And that’s not even the biggest battery problem Apple has. Here in the Digital Life Labs, we’ve come to think of battery life as the canary in the coal mine of mobile phone innovation.
When a phone manufacturer briefs us on their latest device and they don’t mention battery life, sure as eggs the phone is going to be jam-packed with improvements that most users won’t even notice, much less care about.
Apple spends a lot of time talking about the work it’s been doing to subtly refine its displays, so the whites show up white regardless of the ambient light, and if you look closely at the screen of a new iPhone, and sit it side-by-side with an old iPhone or a Samsung phone, it’s true … the whites are better! Who cares!
And it spends a lot of time showing off the new augmented reality engine in its new iPhones, that is utterly fantastic to behold and would absolutely blow your mind … if only you cared about augmented reality.
But Apple doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about the core features that really matter to a lot of consumers, like battery life, and like price.
(Surely, if Batterygate taught Apple anything, it’s that people really, really care about the battery life of their phone, and are sick of phones that are dead by dinner. But, no, based on the features that Apple has been adding to its new phones, it seems that’s a lesson it has yet to learn.)
And so it finds itself where it is today, with its core fan base reluctant to upgrade because they don’t see a lot of value in the subtle or tangential new features at the new, unsubtle higher price.
And so it finds itself where it is today, relegated to third place in the global smartphone market, having been overtaken by a company that is laser-focussed on features like battery life and price: Huawei.
Which of course brings us to the matter of user privacy, with Huawei standing accused in the West of invading user privacy in a way (though in exactly what way has never been specified) that could jeopardise national security.
The real tragedy in Apple’s slowing sales may not prove to be the effect it’s having on shareholder value, but the effect it may have on Apple’s approach to privacy if the problem drags on.
Notwithstanding its recent FaceTime fiasco, which was altogether a different class of privacy invasion (ie a non-systematic one), Apple alone among the big five tech companies has stood against the practice of invading user privacy with the goal of selling user data.
(Or, as Mark Zuckerberg likes to put it when he’s splitting hairs, selling access to users based upon data that’s not technically sold.)
Apple has been able to resist the siren call of Surveillance Capitalism because it’s been making so much money selling its hardware and its services to users that it doesn’t need to sell its users down the river.
And, as it happens, respecting user privacy by not logging their every keystroke, or by designing its home automation system so that it doesn’t leak information to the cloud the way Google’s and Amazon’s system leak your every action to the cloud, is a nice point of differentiation for Apple, one that should reap incremental sales revenue for it in the long run if and when people seek out privacy as a core feature worth paying for.
So the way we see it, there’s now a race on. Apple needs to fix its battery problem, it needs to start to add new features to its products that people care about enough to pay for, before it caves in and develops a privacy problem, too.