An interesting trend that we have been watching over the last years is the unstoppable force of consumer devices that make their way through corporations, as users demand the same sleeker and cooler devices that they experience in their personal lives.
Probably the best example is the iPhone. While IT departments were choosing corporate smartphones on the basis of price, performance, security and other business considerations, most users have started buying iPhones for personal use. Suddenly, what seemed to be a great device that many people were waiting for – be it a Blackberry or a Windows-based corporate smartphone – looked like a brick, a boring, professional device, incapable of giving any emotion for the very fact of being owned or carried around.
The iPad seems to be following a similar route, and even more distinctive as – whereas smartphones already existed before the iPhone entered the market – there was really nothing like the iPad, which can be seen as something in between a netbook and a smartphone.
Of course, as Apple has opened the market, other players follow suit and more people definitely want to be able to use their device of choice as a professional tool too.
This looks like a victory of people over the organization, of business over IT. Consumerization rules and IT departments need to adapt, users bypass the IT department and connect straight to the vendor.
But let me take you through an interesting, very real scenario.
Let’s take a hypothetical user who owns an iPhone 3G and uses it also as a corporate tool for email. When the new operating system IOS 4 is available, he connects to iTunes and gets the new OS automatically installed, as usual. Could this be any different than previous releases? Could this be any harder than synchronizing the iTunes library? And – by the way – this is even multitasking, so will make my phone even smarter.
Well, I do not know how many of you own an iPhone 3G and made the upgrade. I did so for two members of my family, and performances dropped below acceptable levels. Unpredictable response time to touch, erratic connection behavior, applications that stop without a reason, screens that do not scroll: the list goes on and on.
While all the press was focusing on the antenna problem on the iPhone 4, thousands of iPhone 3G users have been struggling to even use their phones, which they were in love with. There are plenty of forums (including Apple’s) discussing these issues, and suggestions to upgrade to subsequent versions, none of them having had any discernible impact so far.
In my case, close to desperation (a teenage girl can be as stubborn as persuasive), I went through the pain of downgrading to 3.1.3, something that requires loads of effort and several leaps of fate, especially if you are a Windows user.
I can’t help thinking what would happen if that device was used professionally. Well, actually I can, as my wife, who is a teacher, needs to use email and other apps as she is on the move for her work, and can’t rely on her iPhone any longer.
It seems to me that the more users get rid of their IT support colleagues with their boring Blackberries or Nokias, the more they can be held hostage by vendors like Apple (and others), whose technical and commercial decisions may affect them or (more likely) force them to upgrade to a new phone (I’ve read many posts of people who gave up and bought iPhones 4).
It appears that release 4.1 may fix some of the issues, but as I have read on a forum, some of those who downgraded won’t necessarily trust those fixes (and I may be one of them: I’ll try this on my wife’s phone, but no way I’ll let my daughter upgrade any time soon).
Personally I find that there should be some form of consumer protection preventing any manufacturer from making its products less rather then more usable over time. It is good that Apple seems to be addressing this, but consumers should not be struggling so much before getting a (possible) fix.
In any case, this is something that people should reflect about when they salivate for the new toy: in less than a year they may be wondering when or whether that email will open, and not have anybody, in IT or in their family, being either able or willing to help. This is certainly an issue for professional use, but is fast becoming an issue also for our personal, increasingly connected lives.