There were surprises at Apple’s introduction of the iPad Air 2, but for the most part, they weren’t about the tablet itself, nor were there many surprises in regards to OSX Yosemite, the new iMac or even the iPad Mini 3.
While there were new details that we learned for the first time, most of the major announcements were known. The biggest surprise was the appointment of comedian Stephen Colbert as Apple’s “chief secrecy officer.”
Of course, it was a joke, as was Colbert’s request that he be named “supreme allied commander of super secrecy.” At least, I think that part was a joke. But what was most remarkable was that Apple could poke fun at its own history of super secrecy in previous announcements.
Apple’s announcement in September was likewise mostly about things that were known. While Apple Pay wasn’t common knowledge, most of the details of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were well known before the announcement.
Likewise, when Microsoft announced that Windows 10 would be available at the beginning of October, about the only surprise was the fact that it would be called Windows 10 instead of Windows 9. The features of that operating system were also not really a surprise. And just to make sure that there were no surprises left, Microsoft is giving away complete preview copies of Windows 10 months before the product actually starts shipping.
It’s also notable that Apple was no longer taking shots at Microsoft or IBM. Instead, Apple executives mentioned situations in which Windows users could work with Apple products and they frequently mentioned IBM as Apple’s enterprise partner.
Likewise, in its presentations, Microsoft eschewed any negative portrayal of Apple or IBM. If there was a bad guy in the room, it was Google and Android, but only to the extent that Apple executives claimed higher rates of adoption for the current version of iOS than the current version of Android.
For those of us who have been around long enough to watch the hype-filled announcements by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, this is a major change in direction. Even a couple of years ago Apple was positively paranoid about real or imagined leaks.
The company swore out criminal warrants against a technology magazine because it suspected that its editors had gotten their hands on a pre-release version of the iPhone. In those days, Steve Jobs was all about controlling the message at any cost.
But, of course, so was Bill Gates. While Microsoft’s announcements were less over-the-top than Apple’s, they were still pretty outlandish.
Apple, Microsoft Cut Hype, Boost Candor in Recent Product Rollout
The biggest difference between Apple and Microsoft from the viewpoint of us tech journalists was guessing when Gates’ first product demonstration crash would happen. In those days, the “blue screen of death” frequently joined Gates on stage.
So, what gives?
In the world of enterprise IT, the value of surprise is vastly overrated. As an IT manager, you need as much information about what’s coming for your major platforms as you can get. You need to know what changes there will be in regards to how your mission-critical applications will run, you need to know how security will change, and you need to know how your admin workload will change.
The sooner you know those things, the better you can plan for adoption—or, in some cases, as with Windows 8, the better you can plan how you’re going to work around the problem.
What Apple and Microsoft have learned and other vendors, such as Google, have yet to learn, is that long-term success lies in the enterprise. It is, after all, enterprise buyers who may place orders in the hundreds of thousands and who are willing to pay for software updates that consumers want for free.
But those same enterprise customers buy computers, infrastructure and software on a multi-year cycle. They aren’t going to upgrade a tablet or a laptop every year, and they’re not going to buy their employees new phones every year. But they are going to expect the technology they do buy to work for the duration of its economic lifecycle—thus, the discomfort with surprises.
Apple’s Tim Cook has the foresight to see that enterprise users are an important part of Apple’s future, but to make that work, those customers needed to be courted in ways that make them comfortable. This is why you’re seeing the silly market rivalries vanish, a hiatus on the name-calling end and an apparent new atmosphere of respect and cooperation emerge-at least for a little while.
Consumers, of course, enjoyed the faux drama and the histrionics, and a substantial part of IT industry news media loved them, too. That is why the scribes have labeled this most recent round of announcements “boring.” But in reality, the announcements aren’t boring; they displayed less of the usual manipulated drama.
Instead, you’re seeing real, substantial progress announced in a way that works for the users who have to depend on this stuff for their livelihoods. That’s why, for enterprise managers, drama is overrated. In fact, drama isn’t desired at all. What’s needed is predictability and consistency. Their bottom lines depend on it, and now, so do Apple’s and Microsoft’s.