​Apple devotees blind to MacCessories rip-off

Customers queue outside an Apple store prior to the sale of the iPhone 6S in London, England, in September 2015. (Chris Ratcliffe, Bloomberg)

Customers queue outside an Apple store prior to the sale of the iPhone 6S in London, England, in September 2015. (Chris Ratcliffe, Bloomberg)

COMMENT

I’d been resisting a high-end phone for some time. I’d just always thought it obscene to walk around with something worth several thousand rand in your pocket. This naturally meant that an Apple iPhone — the more recent models ranging from R6 000 to R17 500 in value — was out of the question.

But when I won an iPhone SE recently, I had little excuse not to use it.
Apple lovers say the company’s products are by far superior to anything from the opposition and worth every cent.

The iPhone, I’ll admit, is much faster than my old phone, with a better keypad and screen resolution, battery life and keypad. But I’m not convinced this is enough to warrant the R6 000 retail value gap between it and the Samsung I was using previously.

As a hesitant Apple owner and one not yet inducted into “the cult of Mac”, I am more perplexed than ever by the level of brand loyalty Apple enjoys, even as the company consistently gives its devotees the middle finger.

Scandals of labour abuse practices in China and dodging tax payments in countries where Apple products are produced and sold has done little to dampen the utter adoration of Apple brand supporters. But the disdain it shows to its devoted customers about its accessories is also inexplicably tolerated.

Just a week or so into using said iPhone, I was chastised at home by a resident Apple disciple for not taking better care of the charger, which I had left plugged in where my Samsung charger used to reside. Looping the cable cord around my hand also elicited rebuke.

Recounting the scenario to a colleague at work, she quickly held up her charger to demonstrate how she had applied insulation tape to the top and bottom ends of the cable to stop it from falling into disrepair.

I have since come to understand that this is because replacing your Apple charger is no minor issue.

Apple makes more money off its accessories and iTunes than most phone companies make selling phones.

“Apple in particular does particularly well out of its accessories because you don’t have a mix-and-match scenario,” said Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of technology market research company World Wide Worx.

Unlike with android — where the emergence of the micro USB means the same cable that charges a Kindle, a digital voice recorder or even a Vape will happily charge your Android phone — Apple accessories are often product specific.

And with Apple, the cheaper options tend to be dodgy, said Goldstuck. “When I’ve used Apple imitators, I’ve lived to regret it.”

As for the accessories, Goldstuck said he would not presume Apple was making inferior products.

“It’s probably the last thing you could accuse Apple of,” he said. “As with any products, there tends to be a large amount of attrition, what with the wear and tear of cables.”

In Goldstuck’s case, his cat’s tendency to chew on the cable of his MacBook charger meant it had to be replaced twice over.

“The thing is, you don’t have to buy a genuine Samsung charger, [a generic one] will do the trick. But with Apple, the moment you have to replace it, you pay a premium.”

A new cable to charge my iPhone SE would cost a minimum of R400. By contrast, a micro USB, should you not have an extra one lying around, would cost around R40. Heaven forbid you need to replace your laptop charger — MacBook chargers cost in the range of R1 500.

Then there is the added up yours, where Apple change systems from time to time, often forcing customers to buy new accessories when they upgrade.

Goldstuck said this has been a source of massive customer dissatisfaction, as Apple doesn’t make provision for consumers using old and new Apple products. If they have more than one product, users may have to use third-party adapters.

“People often praise Apple for their clever marketing. But this is a dismal marketing strategy. It’s the elephant in the room that no one talks about,” he said.

But Goldstuck said Apple continues to take advantage of consumers’ loyalty and the brand’s halo effect. The company shows little sign of changing tack. In fact, it’s getting worse.

The new iPhone 7 has no headphone jack and is intended for use with wireless ear pods, which is great if you were thinking of throwing your wired earphones in the bin.

The new MacBook Pro does have a headphone jack, but has removed commonly used ports such as the standard USB port, the HDMI port and the SD card slot in favour of USB-C. So consumers must now buy a dongle ranging up to $49 in price to connect external devices to their new machine.

One can at least take comfort here that public outcry in this case did produce a concession from Apple, which slashed adapter prices substantially. According to businessinsider.com, a standard USB adapter now costs $9 instead of $19 and a lightning cable costs $29 instead of $35 — evidence that consumer dissatisfaction can make a difference, if only they care to express it.

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn is a business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She holds a master's degree in journalism and media studies from Wits University. Her areas of interest range from energy and mining to financial services and telecommunication. When she is not poring over annual reports, Lisa can usually be found pottering about the kitchen. Read more from Lisa Steyn

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