Friday Notes: EU and the USB-C Standard; Competition and the Courts; What Next, When and How?
By Graham K. Rogers
The EU has passed legislation that will force manufacturers to move to the USB-C standard for chargers. Standards are OK, but what about when a new technology comes along: innovation? Watchdogs sometimes may ignore important points. In Italy and France decisions by such bodies have been reversed by courts. Such bodies need to listen to all sides rather than deciding before the facts are in. TSMC forces Apple to accept a price rise for chips: supply and demand. consumers. When and how will Apple announce soon to be expected devices?
We are reminded by news sources that this week sees the anniversary of the death of Steve Jobs. This week is also the anniversary of the comment by Michael Dell that he would shut down Apple and give the money back to the shareholders. This ranks with Steve Ballmer's initial comments on the iPhone, when he laughed at the price and the idea that there was no keyboard so would have no appeal for business users. To be fair, Ballmer did later admit he was wrong (Tim Hardwick, MacRumors), but it was too late by then and obvious to all.
Several sources this week are reporting about the final decision from the EU about the use of USB-C chargers in mobile devices. As Dennis Sellers (Appleworld) and others reports, the European Parliament has now voted in favour of the proposal to use this as a standard across the whole spectrum of consumer electronic devices. "Starting from spring 2026, this will also include laptops." As well as Apple's notebook computers that already use the USB-C, this will apply to the AirPods case (Lightning) and the "MagSafe Battery Pack, Magic Keyboard, Magic Trackpad, Magic Mouse, EarPods, and Beats products".
I have always been in favor of this type of connector, but this is because more than 50% of my devices use this already and I have several suitable accessories. Apple is not wholly convinced and thinks that this could make it difficult for manufacturers if a superior solution appeared in the future. Imposing this form of control on how manufacturers may make their products may not be good for consumers in the end; and with millions of Lightning cables and chargers already in use, the waste generated when new USB-C mandated devices appear could be considerable. Even though the movie is intended to reduce waste, it may cause the opposite.
One of the products that was mentioned by one source was the EarBuds. It was suggested that this will just be ended as a product. This introduces a problem for some consumers with older devices. Last weekend a colleague switched to a new iPhone SE but in transferring data the model of iPhone she had was so old that it did not support the moving identifier icon that I always use to start the process. Instead she had to start from new: not a bad idea in itself. The implication is that some users still make use of older devices - some of my students have the iPhone 6 which was just made a vintage product last week. If someone needed to buy replacement earbuds, or another non-USB-C product for their device, would that still be possible once the EU legislation comes into force?
Two court decisions in different countries illustrate some of the excesses of the regulating bodies that seek to control the ways companies operate (itself not a bad thing). With the examination of the alleged monopoly positions held by Apple and Google with their respective app stores, I have commented in the past about how some of the investigations start with pre-conceived ideas of what the companies are doing and produce evidence to support that: the case is proven. However, within the processes they also examine evidence presented by the companies under investigation, yet dismiss that.
The report by the UK Competition and Markets Authority, which I have mentioned a couple of times, for example, when faced with information that contradicts their thesis, simply state, for example, "We have not been able to comprehensively assess these justifications within this study. However, based on the evidence we have gathered, we consider that Apple has overstated the security risks of opening up NFC access" (despite support from several highly-regarded experts). However criticism from competitors is allowed, including hearsay, preceded by "we have heard" (eXtensions).
Early this week a court in Italy cancelled fines that the competition watchdog there had enforced on Apple and Amazon on the sales of Beats kit on Amazon's Italian e-commerce marketplace. The original fine had already been reduced owing to a miscalculation by the Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM), but the court cancelled the fine completely for reasons that appear to be related to administrative procedures (Natasha Lomas, TechCrunch).
Now another court, this time in France, has reduced a fine imposed by the French antitrust organization because of Apple's perceived "anti-competitive behaviour towards its distribution and retail network" (Mathieu Rosemain. That sounds familiar. The original fine was €1.1 billion and the court reduced this to €372 million (or $336m). Apple is now planning an appeal to overturn the whole amount.
That is not the end of the story as in the EU, UK and USA there are other such investigations under way, but these two decisions should send a warning that they must have the facts right (fines levied, evidence, analysis and reasoning) and not just deal with these companies, because Apple, because Amazon, because Google, et al.
Apple has some major control over its suppliers. Over the years Cupertino has penalized a number of companies for their practices, particularly employment of younger people and has insisted on conditions for workers being improved. There are other controls regarding raw supplies, with one company ceasing to be contracted by Apple due to where some of the raw materials had been sourced. With that much power, and a large order book, when I saw the news that TSMC, one of Apple's major suppliers of chips had asked for a price rise and Apple was reported to have said, No, I shrugged my shoulders.
Higher prices soon? M1 and M2 chips - Image courtesy of Appple
This week, however, several sources including Tim Hardwick (MacRumors) are now reporting that Apple has accepted the increase in prices for next year. Prices are set to rise by between 3 to 6%, due to the global chip shortage. With some price rises also appearing with currency fluctuations in many countries, this may add to the pressure to increase prices for the consumer.
No sooner has the iPhone 14 had its camera problems fixed than the just released Apple Watch has revealed microphone issues that affect the Ultra and the Apple Watch 8. Palash Volvoikar (iMore) reports that Apple is aware of the problems and a fix is to be expected soon, pointing at software specific to the new Watch rather than hardware as the source. It affects Siri and other apps. "The microphone reportedly stops working after some time, and the watch displays an error." A restart may be a temporary fix, but who wants to keep starting a device that is on the wrist and usually forgotten until it serves up information?
Despite the number of modern sources for music, some of which I do access, one of my favorite sites is Pristine Classical. Run by Andrew Rose, this provides remastered versions of old recordings, some nearly 100 years old now. One I have is of a 17-year old Yehudi Menuhin (so 1933) with the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 7, in D. Tape technology and recording equipment were limited then, but this shines. I have several more, including a series of Fürtwangler recordings of Beethoven symphonies recorded in Berlin near the end of World War 2. I read about new releases with the regular newsletter and this week I saw that while there is a streaming service using an Android app, there is no equivalent on iOS: "Following failed efforts to get approval for our app from Apple this project is currently on hold. We hope to resurrect it later this year."
It occurred to me when I read this comment that Apple is rumored to be starting its own classical music store. It bought the classical music streaming service, Primephonic laser year and there has been some speculation about when, and how, this will be integrated with Apple's other services. Perhaps the Pristine Classical app is a casualty. Nonetheless, I shall keep downloading the music I want from Pristine.
One of my most frequently used apps is BBEdit. I use it as one stage in my writing process which usually starts on paper and ends with HTML markup or in a word processor when formatting is required.
This week, Denis Sellers (AppleWorld) reports that this has been updated to version 14.6, with "quick Dock access to its Notes feature and additional controls for text display, usability enhancements to its built-in file transfer client, and completely reworked text rendering. . ." as well as several other improvements.
We keep hearing from reliable sources that there are products coming from Apple, but that there will not be another event this year: that part of the rumor comes from Mark Gurman and has been circulated as fact by most other sites. With the Apple Q4 2022 financial results to be released on Thursday 27 October at 2pm Cupertino Time (4 am Friday here). With Apple often announcing products around the time of such conference calls, the window for any announcement is limited and with November looming, I think such an announcement is less likely after the Q4 2022 report. I am keeping my fingers crossed for 19 - 25 October. That seems most likely to me for a press release-only product announcement; but with the importance of some of the products expected, there are sure to be plenty of videos too.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)