My ZDNet colleague, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, in his first post of the year, surfaced Apple's rare product launch miss with AirPower, the wireless charging station for iPhone and Apple Watch that never saw the light of day in 2018.
I agree with him that this was a major miss -- absolutely one of the biggest embarrassments for the company to date and was one of the things I highlighted in my Worst Tech Failures list of 2018.
Obviously, designing an Apple-worthy OEM charging dock is a technically complicated endeavor, and it is not as easy as designing and releasing similar products that its official accessory partners, like Belkin, have recently launched.
Apple customers expect a certain level of industrial design and fuss-free operation. They are supposed to look and act perfectly. So, if the AirPower was anything but perfect in its implementation, it certainly deserved to be redesigned or scrapped altogether.
Apple's accessories line needs a makeover
The AirPower was a dud. Fine. But this brings to light an entirely different issue, which is that the entire Apple accessories line -- for power and charging and compatible cases -- need a complete makeover.
While I am sure everyone would love to see an official Apple wireless charger that works with iPhone and Apple Watch and fast charges to the company's proprietary 7.5W implementation of the Qi standard (rather than the higher-speed 15W and 10W standards used by the rest of the industry), there are more modest, less higher-tech things the company can release in order to improve the end-user experience.
Let's start with wall chargers. With the exception of the new (and rather overpriced and anemic) 18W USB-C charger that comes with iPad Pro, the new OEM Apple chargers that come with the current iPhone models are meager USB-A 5W chargers.
They cannot fast charge, so you either have to buy the new 18W module or the more expensive 30W, 61W or 87W equivalents designed for faster iPad Pro or MacBook charging to take advantage of the fast charging feature that the iPad and iPhone have had for a long time now (since the 2015 iPad Pro 12.9).
But wait, there's more: Current-generation iPhone and iPad models are capable of doing fast-charge, but because your iPhone did not come with the expensive USB-C to lightning cable, you have to buy that as well. The new iPad Pro models released in 2018 have USB-C ports, which is great, so you can use a standard USB-C to USB-C cable. But the 18W base charger is puny when used with the monster-sized iPad Pro 12.9.
And you cannot yet buy a third-party replacement USB-C to Lightning cable that has native fast-charge capability with USB PD. Apple has only recently licensed this technology and started selling the connector part to OEMs.
Also, Apple doesn't use Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology, which its accessories partners like RAVPower and Anker are now pioneering. So, that results in the higher capacity OEM Apple 30W, 61W, and 87W chargers being bulky and chunky.
I've had the 45W GaN RavPower USB-C charger for a week now, and I'm very impressed with it. It takes up very little space in my small shoulder bag, and it plugs in nice and flat on any 110V receptacle, leaving plenty of room next to it on power strips for other bulky bricks.
Sure, the AirPower would be nice if it ever shows up. But I'd much rather have a multi-port USB-C travel charger, built with GaN technology that I know is fully certified and supported by the company. Right now, I use stuff from Anker and other vendors like RAVPower, and I suspect I will have to continue to do so. (Please make a multi-port USB-C GaN!) I want to standardize on USB-C connector cables entirely.
Then, there is the issue of dongles. Oh my. Apple has so many dongles for adapting different connector types for the Lightning port that it's out of control. Companies like Satechi have had to address the lack in OEM connectivity options for the 2018 iPad Pro recently with its USB-C mobile hub. Why couldn't Apple make one of these?
And let's get past chargers and cables for a moment and look at things like cases. Yes, I realize that companies like Otter Products have made a fortune on the accessories biz, and I love using the stuff. But really, Apple should have better protective cases for its own products in-house, even if it means using a company like Otter as a OEM and doing private labeling.
There is another issue. I have seen many of the third-party charging pads out there (for the lack of Apple having its own) that -- even the premium ones from Belkin, Mophie, RAVPower and Anker (Apple's top accessory partners) -- do not always work correctly with thick cases from Otter (an important Apple partner) and from other vendors.
For example, I use the OtterBox Pursuit case with my iPhone XS Max, and the only way it charges on the Belkin BOOST UP Special Edition ($159) is upside down, which sort of defeats the purpose of using it to display the time and other data. I also use a strong, Casio G-Shock style sports case for my Apple Watch Series 4 from SUPCASE that absolutely refuses to mate with any charger other than the OEM Apple Watch magnetic charger cable, not even the ridiculously overpriced OEM Apple Watch charging dock.
- Apple scrubs most references to AirPower from its website CNET
- Apple predictions for 2019 TechRepublic
Apple needs to fill the gaps
Is there a reason why Apple could not create its own super protective sports band, which works with its own stuff and certified third-party partners? That sounds like a great accessory to me.
I don't think it's necessarily Apple's fault that accessory incompatibility issues occur, but it needs to put measures and procedures in place to make sure there is better compatibility between these things and Apple OEM accessories and products. Or it needs to fill the gaps with its own.
Does Apple need to re-think its accessories strategy for its mobile products? Talk Back and Let Me Know.
Previous and related coverage:
A year after teasing us with the AirPower all-in-one wireless charger for the iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods, Apple has now erased all references to AirPower from its website.
This ingenious iPhone XS/iPhone X cover comes complete with a wireless charging powerbank that you can use to either double the life of your iPhone or top up other devices.
Apple's gamble that offering more expensive iPhones would result in increased revenue without having to increase sales continues to pay off.