Taking a look back at another week of news from Cupertino, this week’s Apple Loop includes major battery problems for the iPhone XS, thoughts on the iPhone XR, a hidden price rise for the iPhone 8, sneaky subscriptions in the App Store, MacBook Pro discounts, and custom watch faces for the Apple Watch.
Apple Loop is here to remind you of a few of the very many discussions that have happened around Apple over the last seven days (and you can read my weekly digest of Android news here on Forbes).
iPhone XS Max Has A Major Battery Problems
There’s been a lot of discussion around iPhone battery life this. Once you start using a controlled testing regime and can accurately replicate actions every time, on multiple handsets, comparing apples (sic) to oranges becomes a bit easer. PhoneBuff has done just that, and the iPhone XS Max is losing out to the Note 9 – once the XS Max hits zero battery charge, the Note 9 still has 37 percent. Forbes’ Gordon Kelly reports:
Firstly, while the iPhone XS Max has a smaller battery, it’s only 20% smaller (3,174 mAh vs 4,000 mAh). Secondly, the Note 9 has a higher resolution display and driving pixels is the most demanding thing a phone does. Thirdly, the Note 9’s Snapdragon 845 chipset is less efficient than the remarkable Apple 12 chip in the iPhone XS Max.
All of which points the finger at software. Apple claims iOS 12 is the fastest and most efficient generation of iOS to date. Apparently not.
iPhone XR Fights iPhone XS
As Apple opens up pre-orders for the iPhone XR, consumers who have held off buying the more expensive iPhone XS and XS Max can now compare the two iOS-powered choices. Once you strip out the similar features, there are only a few differences of note, the biggest being the screen:
Yes, both phones have huge screens over 6-inches. But while Apple goes to town on the iPhone XS Max with a high-resolution OLED panel, the company cuts costs on the iPhone XR with a relatively low res LCD that cannot natively display Full HD (1080p) content. Apple also removes its pressure sensitive 3D Touch technology from the XR.
…The iPhone XR has a 326 ppi, which is just as dense as the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus (which also use LCD) and no-one complained about their panels. The iPhone XR also matches the premium models other features: Dolby Vision / HDR10 compliance so it should still be good for watching Netflix, “120Hz touch sensing” for faster touch recognition and True Tone for keeping colours accurate.
iPhone 8 Gets A Sneaky Price Rise
One reason Apple continues to be financially successful is reducing the bill of materials on its handsets while keeping the price as high as possible. While Tim Cook and his team push the message of consumer friendliness, corporate moves in the background weaken the user flexibility while maximizing profits. I talked about the latest move earlier this week for those buying the older Phone 7 and iPhone 8 handsets:
You will not find the lightning port to 3.5mm cable adaptor bundled in the retail box. If you are looking for the adaptor to plug in your favourite headphones, you’re going to need to make an additional purchase.
No doubt Apple will be hoping that those looking to use headphones will be persuaded to move to wireless headphones, and I would expect every Apple Store employee to do their best to sell a customer a set of AirPods instead of the dongle, binding them ever closer to Apple’s ecosystem.
Sneaky App Subscriptions In Apple Store
Neither has it been a great week for Apple’s customer-facing operations. Forbes’ John Koetsier has been investigating the problem of subscription apps that automatically charge customers on a regular basis. The problem is that a number of them are ‘scummy’ in their approach leading to unexpected and very high charges on customers’ credit cards.
“Users open the app and quickly tap a “Start” button or “Continue” button on the first page,” [iPhone owner Julie Plumb] told me via email. “Unfortunately this loads the Apple payment prompt instead of starting the free app as most users would expect. Users then panic and press the home screen to exit the app – unfortunately on fingerprint devices this makes payment or signs up for the free trial.”
Needless to say, $4/week for a very, very, very simple barcode-scanning device is completely ridiculous. $156/year borders on criminal.
Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez also picked up the story this week, piling the pressure on Apple (which of course would be taking the usual slice of gross sales on each subscription):
However, the company’s focus as of late has been more so on getting developers to give subscriptions a try — even holding “secret” meetings where it evangelizes the business model that’s earning developers (and therefore Apple itself) a lot of money. In the meantime, a good handful of apps from bad actors have been allowed to flourish.
Koetsier has noted the changes this week by Apple, and it appears that the negative press has led to immediate and drastic action – any apps using the subscription service are drawing a lot more attention from store moderators:
“They’ve been pulling apps and rejecting apps that have a massive button that says ‘X days free” without the price inside that button,” another developer said. “People don’t read the fine print and that’s who they’re after. Before they were lenient but with the negative publicity they’re strict as hell now.”
Which is where the story now sits. Apple has apparently waited until the publicity was becoming to intense before acting. That the action has happened is good. That it was needed in the first place belies the notion of the App Store being a safe place with Apple putting the customer first.
Today, most of the apps mentioned in my original story are now no-longer available.
Koetsier is keeping a close eye on this. You can follow him here on Forbes.
Apple’s Hidden MacBook Pro Discount
While it is never specifically called out on its website navigation, Apple’s ‘refurbished store’ not only offers a solid discount to customers, it also helps turnover returned units and increases the overall margins that a family of hardware can deliver. It’s also a good indicator of devices that may be ready to leave the front line and be replaced by newer models. So the addition of the 2018 MacBook Pro machines with TouchBar into the refurb section is worth noting, and not just for the price cut. Joe Rossignol has the details:
A refurbished base model with a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 256GB of flash storage, 8GB of RAM, and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 is available for $1,529 in the United States, reflecting savings of $270 off Apple’s regular price of $1,799. Available finishes include Silver and Space Gray.
A refurbished maxed-out model with a 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 2TB of flash storage, 16GB of RAM, and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 is available for $3,139 in the United States, reflecting savings of $560 off Apple’s regular price of $3,699. This configuration is currently limited to Space Gray.
The Apple Watch has a growing problem. It’s not very good as a watch – specifically glancing at the watch face and realising that you can’t quickly tell the time in the same way as you can with pretty much every other watch in the wold. Apple thinks it knows best, but many argue in this case it is wrong. Marco Arment writes:
The Apple Watch is an amazing feat of technology. It’s a computer. It can display anything. With no mechanical or physical limitations to hold us back, any watch-face design from anyone could plausibly be built, enabling a range of creativity, style, and usefulness that no single company could ever design on its own.
But they won’t let us. In a time when personal expression and innovation in watch fashion should be booming, they’re instead being eroded, as everyone in the room is increasingly wearing the same watch with the same two faces.
Chance Miller is one of many calling out for third-party watch faces to become part of the Apple Watch ecosystem:
Personally, I think it’s absolutely time for third-party watch faces on Apple Watch. Opening up the process to additional developers and designers will undoubtedly yield some very useful and visually pleasing faces. I do, however, think Apple would need to employ a rather stringent approval process for third-party watch faces.
For instance, many classic watch face designs are trademarked by their original creator, and Apple would have to walk a fine line ensuring that third-party creations for Apple Watch does not infringe on any of those designs.
Apple Loop brings you seven days worth of highlights every weekend here on Forbes. Don’t forget to follow me so you don’t miss any coverage in the future. Last week’s Apple Loop can be read here, or this week’s edition of Loop’s sister column, Android Circuit, is also available on Forbes.