Not a Moral Obligation, a Social Obligation
August 23, 2007
Mitch Wagner has a provocative, comprehensive, and entertaining look at the recent conversations about Apple and the enterprise over at InformationWeek entitled "Does Apple Have A Moral Obligation To Serve The Enterprise Market?" Though some part of the conversation is pegged to my recent posts about the topic, I should clarify that, despite my strident tone, I don't think Apple has a moral obligation to create products that meet the requirements of enterprises. I think they have a social obligation to bring their tradition of great user experience to more of the business world if they want to really want to have the biggest possible cultural impact.
Part of my premise here is that Apple, with its focus on aesthetics and user experience, clearly cares about its intangible impacts on culture. I am fortunate enough to get to talk about these sorts of things as part of my day job, and the the people i work with who do all the smart thinking about it spend time designing for both the best experience and the widest adoption. i tried to capture that a bit in my comment on Mitch's post:
There are two parties responsible for much of the failures in enterprise IT. Certainly, there are IT departments that choose their own convenience or the imperative of manageability and homogeneity over the end-user experience of their coworkers they were supposed to be serving. I have worked in IT and understand all too well the temptation to make those awful tradeoffs.
My posts were directed much more at the other responsible parties: Vendors who aren't ambitious or imaginative enough to consider that something can be both enterprise-grade and usable.
I also enjoyed some additional thoughts over at The Mac Observer:
The primary focus was Mr. Dash's argument that his company, Movable Type [sic], achieves the desired goal, and he wrote: "You can meet all the (reasonable) requirements of an Enterprise while still creating a product that delights and inspires the people who make up that organization."
Thus, if corporations force users to use crappy tools and subjugate them, corporate users should revolt and demand more from the IT managers who are supposed to serve them, according to some. In order to assist in that process, the implication is that Apple has a moral obligation to do the same: make great enterprise products that employees love and still checks all the corporate IT boxes.
I'm not sure John Martellaro is completely accurate in his encapsulation of my viewpoint, but I found it remarkable that he managed to make this, too, a Microsoft-versus-Apple story. Hint: It's not. It's about user experience, and I'd point again to the example of Research in Motion and the Blackberry. It's a phone that, from a feature perspective, does even more than the iPhone, albeit less elegantly for any task that doesn't involve entering text. However, RIM has made a product that users are passionate about, even addicted to, while still meeting all the needs of the enterprise and insinuating themselves deep into corporate (and political) culture. Succinctly, they've changed the way people do their jobs, and in doing so, changed the way people live their lives. The iPhone is forced to be "my other phone" for a lot of people whose phones are business tools, and no matter how pretty she is, a sexy mistress is nowhere near as meaningful as a committed marriage.
All of that aside, Martellaro nails one point in his essay: "ultimately the resolution requires a cultural change". That's the part where everyone who wants to make technology for both work and play can have a hand in making things better.