Major tech companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung have legions of diehard fans. Brands are more than happy to leverage that passion to keep your wallet open. The relationship only benefits one side, though, and it’s not you.
The “relationship” between a loyal supporter and a company is essentially unrequited love. And just like romantic unrequited love, this dynamic often results in one side staunchly defending or completely ignoring the other’s faults.
It’s an entirely one-sided relationship. The company gets exactly what it wants—our money, blind support, and free advertising—while we only get what it decides we should have. You are as much the product as the actual phone, tablet, laptop, etc.
This is especially true when the product is “free.” Google does not offer Chrome, Gmail, or even the Android OS for free out of the goodness of its heart. You pay for those products with your personal information, and there’s a lot of money to be made from it.
Apple didn’t start focusing on privacy because it truly cares about protecting you. They know you’re going to give your personal information to some company, and Apple wants to position itself to look like the safest option. That doesn’t mean it’s not the safest option, but don’t think their intentions were pure.
Limiting Your Choices
One way that this one-sided dynamic plays out is the removal of choice. What does that look like? Let’s talk about Apple, which is probably the most infamous company for this behavior.
There are a few examples we could point to, but the most recent is the removal of the SIM card tray on the iPhone 14 series. You now need to be on a carrier that supports eSIM if you want to use an iPhone. This is a decision that exclusively benefits only Apple and the major carriers.
As XDA-Developer’s Adam Conway points out, this move is especially egregious even for Apple. When the company removed the headphone jack, it spun it as a good thing for future iPhones and the industry at large. Apple fans were quick to defend the decision with the arguments Apple provided.
However, Apple didn’t bother with that theater when talking about removing the SIM card tray. No defense or explanation was given. Now, you’re simply forced to use a carrier that supports eSIM if you want an iPhone 14, and it’s more complicated to get service when traveling abroad.
It may sound harsh, but Apple doesn’t care what you want. Apple knows the stranglehold it has on many iPhone users, and it actively works to deepen it. That’s the danger of locking yourself into one company’s ecosystem. Once they’ve got you invested, there’s less incentive to cater to your needs.
Sure, having an iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, and MacBook that all work seamlessly together is a great experience, but you’re being lured into a trap. What are you going to do when a company does something you don’t like: ditch all of their products or live with it? Apple is betting you’ll do the latter.
Another way in which companies get what they want at your expense is repairability—or rather, the lack thereof. This is a problem that goes well beyond smartphones and computers, but that’s what we’ll be focusing on here.
Remember when nearly every smartphone—except the iPhone—had a removable battery? You could have a spare to pop in when you needed extra juice, and buy a new one when battery life degraded. It was a simple feature that extended the life of the device.
Nowadays, smartphones with removable batteries are rare, especially in the high-end class. Smartphones have never been particularly easily repairable by the average person, but that’s bled over to desktop computers and laptops as well.
It would be undeniably good for consumers—and the environment—if smartphones and computers were more easily repairable and upgradable. However, there’s more profit in selling brand new devices and making you pay to have them fixed than helping people maintain them themselves.
Companies will say sealing the battery inside allows it to be water resistant, but that’s not true. It’s certainly possible for a device with a removable battery to be waterproof—check out Samsung’s Galaxy XCover 6 Pro—but it’s a lot easier to just seal the battery inside and have one less thing to worry about.
Companies will go so far as to create their very own type of screw to make it more difficult to open up devices. Finding genuine replacement parts and repair documentation can also be a nightmare. Thanks to third-parties like iFixit, you’re not completely out of luck.
This problem has gotten enough attention that “Right to Repair” legislation has been proposed in several regions. It would require companies to offer genuine replacement parts, tools, and repair documentation. If companies cared about us, they wouldn’t need the government to step in.
Paying More for Less
You’ve probably heard about how companies use packaging tricks to make you pay more for less. For example, a can of soup appears to be bigger since it’s slightly taller, but it actually contains less soup than before. This is commonly known as “shrinkflation,” and it happens in tech too.
Streaming is a product category especially ripe for shrinkflation. The price of Netflix is regularly increased, but the catalog of movies and TV shows seems to be shrinking. Paramount+, Peacock, and the bevy of other streaming services have taken back a lot of their own programming.
We can see examples of shrinkflation in smartphones too. It used to be common to get a charging cable, charging brick, a pair of headphones, and a cleaning cloth with a new phone. Now, there are some companies that only give you the phone and cable. Has the price gone down as a result of including fewer accessories? No.
You could even argue that removing ports—like the headphone jack—is another form of shrinkflation in tech. Fewer ports mean you have to spend extra money on dongles and accessories to get the same functionality that used to be built-in. You’re paying more for less.
Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and all the other companies that make the gadgets we love are businesses. The goal of a business is to make money. Sometimes that goal aligns with giving people what they want, but it often doesn’t.
Tim Cook was once asked about RCS support on the iPhone. When the person complained that his mother couldn’t see the videos he sends her due to their low quality, Cook responded: “Buy your mom an iPhone.” RCS support would improve the texting experience for Android and iPhone users, but Apple would rather passive-aggressively push more people to the iPhone.
The truth is you and I do not have a relationship with these companies—we have transactions. We are not being paid to advertise for them or defend their anti-consumer decisions. Don’t give them a free pass. They’re not your friends.