Matt Birchler, on the improvements he wants to see regarding payments in apps:
Simply, I want Apple to allow third party payments in apps. This does not have to turn the App Store into some sort of hellscape where card details are stolen on the regular and no one wants to buy anything anymore because it’s so bad.
E-commerce has grown a ton over the last decade, and it’s grown almost as much in the past 6 months all over again. People buy things online all the time, and modern tools allow merchants to collect that data securely. I’d love to see that come to the App Store, but in ways that only Apple can do.
I like everything he proposes here, especially a “PaymentKit” API, which would allow some form of conformity to a standard, while offering a greater level of freedom to app developers. Mainly because other payment platforms would be able to offer their own options as SDKs to app developers, giving them and the end customers more choice.
Just adding this framework wouldn’t mean an immediate fix to the issue regarding payments inside apps. However, it would lay the groundwork needed for a more competitive marketplace. And with more competition, there will be an incentive to offer a better solution for developers and customers.
John Gruber, on his theory about Google being bored with Android:
Remember my theory that Google has grown bored with Android and doesn’t really care about it? That’s me talking about phones, which, in general, Google does care about insofar as they know that billions of people spend hours per day every day using them. With wearables Google never even cared in the first place, except for making goofy demo concepts like Google Glass. The customers who bought Wear OS devices care about them; the company that designed them clearly does not. If they cared, how could it be that you can’t listen to Google’s music platform on Google’s wearable platform?
He goes on to mention that it’s actually bad for the Apple ecosystem, since there’s no real competition. And even as someone who has stopped wearing an Apple Watch, I still agree that there is no real other worthy alternative.
I don’t think it’s just smartwatch market where Apple seems to be miles ahead of the competition as well. You just need to have a think about what the real options are for a tablet computer. Nothing else even comes close to iPad.
Furthermore, I think the problem is even bigger than just the smartwatch and tablet market. Because when you think about smartphones, there’s only two major players. Which means there’s no real need for innovation anymore, all you need to do is match and/or slightly out do the other player. I really want a third player to join the smartphone game, and have a real go at it. But then again, I can see why they wouldn’t. Apple and Google have both got massive head starts, and ecosystems already exist for both platforms. Sure, Android is bigger than just Google, and there are loads of companies creating their own Android phone. But that still doesn’t provide any real competition.
If you’re interested in Apple, or you simply follow tech news, then you’ll probably be aware of the rumour that Apple may not include a power adapter and EarPods in the box with the 2020 iPhone models. If you’re somehow in the weird intersection of not following iPhone news, but do read this my blog, then I’d recommend Sam Byford’s piece on The Verge as a brief introduction.
I’ll prefix everything in this post with the fact that this is just a rumour. So while it’s getting a lot of attention, it’s not official. Therefore every reaction to this is purely based on a hypothetical situation.
My opinions on this rumour are predominantly based around the potential lack of power adapter in the box. Not specifically because I don’t care about EarPods. I mean, I don’t care about EarPods. But that’s not the reason I see them as two separate scenarios to be discussed. The obvious distinction is that you need to be able to charge the iPhone to be able to use it, and EarPods are an optional accessory.
I haven’t used EarPods since I got a copy of the very first AirPods. In fact, the pair of EarPods that I got in my most recent iPhone two years ago, the EarPods went straight to my girlfriend. Who incidentally is starting to think about making the switch to AirPods as well. So while my sentiment is more than likely clouded my by own bias, I don’t think not including EarPods with every iPhone is a big deal. Simply because they are not required for typical use, and I bet a lot of people don’t use them at all. And that could also be for a few reasons, maybe they don’t need EarPods because they have a third-party option already, or maybe they already have a pair from their last iPhone, or maybe they just don’t use earphones at all. Nevertheless, I would assume that the people that really want to get a new pair of EarPods when they get a new phone, would most likely be willing to purchase them separately. Or that the amount that would mind, wouldn’t be a large enough of a percentage to matter.
The power adapter, however, is a completely different story. Because without one, you wouldn’t be able to use your phone after the battery ran out. Sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it? Imagine paying a huge amount for a phone, only to find out that you need to buy a power adapter separately. That’s going to get you some bad press. And surely a lot of confused and angry customers. It certainly sounds like a case of Apple being greedy.
