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  • Apple’s Missing Feature

    September 10th, 2008

    In talking with our Special Correspondent, David Biedny for this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, he presented a well-reasoned rant about a significant feature lacking in Apple hardware. Worse, this particular item can be found on competing music players, cell phones and PCs.

    What am I talking about? Well, on the iPod and iPhone, a removable memory card. For Macs, a built-in card reader, so you don’t need an adaptor if you use different types for your digital cameras, camcorders and other gear with removable storage cards.

    Now Consumer Reports, a publication that is only partly successful in handling personal computer reviews, always dings Apple for not including this feature. While I have considered this to be a needless extravagance in the past, I can see the wisdom behind it, and it’s cheap enough not to seriously damage Apple’s profit margins. After all, isn’t the Mac, as David says, “a media savvy computer”?

    When it comes to removable media for a music player or mobile phone, Apple wants to sell you elegantly sealed boxes; well mostly. You can, for example, eject the SIM card on an iPhone, but that’s a necessity, since you may have to perform that swap if the card becomes defective or you switch numbers and/or carriers.

    I suppose you can envision Steve Jobs — and his penchant for seamless perfection on such gear — being forced kicking and screaming into accepting the removable SIM card slot. But Jobs, or his design team, stopped there. You still can’t remove the battery either on those devices.

    Either way, I think Apple is missing the boat here, as much as I’m sensitive to the design considerations that may limit the methods they can use to allow for popping out internal parts in an easy fashion. Of course, with over 73% of the music player market, it’s not as if Apple has any immediate threats to its dominance, and the product improvements come at a fairly steady pace.

    As far as the iPhone is concerned, I rather suspect the technology is still a work in progress, witness the shaky rollout of the version 2.0 software. One hopes that the 2.1 update, due by the end of the week, will fix the most serious ills and enhance performance as promised. Early reports on the iPod touch 2.1 firmware are extremely promising, by the way.

    Obviously Apple isn’t going to rejigger its products on my say-so, or on the basis of a few hundred or a few thousand customers clamoring for one feature or another. They have to be convinced it’s essential.

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a problem. But, I can see where being able to eject a media card may be important to some of you, particularly when it comes to being able to swap playlists, photos and other content on the road, when you don’t have ready access to the computer that hosts the copy of iTunes that contains all this data.

    When it comes to product configuration, Apple has made great strides towards miniaturization, so I’d think that a swappable card, rather than a hard wired one, will entail extra costs and perhaps cause them to enlarge the product slightly. Or find other ways to make things smaller.

    However, I am fully confident in Apple’s abilities to handle this sort of thing.

    As to the matter of battery swaps, I think that is the more critical issue for the iPhone. However well they lengthen the time the thing runs between charges, there will come a point where you may not have ready access to some sort of recharging method before you run out of juice.

    What do you do then? Do you keep a spare iPhone around in case the first runs dry? Does Apple expect you to swap the SIM card in the field when necessary?

    Yes, I know there are external adapters for your iPod that will provide many hours of additional current for the long flight or mountain climbing expedition. But that’s just a clumsy workaround for Apple’s lack of foresight.

    Some of you might remind me that there are ways for you to remove the battery all by yourself, assuming you possess the proper tools, patience, and good manual dexterity. But that’s an extremely awkward and potentially hazardous solution. While it may upset Apple’s fashion sensibilities, being able to easily replace the iPhone’s battery is something that ought to be seriously considered for the next version.

    I’m sure the case can be redesigned so it is nearly as smooth and free of seams as it is now, yet still allow for you to press a tiny internal button with a paper clip, for example, that will open the case and let you slide out the battery.

    Sure third party battery replacement services may not appreciate such a development. On the other hand, there’s nothing to prevent them from selling you batteries that are equal or better than the ones Apple provides at a lower price. After all, if they bust your iPhone by mistake, they owe you a new one.

    Or does anyone really care about any of this stuff?

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