Hey, Microsoft & Apple: Grow Up!
Microsoft Outlook is by far the world's most common email client and Apple's iPhone is the world's most popular cell phone (unless you artificially bundle all the various Android phones into a single category.) You'd think that both companies would see supporting the combination of Outlook and the iPhone as a top priority.
But you'd think wrong. Instead, Microsoft and Apple are trying to use lousy support and bad design as a goad to convince people to switch to their own platforms. I recently learned this big time when I tried to fix a problem that involved the interaction between Microsoft's and Apple's products.
Here's some context.
When Apple added iCloud to their product mix last October, my iPhone 4 stopped syncing its calendar with my Outlook calendar. Unlike before, when I entered an appointment in Outlook, it would not show up in my iPhone, and vice versa.
As a result, I ended up missing several important appointments. I had come to depend upon Outlook and the iPhone working together.
Since I'm fairly savvy technically, I tried to fix the problem myself by searching for a solution online. I quickly discovered that I was not alone. A Google search for "outlook iPhone problems" returned 19.9 million hits.
Apparently, there have been interoperability problems for years, and getting the two to work together is pretty hit-or-miss.
Despite trying half-a-dozen recommended fixes (including an upgrade to Outlook), I was unable to fix the problem myself, so I decided to resort to telephone support. And that's when I figured out what was really going on.
I called Microsoft first, since my copy of Outlook was under warranty. The first thing that the support tech told me was: "We don't support the iPhone; we only support Windows Phone."
All he would do, in terms of supporting interoperability, was to confirm whether or not my version of Outlook was installed correctly.
Then I called Apple. The first thing the Apple support tech asked was: "Do you have a Macintosh?" and suggested that if I "really wanted to fix the problem," I should "go out and buy a Mac."
Since that wasn't going to happen, I persisted. And I did get the problem fixed ... sort of. It turns out that, in order to sync with Outlook, iCloud deletes every appointment your entire Outlook calendar.
This insane behavior on the part of iCloud, according to the Apple tech, was an "intentional design decision" that has "caused a lot of complaints."
Gee, ya think?
It's quite clear to me that both Microsoft and Apple are actively trying to making it more difficult for consumers to get their respective products to work together. Obviously, both companies are hoping that consumers will get fed up to the point where they'll stop trying and switch platforms--either off the iPhone and onto Windows Phone, or off the PC and onto a Macintosh.
This is, frankly, idiotic.
First, Windows Phone, which has about a 5 percent market share (and shrinking), is never going to be a significant cell phone platform. Microsoft has tried for decades to do a mobile platform (remember Windows CE?) and has failed miserably every time.
Second, the Macintosh will remain a niche platform for a long time, because the installed base of Windows PC is so huge. No matter how popular the iPhone becomes, it's not going to get people--or corporations--to throw out their Windows PCs.
But what makes this "irritate the customer" strategy so phenomenally stupid is that this technological sniping between these two companies has been going on for a quarter of a century.
Watching Apple and Microsoft play these dirty little tricks on each other is like watching two grown men squabble over whose imaginary friend is stronger. I think I speak for millions of consumers when I say: Enough already.
Please start thinking about what your customers need and want, rather than trying to force them to fall in line behind your dumb-**s "take over the world" strategy.
If you want people to convert to Windows Phone, make it a better phone than the iPhone. (Good luck!) If want people to convert to Macintosh, make it massively cheaper than a PC and make it support more programs and devices. (Good luck!)
Yeah, I realize those honest-to-reality strategies would be a lot harder to execute than simply forcing your support techs to do your dirty work, but that's what it's actually going to take to get people to throw away their iPhones and/or their PCs.
Consumers are not going to switch because you refuse to make your products work in the actual environments where consumers actually use them. Instead, they're only going to get angry and frustrated and get to where I've gotten--which is pretty much "a plague on both your houses!"
So please, Microsoft and Apple: Stop this insane and counter-productive squabbling. Create products that work together, then cross-train your support personnel.
In short: Grow up.
GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist
Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is "Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts that You Need to Know."