Are Employees Getting Ready for an Apple-Led Revolt?

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I'm looking at a survey by enterprise mobility services vendor iPass that fomed the basis of a column by Sam Diaz over at ZDnet in which iPass surveyed around 1,000 mobile workers who make up about a third of its customer base. The survey results, coupled with this week's news on Palm, suggest that Apple will be the only mobile vender left standing in a few months. While that's unlikely, it does point to the problem and the power of perceptions.


The Power of Apple Marketing

Be aware that surveys like this aren't very reliable because the population in the sample isn't representative of any particular geography. However these results resonate with similar work I'm seeing from other analysts. Interest in Apple and Apple's products is increasing dramatically and interest in other platforms is dropping off. Interest in laptops seems to be dropping sharply, and there doesn't seem to be much defense from laptop vendors who, themselves, are jumping on smartphones.


While there are a lot of Android phones, only a small fraction of users are interested in them because they haven't been in the market long enough to have a sustaining impression, and only the Verizon Droid is well marketed. The iPhone has been high profile for three years and the Blackberry phones most employees have are out of date. Even those that aren't don't provide an app store or Web experience as good as folks think the iPhone will be. This is the power of sustained marketing to maintain perception of a highly popular product.


It is interesting to note that while the trends towards Apple are stunning, few people in this survey were actually using an iPhone. Folks wanted an experience they believed to be superior, but few had actually seen.


The iPad

Nearly a quarter of the employees wanted to use an iPad for work. Given that this product isn't even out, we know with some confidence that none has actually used one for work. This suggests that unless something is done, a lot of iPads will be coming in the door and employees will expect a good experience, even though the products likely won't be able to provide it.


What this Survey Means

It suggests folks are truly unhappy with their laptops because 64 percent appear to want to replace them with something else. Apple's powerful marketing is producing a "grass is greener" response, prompting them to ask for something else, though they don't fully understand the limitations of these new products. If we gave them iPhones and iPads, most would likely remain unhappy because their expectations are unreasonable and not based in actual experience.


Showcasing Opportunity and Risk

Clearly a large group of unhappy users creates an opportunity for vendors to provide a better enterprise/business solution than Apple. But to capitalize on this, vendors will need to market their advantages. A strategy of "build it and they will come" likely won't do well in the face of powerful Apple marketing -- and Apple plans to ramp up its efforts soon.


Employees' dissatisfaction likely results from the companies' attempts to extend the lifecycle of mobile products, leaving workers struggling with aging notebooks and smartphones. Recall that PCs gained popularity in the '80s as a response to employees' struggles with unresponsive IT departments and aging mid-range and mainframe computers.


This level of dissatisfaction generally comes before a line revolt. If IT shops ignore employee disatisfaction, line organizations may start deploying solutions on their own, reducing substantially both the budget and internal authority for IT, much like the similar trend several decades ago.


Wrapping Up

If you haven't surveyed your user base, it might be time to do so and, based on the response, prioritize improving the satisfaction scores. Being blindsided by organizations that have concluded that IT has little value -- and I've been through this -- isn't a lot of fun. This survey suggests some groups will start to get blindsided shortly.