Friday, September 9, 2016

With The iPhone 7, Apple Turns On Its Customers

Somewhere, Apple fanboys (and -girls) defend the recently announced iPhone 7's lack of a 3.5mm audio jack; so far, I'm not seeing it. It's part of a long line of decisions eliminating older technology in favor of something better and newer, e.g. ditching floppy disks ahead of the rest of the industry, or less successfully, the transition from the 30-pin iPhone/iPod connector to the proprietary, reversible, and faster Lightning cable. But that cable transition has not gone nearly as smoothly as Apple would have hoped. Why is it that Apple's Lightning cables suck so badly? Apple used to sell excellent 30-pin cables, but their Lightning cables fray at the strain relief, and die young compared to quality third party cables. This is a big part of the reason people rail against the jackless 7:
It's all too easy to mock Apple's overgrown sense of entitlement here; the replacement for the free headphones that used to ship with prior iPhones is, um, a little spendier:
As ever, emboldening below is all mine:
Geoffrey Stormzand, who spent three years managing the in-office technology for none other than Steve Jobs in Cupertino, admits that he scolds his wife over how many cords she goes through. But he also concedes it shouldn’t be so challenging for normal people using the devices in normal ways to keep them working.

“I wonder if the reason Apple doesn’t see the problems with the cables is because they treat them with the respect they deserve and don’t consider the cables to something they need to test,” says Stormzand, now an Apple technology consultant in Las Vegas. “There’s a number of things you look at and say, ‘Steve would’ve raised hell about this.’ This might be one.
And, one gets the sense that the wins for the all-digital iPhone 7 are not nearly going to be as positive as Apple might like, but customer blowback could be significant. Company flacks already dismiss the obvious direction this points Apple toward as so much "conspiracy theory". The advantages come down to
  • One less ingress point for water, so easier to waterproof
  • Less space occupied by external connectors, so more internal real estate for battery and camera
"It’s debatable whether they are good enough arguments," Patel writes, "but there is no denying that Apple has its reasons." Other reasons, of course, are not hard to find, and they look a lot like they think their customers have turned into milk cows:
... Let’s leave aside the many arguments that simply asking consumers to deal with additional dongles and potentially buy new accessories because Apple wanted to make the phone smaller is fairly aggressive behavior. Let’s just focus on that DRM conspiracy instead.
  1. Apple already runs a DRM-encumbered music service. It is called, you know, Apple Music. The step from streaming DRM music to authenticated devices to only allowing those devices to output that music to approved audio peripherals is vanishingly small, and the sort of insane demand that record labels are organizationally designed to make. Apple may not want to DRM audio devices, but the record labels might certainly demand it, especially now that they can. Record labels love to exert control just because they can!
  2. Apple already runs the Made For iPhone program, which charges accessory makers a fee for the use of the Lightning connector, a connector which contains — surprise! — an authentication chip. It’s not particularly sophisticated, but it’s there, and that means anyone who wants to make Lightning audio devices for the new iPhone will have to have those devices approved and pay Apple at least some money per unit.
  3. If an accessory maker wants to make a contraband Lightning device, Apple might figure out how to disable that device in a future software update, which the company did with some unauthorized cables in iOS 7.
  4. When we plugged the Apple Lightning-to-headphone-jack adapter into an iPhone 6S at the Apple Event, it popped up a warning saying the device was unsupported and didn’t work, because the phone wasn’t running iOS 10 yet. It is not simply a passive adapter; it requires software support.
  5. The thing about any digital signal chain controlled by software is that it can be controlled by software, and that means all of the problems inherent to software are present. That means small things like bugs and incompatibilities, but it also means big things like the richest corporation in the world having the power to decide which devices its software can talk to.
  6. Apple’s vision of the future is wireless audio, and the current foundation of that vision is Bluetooth, which means any Bluetooth device can theoretically get audio out of an iPhone. That’s great — but the best wireless audio experience available in the Apple ecosystem come from either Apple’s AirPods or its new Beats headphones, which use Apple’s proprietary W1 chip atop the Bluetooth protocol. The step from "buy Apple W1 products because they’re easier to use with an iPhone" to "the iPhone only supports officially approved W1 products because that’s all anyone really buys" is, again, vanishingly small.
  7. Very few people will realistically switch to an Android device simply because of the headphone jack, so the amount of competitive power in the market that might meaningfully check Apple’s behavior is very low.

That is to say, Apple appears poised to follow Sony in making the kind of epic, DRM-fueled mistakes that put their content business ahead of their hardware, to the detriment of both. I hate to say it, but this may be the first iPhone I take a pass on.

Update 2016-09-10: This is hilarious:
Update 2016-09-10: Apple has a very sound financial interest in removing the jack: it owns the largest Bluetooth headphone company in the world, Beats.
...[T]he lack of a headphone jack on the iPhone — and increasingly, on Android phones as well — will lead to an uptick in sales of Bluetooth headphones. And it just so happens that Apple owns the number one Bluetooth headphone company, Beats.

Beats brings in more revenue from Bluetooth headphones than LG, Bose, or Jaybird, according to NPD figures released in July. In terms of unit sales, it controls over a quarter of the Bluetooth headphone market.

Bluetooth headphones are also disproportionately profitable among headphones. NPD has them accounting for 54 percent of all dollars spent in the market, despite representing only 17 percent of units sold in the US. These headphones sell at high prices with high margins, and Apple’s company is making the best of it so far.

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