Apple is Probably Scamming You

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This kind of post normally starts with some version of “…but I am a happy, lifelong Apple customer…”, and this one is no different. I am a happy 30-year Apple customer. I certainly hated the butterfly keyboard as much as anyone did. Antennagate was a real problem for me. Apple products are most definitely overpriced. Still, I am happy with the products I have today. So why this post?

Because it is all too much. Every year in the spring and fall we hear the same refrain: This is the best [insert product] Apple has ever made.” Last week we heard this: “Apple introduces the most powerful and versatile iPad Air ever.” Of course! The most recent iPad Air is incredible and it’s super way better incredible since the last version. The same goes for nearly every product Apple releases. The old thing was great before, and this new thing is so much better greater incredible today. The product exclamations just dull the senses at this point. Apple users love their devices and want to use them as often as possible, but where does the never-ending oneupmanship end? It can’t and it won’t. Because money.

Apple achieved a $1 trillion market cap in August 2018. Then in August of 2020, it reached $2 trillion. The market cap just scratched the lower edge of $3 trillion in December 2021. (For context, a trillion is one million million. Apple makes such great products that are so highly in demand that investors think the company is worth about three million million dollars.) Apple delivers huge value to its shareholders. It’s fueling millions of retirement accounts. Enriching investors is great if you’re an investor. If you’re just a lowly Mac user who wants better graphics performance, then Apple’s focus on its financial performance is not helping you, at all.

Apple produces some incredible innovations right on schedule every March and September. Twice a year we get to see new designs, new features, better performance. Oh, and regularly higher prices (and overpriced options). New ranges of products are released to fit different budgets and technology needs. Last week Apple released a new iPhone SE. It has a silly-fast A15 chip in an iPhone 6 body. Apple is marketing the $429 phone to those who want a smartphone but don’t need a $1,599 iPhone Pro Max. And with the release of this new iPhone, we come to the point of this post. Apple is basically scam-trolling everyone.

Use this link to compare the iPhone SE (3rd Gen), iPhone 13, and iPhone 13 Pro.

Now, if you need some specific features, power, or screen size to do a job or create something awesome then buy the best and go do your thing. I would hazard a guess though, that that group of business users, pros, and creators is a tiny fraction of all iPhone users. The rest of us plebes get to evaluate, then choose from this comparision:

For the vast, vast majority of buyers, the size of the screen is the only important difference between these phones. Your photos will look great. Your Strava stats will be the same. Doom scrolling Twitter performs as fast as always. Texting suggestive emojis on Tinder will get the same reactions. The difference here is a smaller screen to do all that stuff and you get to keep about $600 in your bank account.

Take a look at the performance metrics. They are one GPU core different from being identical. The battery life is better because there is more battery in the larger phones. Again, if you’re a pro or creator and need max battery life for uninterrupted use, then great, buy what you need. Most people probably have an electric plug or cache battery within 1 meter of themselves right now – if the 15 hours of constant use isn’t enough time before needing a recharge. The “cheap” phone is a modern powerhouse that will last for years and won’t disappoint.

I find the semi-annual updates and bus-route predictability of ‘the best product we ever made’ thing a bit insulting honestly. I wonder if there is a broad sentiment among Apple users that it’s enough already with the gushing superlatives. All the products are great, and the basic version of every product is incredibly well-made and will function perfectly for almost every customer for many years.

The most recent MacBook Air is a perfect example of the basic offering being what nearly every customer would consider amazing value and performance, yet there are so many options and different configurations to choose from that are designed to siphon money from your bank account.

The base MacBook Air 13″ is $999 with 8GB memory and 256GB storage, while the base MacBook Pro 14″ with 16GB memory and 512GB storage is $1,999. If you’re not a creative user that needs many- and different ports, and you’ve settled on being an Apple customer, either of these devices should serve your needs perfectly for years to come. Don’t buy into the marginal spec bump upselling because you will likely be throwing your money into an unrecoverable hole. It’s true that Apple products hold a higher resale value than comparable products from other companies. But, your MacBook Pro doesn’t hold a disproportionate about of resale value after 7 years if it’s super max-spec’d to infinity.

It’s clear to me the need for these over-produced, dramatic Apple events and constant attention-making performance claims has become a necessary part of sustaining investors’ interest and agreement that Apple is totally growth-centric. If Apple were to stop the pace of “new” innovations, their value will plummet. This has already happened in recent memory. Their stock fell 10% one day in 2019 when “Apple cited longer upgrade cycles and headwinds in China as causing lower-than-expected iPhone sales.” So, here we have one of the best managed, and one of the most beloved companies, with arguably the most technically advanced products, losing 10% of its value in one trading session because it told its investors they made such great products Apple’s customers don’t need to buy new ones so often. That’s some crazy bullshit and should be a clear signal to consumers the regular cycle of new Apple stuff is now a market valuation sustaining requirement, and not only an opportunity to share super nice new products with its valued customers.

When the “fast fashion” mentality arrives at Apple, their enthusiastic environmental commitment and reputation have to be questioned.

Tangentially, the negative environmental impact Apple is causing is outsized and is getting worse. Clearly, Apple cares about responsible labor practices and controlling the inputs to their supply chain to eliminate conflict-zone sourced materials. Their carbon neutrality goals and achievements are impressive and should be a model to companies (and governments) everywhere. But it is not enough. Not enough by a lot. Every MacBook and iPhone could last decades if not damaged and if there was an opportunity to exchange the power and computing parts. Instead, we are buying refined aluminum shells and glass screens every year or two just to get a slightly better camera or better processing power. The basic MacBook Retina HD display is wonderful to look at and doesn’t need any update, ever. The equilibrium point where diminishing returns start for your spending is already here or rapidly approaching.

A base M1 MacBook Air could last a careful user 10-15 years if the internal components are easily repairable when broken and exchangeable for upgrades when the user feels the need for a better computing experience. When the “fast fashion” mentality arrives at Apple, their enthusiastic environmental commitment and reputation have to be questioned. If Apple wants to be innovative and prove it’s an exceptional technology company, then sell products that can be reasonably repaired and be incrementally updated instead of asking us to replace them annually.

I like being an Apple customer. I like their products. I am a remote worker whose entire job is about looking at a screen and typing. For the decades I need to do that, using a MacBook or Mac Mini is what I happily choose to use. But Apple’s business strategy makes me sad.

Apple should adapt and change up the program. It’s time to care as much about its customers and meaningful environmental challenges as they care about the company’s valuation. Enough with the investor-calming repetitive product releases, costly marginal updates, the repackaging of old tech (looking at you 27″ Studio Display), and the over-production of aluminum and glass components expecting them to be replaced every year.

Stop upgrade-trolling your customers and do better, please.