However, that reaction would most likely only be the case if Apple didn’t include a power adapter in the box, but offered no reason why, and let customers pay extra for it. And like most situations, there would probably be a lot more nuance that can’t be captured by a headline.
Because let’s face it, most people that buy the iPhone probably don’t need another power adapter. And in a lot of cases, it will be left in the box, which obviously means unnecessary waste. In Dieter Bohn’s piece on The Verge about the situation, he quotes an interview in 2018 between Nilay Patel and Steven Yang, the CEO of Anker, where Yang estimated the level of waste from smartphones that include a charger in the box:
[Say] every smartphone has a charger with it. We had 1.5 billion smartphones that shipped last year. … That’s only for phones. When we have tablets, laptops, power drills, [and more], we estimate a total of four billion chargers (were shipped last year). We estimate about 300,000 tons of e-waste just from these in-box chargers.
So there’s the environmental angle that Apple could push, which to be honest is something that Apple likes to do. But I still think that if they simply said “Most people don’t use the power adapter that we include in the box, so to reduce waste we’re not giving you one”, then they will still get a ton of bad reviews. And for a CEO that loves his “customer sat”, I’m not sure if he would do that. Or at least, I don’t think he would do something as simple as explaining it was better for the environment and leave it like that.
I think the general angle will be on reducing waste, but in my opinion, there are a few different potential benefits:
- Obviously, the lack of EarPods and power adapters means less waste for people that wouldn’t use them.
- If the box contains just the iPhone (and all the paperwork), then the box can be really small. That’s a good win for waste reduction, but it also benefits the logistics side of things as more boxes will be able to fit in a smaller area.
- This may or may not be passed down to the customer, but the costs would be reduced. Meaning higher margins, or lower prices.
- This is just a thought, but maybe by not including a pair of EarPods in the box, if they do decide they want a pair of earphones/headphones, they may decide to buy something more upmarket. Maybe a pair of AirPods, or even a pair of Beats. The same could also apply to power adapters.
There’s also one more thing that probably isn’t a real benefit to anyone, but I think it makes things simpler. Well, maybe more so for the EarPods. Because if you buy an iPad or Mac, you don’t get a pair of EarPods. I’m not sure if that thought process works regarding the power adapter but is certainly takes the product to it’s most essential form (Apart from going as far as removing the need for a power adapter, but I’ll get to that later).
Alongside the potential benefits, there are also potential drawbacks:
- First-time buyers will need to purchase a separate power adapter.
- Even current iPhone owners that are buying a new iPhone may need a new power adapter or EarPods, so they are in the same situation as first-time buyers.
- Damage to Apple’s reputation. They’re already thought to be a greedy company by some, and the products are expensive. So this will only make that worse.
- If people have to purchase a separate power adapter and earphones, then that purchase might not be made through Apple. Meaning they lose out on potential revenue.
I’m sure there are more pros and cons to the potential situation, but that’s what’s in my mind. And to be honest, my first reaction to it was a negative one. It seemed like such a fundamentally stupid idea that you could buy a smartphone, and have it not come with a power adapter in the box. Because at the face of it, it’s absolutely a dumb thing to do.
Having said that, I then read other articles about it, including M.G. Siegler’s, and also watched MKBHD’s video, and my mind started to change. I decided to step back and truly take a look at how Apple could deal with the situation, and I’m starting to think that’s there’s a potential to do it well. So I’ve come up with a few things that I think Apple could do to make the best out of it, some of them better than others. They won’t be able to do them all, but maybe just one of them, or even a mix would be beneficial.
Reduce the cost. Simply subtract the retail price of the EarPods and a suitable power adapter away from the cost of an iPhone, and have them available as optional extras on the product page. This one would be difficult to see on its own though, seeing as by subtracting the retail price would be reducing the margins of the iPhone. So it would have to be part of a bigger story about reducing the cost of an iPhone or adjusted slightly to make it possible.
Offer a discount for a power adapter or earphones/headphones. Probably the most obvious idea. But, essentially if Apple wants to sell the iPhone as a device-only package, by offering a discount on EarPods or the power adapter that would have typically come in the box, then at least customers have a less annoying solution if they really wanted one of those. Then the message becomes a bit more friendly, and not as if the decision is purely about trying to make customers pay full price for every accessory.
