The Real Issue with Apple and the iPhone 5

Conspicuously absent from the discussion over the pros and cons of the new iPhone 5 is a more troubling issue with Apple’s decision to go with their new “Lightning” charger. There has been plenty of noise made over the fact that the switch renders many Apple customers’ old accessories useless, but the problem with the Mac manufacturer’s decision is more serious than just a few iFans having to shell out $30 dollars for an adapter. And even If you’ve never picked up a Smartphone, this matters, and it signifies a disturbing trend as civilization plows ahead into the 21st century.

It is absurd (and even insulting to some degree) that Apple continues to ignore the Micro-USB charger (the universal standard in mobile device charging) used by essentially every phone, tablet or likewise piece of small consumer technology on the planet. Praised for its energy efficiency, versatility and light environmental footprint, Micro-USB has been endorsed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as the likely long-time standard in the industry.

Why does standardization matter? Imagine if different Hollywood studios used different types of DVDs, which needed their own DVD players. Imagine if headphones made by different companies all had different connectors, which all needed different adapters. Imagine moving to a new house and needing to buy all new appliances for different electric outlets. Imagine if every brand of TV needed a different cable line, which of course would be different for each cable provider.

Some of the examples above are silly. But that’s the point. Not standardizing systems on a macro level is silly too. Think of the enormous waste if those products were not uniform at least to some degree. Here’s what the ITU said about their decision to globally back Micro-USB:

“Every mobile phone user will benefit from the new Universal Charging Solution (UCS), which enables the same charger to be used for all future handsets, regardless of make and model. In addition to dramatically cutting the number of chargers produced, shipped and subsequently discarded as new models become available, the new standard will mean users worldwide will be able to charge their mobiles anywhere from any available charger, while also reducing the energy consumed while charging. The new UCS standard was based on input from the GSMA, which predicts a 50 per cent reduction in standby energy consumption, elimination of 51,000 tonnes of redundant chargers, and a subsequent reduction of 13.6 million tonnes in greenhouse gas emissions each year.”

So why does Apple ignore this? Obviously, it’s because they can. Apple can make a few extra dollars off selling a new charger, or by keeping their chargers licensed only through their offices. This is not a surprise, and Apple has every right to do it.

But plenty of evidence suggests this isn’t the best way to do things long term even from the company’s point of view. There’s a reason why different (and competing) manufacturers came together to make the classic USB we all recognize (including Apple). If most accessories like mouses, keyboards, or gamepads use the same connector (USB), which works on every computer and device, people are more likely to buy into technology in general. When Phillips and Sony came together to develop CDs and CD-ROMs, they made the specifications widely available to everyone. They knew that no one was going to buy CDs and a CD player if you had to lock yourself into listening to only one company’s CDs, or if you needed a different player depending on whether it was a Motown or Atlantic Records album.

Currently, Apple can get away with it because there are consumers (a lot of consumers) who are OK with locking themselves into one company in this way. But that doesn’t erase the inefficiency that goes along with that process from a macro-societal point of view.

This isn’t to suggest Apple’s Lightning charger is causing America’s debt, or burning down the rainforest. But generally speaking, if you had two markets, each with a billion people, with one having a universal charger for their phones but the other having two different types, which one is inevitably going to use much more resources?

No one is saying Apple shouldn’t be able to do this (they can try to make their customers buy whatever they want), or that their Lightning charger isn’t a great product (it probably is), but in a 21st century of shrinking resources, exploding population numbers and rampant financial issues, aren’t civilized societies supposed to be moving towards more responsible decisions in this regard?

The obvious question is where are the iPhone-toting hipsters and Progressives—who howl about Wal-Mart’s wasteful ways—on this issue? Where is the iPad-owning Occupy Wall Street crowd that despises Corporate America’s unabashed capitalism? There have been a few complaints about the $30 dollar adapter, but the iPhone 5 has seen phenomenally successful sales.

Have these groups remained so silent on this blatant money grab and total disregard for the movement towards efficiency and responsibility because they worship Apple products? Maybe Big Oil just needs to make their products look cooler — then they’ll get a pass from college students’ protests. Maybe Wall Street can avoid Occupation by finding an easier way for high schoolers to send text and picture messages.

The most distressing part about Apple’s choice is what seems to be a giant middle finger to everyone. Throughout history humans have shown a propensity to make the same mistakes over and over, but every now and then we’re quick to leave one behind — like the days of drawers full of 75 different types of chargers for every different phone on the planet, circa 2004. The progress represented in the Micro-USB standard is better for the public, the economy, the Earth, the technology itself and even the companies themselves in the long run.

When visions of future technology arise, either in movies or our minds, gadgets and computers might be more powerful, but they aren’t more complicated. No, they’re actually less complex. Technology’s entire goal is to make things simple and easier. Try picturing Luke Skywalker not being able to use his Lightsaber because Obi-Wan didn’t have the right charger.

It’s disappointing for a company as cutting edge as Apple to be the one holding up progress in this regard. We should demand better from these companies. One can only hope that in time a corporation most famous for its innovation will eventually… innovate.

