Apple's greed is getting in the way of growth and expansion into new areas

Compared to devices such as Amazon Echo and Dash, and Google Home, the iPhone feels expensive, inflexible and clumsy.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Apple's greed is getting in the way of growth into new areas

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In Apple's perfect world, we'd all own a $500+ iPhone, and that device would be at the center of our digital universe. We'd communicate using it. We'd handle our finances with it. We'd have it in our hands when we're at work, when we're resting, and when we're playing. And when we want to give our eyes a break, we'd switch to our iPad.

And, as a cherry on top of that perfect world, we'd all be enthusiastic about upgrading these devices every few years.

In theory, the smartphone (iOS or Android, it doesn't matter) is the device that I'd always dreamt of owning. It's such sort of device that feels like it belongs in an episode of Star Trek. A convergence gadget that replaces a whole raft of other gizmos - from the PC to the camera to the in-car navigation device - with a single bit of kit that can be slipped into a pocket.

Sounds perfect, doesn't it?

Except it isn't.

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As we make the transition from the smartphone being at the center of our digital world to it being at the hub that we use to control everyday things like thermostats, light bulbs, and smoke alarms, the idea that this is all controlled via a personal device is becoming more and more ludicrous and laborious.

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And Apple doesn't seem to be want to try to make things easier. Apple's focus is on selling iPhones.

Over at the PC Doc HQ, we have installed a number of Philips Hue and Belkin WeMo devices at strategic positions. If you like tinkering with bits of tech, these devices are a lot of fun - right up to the point where you start to rely on them. Putting aside the flakiness of the apps and how sometimes they work and other times they don't (at which point you realize that "troubleshooting" consists of going around turning things off and on, or deleting and reinstalling the app), it also quickly becomes apparent why using a smartphone to control these devices is awkward and unwieldy.

It's so much better to have a central device act as a control mechanism. And so much the better if that device has better voice recognition than the iPhone does (the chances that Siri works seems no better than tossing a coin).

Which brings us to the world that Amazon and Google dream of. A world where cheap devices such as the Amazon Echo (or its little brother, the Dot) or Google Home act as a home hub. You just speak, and the device carries out your bidding.

No need to find your phone.

Not need to unlock it.

No need to find that one app you need in an ocean of apps.

No need to futz about with Siri.

It's just there waiting for you to need it. The technology is natural, and almost invisible.

And remember that these hubs go way beyond home automation, and allow you to access information using natural conversation as opposed to typing or talking into an app.

What's all the more surprising is that Apple has allowed Amazon and Google to enter into the home hub space despite the fact that Apple has had a "hub" device for years - the Apple TV. Four generations on, and the Apple TV is still little more than a dumb content-consumption device. By now it should be able to do so much more, but it feels like Apple is worried that making Apple TV a true home hub might cannibalize iPhone sales.

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Apple has another device that would make a perfect home hub - the iPad. But again, Apple has put sales ahead of usability and decided that an iPad is a single-user device, as opposed to a device that could have multiple user profiles and be able to log into different iCloud accounts depending on the user (something that should be a doddle to do with Touch ID).

Apple's focus on wanting its devices to be "personal" - which is just a fancy way of saying "everyone needs to buy their own device" - is getting in the way of the iPad being able to expand into a new market.

Expecting everyone in a household to own hundreds of dollars worth of hardware just to be able to control everyday things is ridiculous, and darn right greedy.

Siri is a huge weakness for Apple. The company has owned the technology for over six years, and it's still little more than a novelty that works some of the time. Even with hundreds of dollars invested in the latest Philips Hue hardware, and all my apps and hardware fully updated, Siri can only reliably control my lighting setup about 20 percent of the time.

It's been long-rumored that Apple is working on TVs and cars, but if these devices followed the iPhone or iPad models, only one person would be able to choose the programs to watch on the TV, and everyone would have to have their own Apple Car because only the owner would be able to drive it and there wouldn't be seats for passengers.

Sounds crazy, and then you realize that this is how Apple sees the world.

I'm also starting to see the appeal of low-cost hardware such as Amazon Dash. Sure, the idea of needing a bit of kit to order something feels weird when you could just fire up a browser or app and order it, but that's only because we've been conditioned to think that the app or browser way of doing things is the right way.

The smartphone was the "last big thing." Amazon and Google seem willing to accept this (and Amazon should understand this better than most, given how quickly its Fire phone sunk without a trace). The "next big thing" looks to be cheap voice-controlled hubs that can be shared by the whole family and which connect to an "intelligent" backend. No screens or keyboards needed.

With WWDC now just around the corner, it will be interesting to see if Apple has any plans to embrace more communal devices, or whether it is steadfast in its belief that personal devices are still the way forward (despite increasing evidence that suggests iPhone sales are heading for a cliff.

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