Don’t change the default configuration but let customers “opt-in” to not having EarPods or a power adapter included. This way no-one is negatively affected. In fact, it only benefits people that don’t want these “extras” and would be happy for them not to be included in the box. Although this would make logistics more complicated, as there would need to be flexibility for the product to come with different things in the box.
Have different configurations of each iPhone. In a similar vein to the previous idea, Apple could have multiple “default” configurations of each iPhone. If they did it this way, you probably wouldn’t be able to have all four options (with/without either EarPods or a power adapter), so it might just be that you get the iPhone as we expect, and a “device only” option.
Differentiate based on the model. One way to try and please more people is to decide on a model-by-model basis. It just allows for slightly finer control and has a chance to give more people a better default. My first thought was that maybe the base iPhone would just be the device, but maybe the “Pro” model would include EarPods and a power adapter. However, I can imagine it wouldn’t be as simple as that. Seeing as you might find that customers that opt for the more expensive model, might also have their alternatives, so you’d be benefitting the wrong side. I’m sure Apple would have more data on this, so if for example they knew that the majority of customers for a certain model threw their power adapters away, then they could make the decision specifically for that model. It has the potential to be messy. But one example that I think may work, is singling out the cheaper model, which right now is the iPhone SE, and having the “main” set of iPhones device only.
Go full-on configurable. One way to ensure each customer gets what they want is to let them configure every part of it. So instead of having one default configuration for the iPhone, or even just having the option to include a power adapter or not. What if, when you went to buy an iPhone, you could choose from the usual model, colour, and storage size, expand that to audio, charging, and maybe even a few other types of accessories. For example, Apple wouldn’t be removing EarPods, they would simply be letting you choose from having nothing, EarPods, AirPods, Beats, and maybe select third-party options. The same applies to charging as well, maybe you don’t need another power adapter, but at the same time, you might want to buy a 5w charger, a fast charger, or even a Qi charger. So instead of the story being Apple removing things from the iPhone box, it becomes a story about Apple giving customers more freedom and flexibility to choose what’s right for them.
After thinking about all of these ideas, and potential ways Apple could handle the situation, I’m not 100% certain what I would do. As it stands now, I think the best solution is to lean into the idea around letting users personalise their iPhone package, and making everything configurable. But that would need to be coupled with discounted options for things like EarPods and power adapters.
However, I am aware that if I was in charge of this decision at Apple, then I’m sure I would have totally different motives behind the decision. For example, if it was to increase the margin on the iPhone, to reduce electronic waste, or even because they want to encourage more people to make the switch to Qi or AirPods. But as I don’t know Apple’s motives, I can only offer an outside perspective on the situation.
It all changes though if the iPhone didn’t need a power adapter, or at least what we expect as a power adapter, a cable and a plug. What if the iPhone only charged via a Qi-compatible For example, what if the iPhone had no ports? And you had to have a Qi-compatible charger. Then it would be a whole new set of circumstances to deal with. And maybe all of this is simply preparing people for that future. But that debate will have to wait another day.
I was chatting with Andy Nicolaides recently about task managers (as you do), and he was telling me how he tried using Things again after my recent article about how I use the app, and he said it didn’t work for him and he’d gone back to using Reminders. He also mentioned how he sometimes feels like his preference for using stock apps for as much as possible might be keeping him from enjoying some great third party apps. As someone who tends to prefer third party apps, Andy and I are approaching things from completely different angles.
That said, there are some definite advantages to using stock apps and I wanted to give those reasons a quick shout out here.
There are certainly quite a few benefits of using third-party apps on your device, but as Matt points out, there’s a whole load of value in using what comes installed by default.
I’ve actually slowly using more stock apps/services recently, such as Reminders, Notes, and Mail. In the past, I’ve used third-party options for all three of these, but I seem to always come back to Apple’s built-in apps.