1. It has been discussed that iPads would not work well with the Micro-USB, as the Apple product was built for a higher voltage. But that’s an excuse. The iPad was designed well after the Micro-USB was developed as the standard in charging; it’s not like Apple didn’t know they were doing this.

2. I’ll cede the point that Luke Skywalker never had to charge his Lightsaber if you cede the point that Lightsabers don’t exist.

(image by gspidermac via flickr)

The Two Biggest Problems with Technology

A few days ago, I was fixing my mom’s printer, because it was having problems with lines in the middle of the printout. This was nothing new (even though the printer is not old) – it has been happening for about a year now. And yes, we had contacted HP, the company that made it, but the problem started a bit too late.

They said that the printer was I think – get this – one month out of warranty, and therefore, we must pay them some unreasonable amount (given the cost of buying it new) for them to fix it or just get a new one. They couldn’t or wouldn’t give us a tip on how to permanently fix the problem ourselves – the only fix that I could do without HP’s help was temporary.  I believe any reasonable support team would have still helped us when we were out of warranty by that little, whether it was for reasons of caring about our experience or just so we would buy more products from them.

But the HP support team? Nope.

To me, this shows two of the biggest problems with technology that even I, the technology lover, can’t get over. I would even say that these are the biggest problems in the industry today. What are they?

One is rather obvious: Technology isn’t perfect. When a hard drive fails in your computer or a printer randomly puts lines through your printouts, you can’t help but be constantly reminded of this. It always happens at the worst time and it’s frustrating.

My printer is an old Epson model. When I say old, I mean about seven years. Way older than my mom’s HP. And, yes, it occasionally has a problem. But the way I see it, for technology it’s terribly old – and it has the right to have a problem here and there.

The other problem is less obvious: Support for technology isn’t perfect either. When you have a “technology isn’t perfect” moment, you, of course, call the support hotline for the manufacturer or look at their support website. And a good amount of the time, the people at the other end of the line are incredibly helpful. And, while helpful, some are pleasant while others aren’t.

Regular readers know Apple is my favorite company so let’s look at how Apple handles support. When you call AppleCare (the support hotline), you (most of the time) get a friendly person who, in my experience, always tries to help you and (almost always) succeeds. Then you have a support experience like we did with HP.

Not only did the people on the phone not try to help us, but they weren’t particularly friendly, either. Let me ask you this: While you would certainly prefer not to have the reason to call a support hotline at all, would you rather be forced to call a support hotline like Apple’s or HP’s?

Yeah. Thought so.

Back to my Epson printer, the one time I had a serious problem with it, I called Epson. I had an Apple-like support experience and was very happy.

Now HP, why can’t you have that exactly?

Have you experienced these problems with technology? Have you ever had a horrible support experience? Let me know in the comments below.

iOS 6 Compatibility Rant

iOS 6. Mixed feelings from most people. But from me, praise. To me, the maps app  is just as good as the old maps, in that the new features offset or even outweigh the loss of labeling. Siri is so much better. New stores. So much more is calling my name, begging for me to install it on my first generation iPad.
But wait – I can’t! iOS 6 is not compatible with the first generation iPad! And that, I’ll say, is a stupid move. People who own first generation iPads were the people who were their early adopters, who not only loved their product enough to buy it so early, but who made it so popular!
These people are the success of the iPad! And by not allowing iOS 6 to the first generation iPad, Apple is saying, “You people who made our product so successful are not important. We don’t care about you.” Seriously, Apple?
Not only is it odd morally, but it’s also odd technically. You see, iOS 6 is compatible with the iPhone 3GS. Now get this: the first generation iPad is more powerful than the iPhone 3GS! So why is the 3GS compatible when the first generation is not?

I do respect that Apple tried really hard to get it to work as far back as the 3GS on the iPhone lineup, but 1) why not do the same on the iPad lineup, and 2) the iPad people are the originals there, while the 3GS people are the third generation people there.

So why? This is odd for any other computer company, but even more so for Apple. Usually, Apple has a good reason for what it does. But when their decisions are this big, well, it’s only fair to explain why.
If they do in fact have a good reason, and they released it, maybe I wouldn’t be so frustrated. But Apple, even your secrecy has to end somewhere, doesn’t it?
What are your thoughts on this issue? Are you stuck on the same sinking boat as I am? Or are you safely on the stable iPad 2 and third generation boat? Let me know in the comments below.

Taking My Medicine

TAKING MY MEDICINE is a humbling experience!!

Last night I had the opportunity to be in the midst of all the wonderful BLOGGERS on last evening at R&R Grill at a reception hosted by Chapelboro and the wonderful staff there.  I met their newest staff member, Brian Russell, as well as put a face with the BLOGGERS on the site and connect the dots.

During the reception I had to make a confession and TAKE MY MEDICINE as I have been negligent in blogging each week. The medicine went down pretty good but it made me realize that the topics we as BLOGGERS are putting on is relevant and important to someone in our community. It’s our duty as BLOGGERS to keep the blog going on a weekly basis, minimum, and so I proceeded to TAKE MY MEDICINE….

A huge thank you to Barry and his team for giving us all a platform!!