Commitment Issues: When a Vendor Seemingly Loses Interest

Apple has tended to prioritize iPhones over Macs in recent years—and that’s created problems for both Mac users and the companies serving that ecosystem. It’s a reminder that when you rely on a vendor, you’re buying more than the technology.

We ask a lot from our technology, and one of the most fundamental things is that we feel like it’s built to last.

And as much as that comes down to the hardware and the software that actually does the job, it also comes down to the priorities of the company you’re partnering with.

If you’re investing a lot of money in that technology or a platform, you want to feel like a priority—and you should have some serious questions if you don’t.

Some of these questions came up recently for developers after Microsoft acquired the popular programming tool GitHub, but they may actually be more acute elsewhere in the tech world.

A recent blog post by a longtime Macintosh software firm named Rogue Amoeba got me thinking about the issue. The company has invested a lot into Apple’s ecosystem over the years, but it has recently found itself in an tough spot because of a failure by Apple to consistently update much of its hardware line over a multiyear period.

The Mac Pro, long the most powerful system in the company’s line, hasn’t seen a true upgrade in five years, in part because, as Apple has admitted, the current design of the machine was a bit of a dead end. Meanwhile, the entry-level Mac Mini hasn’t seen an upgrade in nearly four—and that 2014 update was widely considered lackluster.

Even some of the most popular machines in the line, like the MacBook Pro and iMac, haven’t seen updates in more than a year, and some of those updates have been controversial.

Rogue Amoeba’s Quentin Carnicelli wrote that Apple’s failure to regularly upgrade its hardware line has led the company into an unenviable place:

It’s very difficult to recommend much from the current crop of Macs to customers, and that’s deeply worrisome to us, as a Mac-based software company. For our own internal needs, we’ve wound up purchasing used hardware for testing, rather than opting to compromise heavily on a new machine. That isn’t good for Apple, nor is it what we want.

So what’s happening? The common belief among Mac fans is that the market is less desirable for Apple than the much larger market for iOS, so it’s put less of its focus on the Mac platform, despite the sizable number of people who have invested in that platform over the years. Meanwhile, PCs with comparable hardware in many cases cost less and get upgraded at a regular clip—making the lack of prioritization seem obvious in comparison. (Part of the reason for the delay may involve a nagging rumor that Apple is moving toward using its own custom chips in future laptop models.)

Carnicelli, who isn’t the only person to have noticed this problem in recent years, notes that this is particularly a problem for his company and others like it, because it slowly devalues what they have invested in the platform.

“Their current failure to keep the Mac lineup fresh, even as they approach a trillion-dollar market cap, is both baffling and frightening to anyone who depends on the platform for their livelihood,” Carnicelli wrote.

Feeling Forgotten?

For a company like Rogue Amoeba, the problem doesn’t really come with any good solutions, other than to wait out a company whose value as a partner has faded or to invest in a new platform entirely—both potentially costly solutions.

Nor does it look good for an IT department built around such hardware—the warning signs for which have been creeping up for a couple of years. Sure, the phones are nice, but part of the value of the phones is tied to the integration with the computers, right?

With vendors, track records matter, even with massive companies with sizable market share, and an IT department ultimately has to look at the full picture when investing its money.

If you’ve had good luck with your association management system, for example, and the company seems to be in good shape, why change? On the other hand, if their offerings don’t seem to be focused on your pain points, that might be a good time to reassess.

But at the same time when working with third-party firms, you have to be aware of their business situation. This doesn’t necessarily mean knowing everything about their books, but it does mean having an awareness that your needs are still their priority. And this comes down to your ability to get them on the phone, to respond to an email, to feel like you get good support, and that their offerings make sense given your business need.

Users Still Have a Say, Though

Of course, the user still has a significant role in this conversation—in a world where BYOD has turned from a pain point into a truism (OK, maybe still a pain point), your employees should still have the flexibility to work as they like. In the case of computers, if your employees have a strong preference toward Macs, they deserve to have a say there. (Disclosure: I’ve been using Macs for 15 years, and I’d probably have a hard time going to Windows full time.)

But your IT staff should be able to speak to these issues, to help navigate the pluses and minuses here. Because, ultimately, when things feel like they’re going off course, IT has to right the ship.

Maybe in a couple of months, weeks even, we’ll find out that Apple’s been working on all these issues, that they’ve been listening to their long-term customers.

But the fact that they’ve let things get as bad as they have is concerning. And that may be enough to want to go in a different direction next time your department is looking for an upgrade.

Some Mac developers are not happy with how often the Mac is getting updated. (Apple press photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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