Reminders is one I’ve switched back to the most recent, with me coming from using Things for quite some time. I just found that I wasn’t doing anything special in Things, and although I appreciate the design, I don’t particularly hate the design of the Reminders app either. And I actually like a few things about it more than Things:
- The price – Things has always seemed a tad expensive for me. So much so, I never actually got around to purchasing the macOS version. Which I think is a big reason why I was never fully invested.
- Syncing – I’m not sure why, but Things didn’t feel like it had reliable syncing for me. But on the other hand, Reminders seems instant.
- Apple can support new technologies faster, simply because they control the app. Which is a benefit for me as I use the beta versions on my personal device regularly, and I’ve noticed that third-party apps don’t always work that well on the major version betas.
- As it’s tied into the system, I get the added benefit of the data being available in other apps like GoodTask and Agenda.
If you like Matt’s piece on the value of stock apps, then you’ll probably also like it’s companion article “The Case for Using Third Party Apps“.
So, Apple have now posted their response to Spotifys long list of complaints against them.
It’s pretty huge, and they go against nearly every point they made. I’m hugely biased as I’m an Apple fan, but to me, everything they said makes a lot of sense.
Here are some of the sections that I found the most interesting:
What Spotify is demanding is something very different. After using the App Store for years to dramatically grow their business, Spotify seeks to keep all the benefits of the App Store ecosystem — including the substantial revenue that they draw from the App Store’s customers — without making any contributions to that marketplace. At the same time, they distribute the music you love while making ever-smaller contributions to the artists, musicians and songwriters who create it — even going so far as to take these creators to court.
That’s a dig at Spotify already, and they also go a bit further than their complaints, by mentioning their relationship with artists.
One thing that surprised me, was their response to Spotifys claims about Apple restricting them from platforms such as the HomePod or Apple Watch:
- When we reached out to Spotify about Siri and AirPlay 2 support on several occasions, they’ve told us they’re working on it, and we stand ready to help them where we can.
- Spotify is deeply integrated into platforms like CarPlay, and they have access to the same app development tools and resources that any other developer has.
- We found Spotify’s claims about Apple Watch especially surprising. When Spotify submitted their Apple Watch app in September 2018, we reviewed and approved it with the same process and speed with which we would any other app. In fact, the Spotify Watch app is currently the No. 1 app in the Watch Music category.
That all sounds like Spotify have actually been working with Apple successfully already.
They then went into detail on the number of free apps in the App Store, how different apps make money while Apple not taking a cut (free, ad-supported, external subscriptions, and physical good sales). They turned this at Spotify by stating that only a small fraction of their subscriptions are going through their payment platform, and that their target is to reduce that to zero. So in effect, reducing their contribution to the platform to zero.
They end with a statement about what it means to music, and also how Apple’s approach is to help grow opportunities for artists, businesses, and every person with a big idea:
We share Spotify’s love of music and their vision of sharing it with the world. Where we differ is how you achieve that goal. Underneath the rhetoric, Spotify’s aim is to make more money off others’ work. And it’s not just the App Store that they’re trying to squeeze — it’s also artists, musicians and songwriters.
Just this week, Spotify sued music creators after a decision by the US Copyright Royalty Board required Spotify to increase its royalty payments. This isn’t just wrong, it represents a real, meaningful and damaging step backwards for the music industry.
Apple’s approach has always been to grow the pie. By creating new marketplaces, we can create more opportunities not just for our business, but for artists, creators, entrepreneurs and every “crazy one” with a big idea. That’s in our DNA, it’s the right model to grow the next big app ideas and, ultimately, it’s better for customers.
We’re proud of the work we’ve done to help Spotify build a successful business reaching hundreds of millions of music lovers, and we wish them continued success — after all, that was the whole point of creating the App Store in the first place.
This is going to be really interesting to watch play out. Especially the EU court case.
There is one thing that I agree with Spotify on, and that’s the 30% cut Apple take. But I wouldn’t class that as being anti-competitive, as it’s a rule for the entire App Store. I just want it to be lower.
In general, I’m against Spotify on this one. I was unsure on a few things after the complaint was published, on things like the App Store rejections, their claim that Apple dismissed their Apple Watch app proposals, and Apple apparently not letting them on the HomePod. Apple cleared a lot of this up. And while both sides of the argument will include biases, I feel that Apple have quashed a lot of Spotifys claims.