Apple spends millions of dollars every year lobbying to try to get their way… but it doesn’t always work out…
One battle lost
I bet, when you read the title to this blog, and saw ‘European Union’, your thoughts would have immediately gone to the long argued USB-C port on iPhone, and that would be totally understandable too.
For years now, it seems, us iPhone users have been clamouring, almost begging, for Apple to move away from their proprietary lightning cable, to the more industry standard USB-C port. Files on iPhone are getting bigger & bigger. ProRes photography produces massive files and there are even rumours of 8K video coming to the Pro phones later this year. The ability to move files to your Mac from your iPhone, has never been more of a real issue.
Only last month, that dream has become a reality, but not because Apple saw sense, rather their hand has been forced. In a press release, the European Parliament announced that by fall 2024, it will be law to make USB-C the common charging port on almost all, consumer electronic products.
The directive will be wide-ranging, and it’ll cover phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones, and portable speakers. With only a few, minor exceptions, for products too small to offer USB-C, you can imagine the direct impact this will have on Apple. MEPs are claiming it will reduce e-waste, and make for a more sustainable, electronic future.
But, it goes further even than that, with the EU also intending to mandate ‘interoperable wireless charging’ too. In lay-man’s terms, that means that wireless charging, and general charging, will also have to be standard across the industry & manufacturers.
Apple has fought long and hard over this issue, and invested good money in defending their position. As far back as 2018, the Californian company claimed, enforcing such change would “stifle innovation” and be “costly for consumers”. They countered the e-waste claim from the EU, saying forcing change would mean customers disposing of cables and chargers sooner than needed.
But, it seems these woes, could be coming closer to home, as US senators also push for a common charger law.
A letter has been sent to Gina Raimondo, the secretary of commerce for the United States, and signed by senators Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders.
The three explain that the lack of an interoperability standard in the United States results in e-waste and environmental damage, while also being a burden on consumers. The fence is closing in from all quarters it seems.
Ring-fenced by the EU
MEPs are no fools. Having seen Apple side-step directives before, by simply including adapter cables, this directive was clear that the port had to be built in to the body of the device.
Ironically, USB-C on the iPhone, is actually the thin end of the wedge. It is the far-ranging number of products and accessories that still feature lightning, that are more of a concern for them. On my desk now I have AirPod Pro, a Magic mouse, keyboard, and trackpad, all, of course, with lightning. A period of transition will have to be tabled for these devices.
As far as the interoperable wireless charging is concerned, it is not yet clear how, or if that will impact Apple’s MagSafe.
Although, technically not yet passed as law, it is rubber-stamped, and Apple know it is coming. Planning I assume is already under way for the USB-C future.
But, that is only one battle…
Calling the Netherlands…
And, as if that battle were not enough, late last year, the Authority for Consumers & Markets (ACM), made it clear to Apple that they were not happy with payment methods on dating apps in the App Store. In short, Apple were told that they must accept alternative payment methods.
Apple made some fairly superficial changes, which they hoped would be enough to appease the government, but the ACM didn’t quite see it that way. Instead, they levied a hefty €50m fine for the period between January and March of this year.
ACM claimed they thought that Apple had abused its dominant position within the sector. Until this week, the only way for customers to pay for dating apps in the Netherlands, was by the method Apple offered. Although further changes were made last Friday, by Apple, these were clearly made behind clenched teeth. A statement from Apple said they believed “these changes are not in the best interest of the user’s data and security”.
But finally, for the time being at least, the competition regulator in the Netherlands is satisfied with the latest raft of changes to the payment methods.
And to think – all Apple ever wanted to do was to build Mac’s right?
Held to scrutiny
I am in way here to defend Apple in all they do. A multi-trillion dollar company is clearly going to upset some folks along the way, and fly close to the sun on occasion. But, as I was reading these stories and updates over the weekend, I could not help but to think how far Apple has come in nearly 50 years.
When Steve’s Job & Wozniak formed the company on 1st April 1976 (I’ve always loved it was formed on Apple Fools Day), as visionary as they may have been, could they ever have predicted this future I wonder?
They have always wanted to be a cutting edge, tech company, making great products for creatives. And, to their credit, they have stayed remarkably true to that mission statement over nearly half a century.
It’s probably true to assume that their legal department these days won’t be far in number from the hardware team. As the tech side develop, hardware, software, and apps, with ever deeper integration in to all areas of our lives, the legal boys & girls must now be getting their sleeves rolled up early in the process, I’d have thought.
With having to try to please an international bevy of laws, directives and restrictions, thinking of every barrier, restriction and pitfall must be a nightmare. With success, comes ever greater responsibility, I guess.
Whilst it is right Apple are held accountable to the law, I do sometimes wonder if they are also seen as whipping boys as well.
Is there an end game?
But now, Apple are more – far more than merely a tech giant.
At WWDC this month, they moved a step closer to becoming a finance house, too. The Apple Pay Later feature, which will be rolled out later this year as part of iOS 16, was testimony to that.
Initially, only available in the US, it allows you to spread the payments out on purchases, over four, interest-free payments (assuming the payments are made within the allowed period). Although they are partnered with Goldman Sachs on launch, Apple intends to eventually take on the role of lender for Apple Pay Later.
There is talk also of Apple, effectively, leasing you an iPhone or iPad too. This will cut out the carriers with their offers, and your finance will be direct with Apple themselves.
So with finance, an ever more profound involvement in our health and sleep, Apple Car still a real prospect, product leasing and augmented reality just around the corner, will enough ever be enough for Apple one wonders?
It is true to say, the company has come a long way from selling Wozniak’s Apple I personal computer all those years ago.
But, I guess, the real question is, what do they have their eye on next?
What’s your best guess?
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