treated, and it explains why Apple's great operating system and hardware aren't commonly found on business desktops.

It is time for Apple to start treating Mac OS, Mac hardware, and the consumer devices differently. The company should drop the Iron Curtain that separates the Mac from customers, giving them real product roadmaps and release cycles than can be depended upon.

In this regard, Microsoft is a vastly better company than Apple. Microsoft has product roadmaps and an open beta process that allows business customers long lead times and ample opportunity to test next-generation software before making a purchase.

Why Hurting Business Users Hurts Apple

In business sales, Apple is literally grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. Macs ought to be far more common in business than they are, and it's Apple's fault that they aren't.

Apple's consumer products can remain cloaked in mystery, so long as Apple doesn't mind BlackBerry remaining, or Android becoming, the corporate standard for smartphones.

Now, Apple is entitled to its corporate culture--and can keep it. Doubtless, the company knows and can probably place a dollar value upon the costs and benefits of extreme secrecy. As a Mac user, however, it continues to anger me that the main reason there aren't more Mac in offices is because of Apple itself.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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David Coursey

PC World (US online)
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