For complaining’s sake: Apple’s case cash cow


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Would you be surprised to learn that Apple makes iPhone design decisions based on how many of its battery cases it thinks it can sell? The Macalope would. He suspects Apple would be, too.

Writing for the Forbes contributor network and bootleg colonoscopy video clearing house, Ewan Spence says the “iPhone 7's Ugly Battery Fix Highlights Apple's Greedy Design.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Philip Speicher and @designheretic.)

This is part of a series, apparently, since last year Spence said “Apple's iPhone 6S Battery Fix Is An Angry, Ugly Mess.” Please tune in next year when Spence will call the 2017 iPhone battery case “A Very Awful, No-Good, Crusted-Over Scab of an Ugly Greedy Bad Angry Hollow Disgusting What Was I Talking About Again? Oh, Right A Battery Case…”

…upgrading users who have the iPhone 6 Smart Battery Case will have to decide if they want to sacrifice the new optical image stabilised camera, or hand over another ninety-nine dollars to Apple just to get the same functionality they already have with the existing case.

Apple is the only company that can at the same time be chastised for not changing the iPhone 7 enough and changing it too much. Tech sites across the galaxy rushed to call the iPhone 7 “boring” because it was the same basic shape as the iPhone 6S. Now Forbes is complaining it’s too different.

All of which sums up the latest iPhone experience in a nutshell. Take last year’s model, tweak it just enough so everyone feels the need to upgrade to the latest model, and rely on a bigger number in the specification sheet to make it feel ‘new’ while retaining the same functionality.

In other words, improve it enough to make it a compelling upgrade without giving all the goods away at once. Well, excuse Apple for being good at what it does.

Spence, as you might have guessed, isn’t a fan of the battery case design.

There are no clean lines, the battery pack projects out like an awkward balcony, and the charging LED is still on the inside of the case and not visible when the iPhone is in situ.

If only there were a widget that could be activated by iOS 10’s raise-to-wake feature that would show you the battery life. OH, WELL.

This is demonstrably easier than having an LED on the back of the case but Spence doesn’t feel it’s an acceptable alternative because… well, who knows? Possibly because his Forbes column is actually ghost written by a swarm of angry bees. Sometimes the right answer is the most obvious one.

Spence claims Apple made the iPhone 7 incompatible with last year’s battery case in order to “take the money again and run”. How many of these do you think Apple is selling? Certainly not enough to have it influence iPhone design decisions. Spence (and others) called the case “ugly” when it debuted and yet he thinks Apple’s making so much bank on the ugliness that it’ll design its flagship product around selling more. What’s uglier, the case or the greed?

The angry bees theory makes more sense every minute.

In the past, Apple has sweated the small details. To take one example the centre of the speaker holes, lightning port, and the 3.5mm headphone jack (when it was present) all line up along a single axis. Because Apple has moved the centre point of the camera lens, the cutout for the larger camera housing on the iPhone 7 Smart Battery Case still obscures the lens on the iPhone 6 and 6S.

What was Apple supposed to do, design the battery case to fit a device that didn’t exist yet? No, apparently it was supposed to design the iPhone 7 around a peripheral that a small percentage of people owned. That’s how you do good design. And how you keep VGA ports for 900 years.

Neither is this unique to the Smart Battery Case, all of the cases designed for the iPhone 6 and 6S are incompatible because Apple made the decision to move the camera lens rather than work the problem to retain as much backward compatibility as possible.

Spence has no idea what considerations went into deciding where the camera should go. The Macalope will categorically tell you two things: 1) It was not deliberately designed so that it wouldn’t fit the battery case and 2) Having to fit the existing case was not a serious design consideration, either.

Certainly the people in the third-party iPhone case business aren’t complaining about this situation.

This isn’t a magical experience for the user, this isn’t about making life easier. It demands that new iPhone 7 owners take a trip to the Apple Store to buy a new case that allows you to do exactly the same as last year’s case.

Or you could just order one online but, no, let’s make this seem as onerous as possible. Let’s imagine that it’s uphill both ways in a snowstorm of rabid badgers. Also, you’re wearing burlap underwear for some reason.

C’mon, we’ve all had that dream.

Apple has built up a reputation for looking good and sweating the small details. 2016′s iPhone Smart Battery Case ignores that reputation…

No, because Apple’s reputation is also for redesigning and jettisoning things that don’t work anymore, backward compatibility be damned. Oversimplifying Apple’s design ethic doesn’t make it a real thing.

Apple is no stranger to nickel-and-diming people, from iCloud storage tiers to 16 GB iPhones to its RAM upgrade pricing. But this just isn’t one of those instances.

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