As a rule, I think that Apple employs some very smart people. But every so often the company does something that just pushes the boundaries of milking their customers too far.
Take the revelation yesterday at Apple's iPhone OS 3.0 preview event, where is emerged that the next software update to come down the pipes will activate Bluetooth in iPod touch 2G devices ... that is, for a fee of $10 (OK, for the pedantic out there, the charge will be $9.99).
Bluetooth on the iPod touch 2G has been the source for countless rumors since the device was released. Teardowns showed a Broadcom Bluetooth chipset which has support for 2.1+EDR, but Apple's spec sheet made no mention of the feature. While Apple fanboys chose to believe that Apple wouldn't lock out functionality deliberately, and that there must be some other reason for the inclusion of the chipset, others came to the conclusion that something fishy was going on. Yesterday Apple's Greg Joswiak confirmed that Bluetooth was present on the iPod touch 2G and that the next $10 upgrade would activate it for users.
Now, I don't begrudge any company charging for things, but Apple does seem to go to some crazy lengths to milk customers. The issue isn't that Bluetooth wasn't on the spec sheet in the first place, it's that everyone's who has bought an iPod touch has already paid for the hardware, and is now having to pay again to unlock hardware that they've already paid for. Apple pulled exactly the same stunt with 802.11n WiFi on some MacBook and MacBook Pro systems at the beginning of 2007. Apple's chant (along with that of their army of fans) will be that there has to be a charge because it's a new feature, and accepted accounting principles demand that there be a charge. But how about an acknowledgment of the fact that consumers have already paid for the hardware?
And another thing ... if Apple has to charge for new features, how come all iPods sold from the point at which this new OS is released with have Bluetooth enabled AND cost the same (if not less) than they did before the Bluetooth update? The only people having to pay to for Bluetooth are the suckers who already forked out for the iPod touch.
Before anyone accuses me of taking a pop at Apple here, I should say that I get worked up whenever any company pulls this kind of stunt. It's reassuring that very few companies do actually charge for updates (as i said earlier, Apple charged for activation of 802.11n on some notebooks, and Creative pulled a similar trick with EAX support on Vista) but as things get tighter this could be a slippery slope where we've paying $10 here and there for updates on a regular basis. These charges could mount up and I think that companies who adopt this revenue stream should be upfront about likely future charges so that consumers can factor that into their purchasing plans.