How Apple lost over $3000 trying to extort extra $4 from a returning customer

Apple’s shares have plunged in the last few days, almost wiping out the entire year-to-date return. This would be a good time to reconsider their business policy, and actually start caring for their customers, instead of their profits.

Let’s face it: Apple does not really care about their customers. All they care is squeezing every cent out of our increasing reliance on the digital ecosystem they are creating.

Let me give you a quick example. A few months ago, I went on a trip forgetting the charger for my iPhone 5S at home. Luckily, I found a $5 third-party Lightning cable in a local shop along the way, and the disaster was averted. It worked perfectly until a few weeks ago, when my iPhone refused to charge through it.

I wasn’t really trying to save a few bucks. I didn’t even know how much the original cable costs. I just needed a quick fix for a burning problem and I would have easily paid two or even three times as much.

This particular cable, as it turned out, was quite cheap. And I was surprised just how much it looked like the real deal: the plugs were sturdy and made of a hard white polymer, even the cord had that silky-rubbery texture of the original. And most importantly: it worked perfectly. Until a few weeks ago, that is.

I kept the cable in my office, plugged in my monitor’s USB port, in case I needed a top-up. I was at 5% and I plugged the cable, only to be greeted by a warning:

Read on to fully appreciate the cynicism of this notification.

At first, I though something was wrong with the cable. I tried plugging it in and out a few times, both ends. I tried restarting the phone. Nothing.

And then I started googling. Sure enough, the mighty Google had the answer: essentially, Apple remotely sabotaged my phone (presumably by sending a software update), rendering unusable a perfectly functional piece of equipment that I bought. I was taken aback.

Apple has actually tampered with my property (an iPhone) to intently make it unusable with another piece of equipment (a 3rd party Lightning cable), only because the manufacturer of that piece of equipment did not pay Apple a $4 racket for each cable they sold.

In case you are wandering what I am talking about, here’s a quick rundown: in 2010 Apple has introduced the MFi Program (MFi stands for “Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad”), a licensing program for 3rd party developers of peripherials made for iPhone, iPod, and iPad. MFi itself is a descendant of a “Ready for iPod” program announced in 2005, in which Apple was reportedly expected to charge 10% for products using their logo. The journalists were quick to dub that as tax.

Apple has come a long way from that time. Reportedly, they now charge a $4 fee per connector to 3rd party manufacturers, and for Lightning cables, this $4 racket is enforced by an authentication chip. This chip tells your iPhone it’s OK to charge through a cable. Apple wants you to believe that this is for your own safety, because we all heard the horror stories of cheap power chargers blowing up phones, and burning people in their sleep. In reality, Apple does not care about their users. They care for the $4 that this will enable them to charge the 3rd party manufacturers.

Now, all of this would have been a fair game if the rules have been set outright: if my iPhone was made not to work with non-MFi equipment out-of-the-box and sold to me under that condition, this case could (and quite frankly should) be filed in the caveat emptor category. But Apple took a liberty of tampering with iPhones that were private property of millions of their unknowing clients, and those unsolicited changes to their private devices were aimed at sabotaging the functionality of their clients’ other private property (3rd party Lightning cables). This is the equivalent of Apple’s henchmen forcing their way into your home and cutting your non-MFi cable in half with scissors.

The particularly worrisome part of the story is that my iPhone’s sudden change of attitude towards the non-MFi cable seemingly came about spontaneously. One moment it worked perfectly, and then suddenly the message appeared saying that the cable “may not work properly” with my iPhone (note the cynicism in “may not”). This did not happen after a software update. Is Apple “updating” my device without me knowing? This is a very disturbing thought.

Personally, I trust this complete and utter disregard of the customer will ultimately be very damaging to the company’s bottom line.

Take my example. I’m a returning customer that bought 3 iPhones so far (3GS, 4S, and 5S), and I own a 2nd gen iPad. I was just about to buy a new iPad Air (the old one seems to be slowing down somehow, but that’s another story) and I would have likely bought an iPhone 6 within the next 12 months. To top it off, I was even starting to consider making The Ultimate Leap: switching to a Mac (gasp!) after almost 20 years of using a PC (I was a faithful Amiga user to the bitter end).

I was about to spend in excess of $3000 on new Apple products over the next 12–18 months. After this incident, however, I simply don’t trust them anymore. Should I really trust my entire digital life to a counterparty that purposefully and without explanation destroyed the value of an item in my property? What’s the next thing Apple will do for my safety?

As a result, I’m certainly sticking to my ThinkPad for the time being, my next tablet will most likely be a windows machine, and I will seriously consider other options when the time will come to upgrade my smartphone. And why? Because some Apple executive thought it would be a swell Idea to extort extra $4 in racket for what’s probably the cheapest possible piece of peripherial equipment in the entire product range.

Apple is not doing great lately. In the executive board room, the idea of squeezing an extra $4 out of every customer that buys an extra cable may seem like a great idea for beefing up the bottom line. “Rewarding” your existing customers by sabotaging their property, however, is not a very good long term strategy.

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