There is, and always was, an “Apple tax.” We Apple owners were cool with that. We knew that, in exchange for paying a 25% to 35% premium over similar products from other vendors, we would receive enhanced security, iconic industrial designs, and unparalleled ease of use.
We’re still paying the full Apple tax, even though Apple’s industrial design lead has vanished with smartphones (Samsung Galaxy Note 9, OnePlus 6, Sony Xperia XZ2, Razer Phone, RED Hydrogen One) and PCs (the top-tier models from Lenovo, Dell, and HP). All three iPhones introduced at the September 12, 2018 Apple Event sport the exact same physical appearance as the iPhone 6 from 2014, and I defy Tim Cook to tell them apart from 10 feet away.
Even the usability updates are incremental and often unwanted (Face ID; a plethora of new gestures to memorize with each upgrade). Concurrent with the bloat in iPhone choices from a single model in 2012 to five models in 2018 was a bloat in the steps, swipes, and gestures necessary to do what a couple of buttons once did. In the Steve Jobs days, the Apple motto was “it just works.” The new motto is “it works once you let the phone take a 3D scan of your face, then swipe up from the bottom, then swipe down from the top right corner, then go buy and plug in a non-included adapter to use wired headphones.”
I’m not anti-Apple by any stretch. My wife and I each use Apple’s diminutive 2018 iPhone SE, and our house rocks a couple of iPads. But I’m starting to wonder what Apple thinks of us. We are firmly middle-class people, and the iPhone SE’s $349 retail price was right in our sweet spot. The three new iPhones, however, start at an eye-watering $750 and top out at a wallet-fisting $1449. The three models are curiously nearly the same size, all gargantuan. Our iPhone SE, the smartphone with the USA’s highest consumer rating according to a recent survey conducted by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, and which easily runs Apple’s latest operating system, has been discontinued.
Steve Jobs hated large phones, or “phablets.” He was adamant that a smartphone should be usable with one hand. Tim Cook’s Apple has simultaneously lionized Jobs (the astonishingly lovely Steve Jobs Theater, etc.) while systematically erasing the fact that the man existed at all. Jobs would’ve never signed off on five iPhone models. He would’ve never approved all three new models hovering around 6 inches. He would’ve never included a tiny charger with each iPhone that charged with a fraction of the available power, then sold the fast-charging version as an add-on for $49 (not including cable!). He would’ve never removed the iPhone’s headphone jack, replaced it with an included weird-ass Lightning port-to-3.5 mm headphone adapter, then stopped including the adapter with the new models. That’s beyond negligent; that’s mean. Steve Jobs wasn’t a saint, and his tightfisted nature is well-documented. But Steve Jobs’ Apple is downright altruistic when compared with Tim Cook’s Apple.
With the $750-$1449 pricing for new models, Apple has drawn a new line in the sand. On Apple’s side of the line are the well-heeled consumers who can afford luxury goods. On the other side are the rest of us. Apple can say what they want, but they don’t care about poor people. (Poor people need smartphones just like the rest of us, and they deserve the same access to privacy.) For some reason, Apple is even willing to give up on the middle class, including emerging middle classes in China and India numbering in the hundreds of millions who can’t even begin to afford Apple’s new smartphones.
I know how business works; I know that this works for Apple (at least in the USA). Apple realizes that most Americans don’t switch from Android to Apple or vice versa. They are not casting about for new customers so much as they are looking to milk the ones that they have. They’ve steadily ratcheted up the pricing and the abuse (don’t even get me started on the nightmarish adapter/dongle schemes on the Apple PC side) while simultaneously making their users more dependent on ever more synergistic products and services (iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, iCloud, iTunes, Apple TV, MacOS). Apple has traditionally been so skilled with the price/abuse equation, the average Apple user probably doesn’t notice the screws going in.
But they’re going to notice these new prices. As much as I complain, I can’t even say for sure whether I’ll drop from the Apple tree when it’s time for a new smartphone in a couple of years. Because even though the Apple tax is no longer justified for industrial design or ease of use, there is something to say for privacy — and Apple is orders of magnitude better on privacy than Google’s Android. Will I sell my entire soul to Google, or will I sell my blood and plasma to afford the next iPhone?