Apples and Mushrooms, Om

Om Malik is one of many pundits of the technology industry. Gigaom.con is, of course, his news and analysis organization. Generally, he’s pretty good, meaning he’s more accurate in his analysis than most. Occasionally, though, even Om runs off the rails and over the nearest cliff.

The main problem I have with the above linked-to opinion piece is that it appears to try to extrapolate a probable fate for Dell and HP through an implicit comparison to the likes of Apple. True, the first two companies have been virtually non-entities in the mobile device market, where Apple has sold the most devices for the past several years. Yet, that is not the same as the general computer market, especially when sales to businesses are included, and Om knows this.

In the interest of full disclosure, I clearly do have a dog in this fight. Just as Om says he switched to Apple in the ‘90’s and never looked back, I have a similar view of Dell. Possibly, my view is based on more practical considerations, however. Dell Financial was the only creditor to stick with me when I was laid off a decade ago. Everyone else simply wrote me off as a bad risk, and I still don’t know to this day why Dell did not. Likewise, when I made it plain to Dell that the standardized outsourced technical support model wasn’t meeting my specialized needs, they ultimately appointed someone at Round Rock to be my primary contact and facilitate my various interactions with Dell. I can’t imagine Apple doing anything of the sort in light of their legendary we-tell-the-customer-what-he-needs approach to sales and service.

The success Apple has enjoyed thus far is based on the fact that they essentially sell being “cool” as their actual product. To be sure, their devices do contain some neat innovations, and that has been enough so far to assure adoption by the technology-using elite. After that point, Apple depends on the desire to have the things we see others with to drive most of its sales. Apple is effectively a boutique fashion house currently producing some hot items.

Where Om’s analysis goes over the cliff is at the implied assumption that similar marketing tactics work in the enterprise. My own 14 years in the energy industry strongly say otherwise. Yes, there is the BYOD (bring your own device) effect, but an enterprise measures the cost of any device as including the total cost of any effects that device has on the rest of the enterprise and its IT infrastructure. Very few CEOs of companies outside the core IT field even have enough influence to override inertial resistance to supporting devices as disruptively different to the IT infrastructure as the iPhone and iPad. So Dell, and probably HP, can delay the mass suicide meetings for a while.

On the mobile front, there’s also growing doubt about how much longer Apple can lead. It’s already true that the combined sales of mobile devices using the Android operating system far exceeds Apple’s iOS devices. It’s also true that Microsoft’s Surface premiers this fall. Once the hardware partners get over the fact that Microsoft is basically demonstrating their expectations of what Surface devices should be like, Apple may start feeling rather besieged.

The hardware design of the Surface is frankly intriguing to me, because it offers a wireless keyboard and touchpad as part of the default experience. In other words, the Surface may be a mobile device actually suitable for use by people with disabilities beyond visual impairment. I love my Nexus 7 for what it is, but I can’t imagine using it as a productivity tool. Typing on a touch-screen calls for far more manual dexterity than most people have, let alone someone with neurological deficits. I’m tempted to pick up a wireless keyboard and touchpad to see if they improve the experience.

Much is said about the fact that smartphones have supposedly reached the 50% mark in the US cellular market. I’m sure it will rise further, but I expect there will always be a sizable minority of us who have no interest in having a smartphone. My reasons are pretty easy to understand, but I have a bunch of able-bodied friends who feel the same way. As one puts it, he just wants a cell-phone that’s a good phone. If we have another task to be done on the go, we’ll find a device that will do the job better than a smartphone ever could.

So, while Om may think Dell and HP are on the road to nowhere, I don’t think any mortal can accurately predict where the road the whole tech industry is on goes. It twists and turns by the day.

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