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Most people don't need Apple's flashy new adventure tech. Here's what we actually need

SOS beacons before USB-C? Really, Apple?
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer
Close-up of a scuba diver using an Apple Watch Ultra underwater

By the time Apple finished showcasing the new products and features debuting at its 2022 "Far Out" event, I felt…left out. And I doubt I was alone. Of course, there were the standard processor speed bumps, battery life improvements, etc. But, as far as completely new features went, Apple seemed intent on targeting niche, idealized versions of an iPhone or Apple Watch owner, instead of real people. 

Also: Here's everything Apple announced during its 'Far Out' event

Where did Apple miss the mark?

I don't hike, I don't dive, and I almost never find myself without either a cell or Wi-Fi signal, let alone in the middle of the wilderness.  I'm betting the majority of you could say the same. I try to stay active, but that typically involves a treadmill or bike ride around the paved, lakeside path near my house. Meanwhile, Apple's trying to give me FOMO for things like the iPhone 14's satellite-based SOS beacons and the Apple Watch Ultra's built-in dive computers. It almost worked. 

More: Apple Watch Ultra vs. Apple Watch Series 8: To go extreme or not?

Apple did an even better job of nearly pulling me in with the improved camera features on the iPhone 14 Pro. I'm someone that frequently uses an iPhone (13 Pro, specifically) for work, taking quick product shots, or recording how-to demos.

But, then I had one of those epiphanies marketing execs hate. "Buying an Apple Watch Ultra isn't going to turn you into Bear Grylls and upgrading to an iPhone 14 Pro won't make you the next Spielberg," it countered. The lump of meat in my head was right. All I'd been feeling was the illusion of need for safety features that would never save me, and camera upgrades for a phone that already produced better photos and videos than I need. 

iPhone 14 keep pointing at satellite
Image: Apple

What should Apple be focusing on instead?

This realization made me wonder what a real, practical reason to upgrade to the latest iPhone or Apple Watch would look like. If I'm going to call Apple out for skipping over features geared toward the average, boring human demographic I'm part of, it's only fair I suggest what people like me actually want, right? 

Mind you, none of these features would exclusively benefit lazy, boring schlubs like me. Actually, I'd argue they'd be equally useful to the adventurous adrenaline junkies and budding cinematographers Apple's been courting. What features could possibly have such universal appeal? I'm glad I asked…

Even Apple is shifting to USB-C

Apple introduced USB-C to its first MacBook about seven years ago...


USB-C everything

Let's be realistic, this one's long overdue. In fact, we've been talking about it on ZDNET since at least 2018. We've more recently covered how it's only a matter of time before Apple is essentially forced to accept the reality of the situation by European legislators. But, the company should have switched to the ubiquitous charging standard long ago. Why?

First, e-waste. Apple has claimed that switching its products to USB-C would create an "unprecedented amount of electronic waste." That assertion has been dismissed by many lawmakers since it was made, and has done little to deter the ongoing need for a unified standard. What will continue creating unnecessary e-waste is the existence of unnecessary, proprietary connectors like Apple's Lightning. The faster this change happens, the less Apple will be hurting the planet it contends it's so concerned about.

Second, Lightning isn't "Pro" enough.  Apple's iPad Pro lineup already made the switch to USB-C, specifically Thunderbolt 3. This lets photographers and videographers exploit the beastly power of the device's M1 chip by offering vastly superior transfer rates. The tablet might not reach the full 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 supports, but it still easily hits 2Gbps and beyond, in my own testing. Meanwhile, the just-launched iPhone 14 Pro, with all of its new cinema-focused video features and 48MP sensor, will still need to rely on the Lightning connector's USB 2.0 speeds of about 480Mbps, at best, for wired transfers.

More: iPhone 14 Pro: Huge new camera sensor, same slow Lightning cable data transfers

Among all my proposals, this is the only one Apple's likely to introduce in the relative near term. But, only because it'll likely be forced to. That shouldn't be necessary. 

Tim Cook at Apple's Far Out event

Tim Cook would like to sell you, and everyone else, an iPhone. This should not surprise you.


RCS Support

On the other end of the "will it happen" spectrum is the concept of Apple adding support for Rich Chat Services (RCS). This protocol allows non-Apple messaging platforms (basically, Android) to offer things like typing indicators (the "…" you see when someone's responding), larger attachments (high-resolution pics and videos), and longer messages, among other things. 

Apple has long been dogged by competitors and industry pundits screaming it was time to close the gap and allow RCS support into its walled iMessage garden. The reasons why it wouldn't do this were always fairly obvious, but recently Tim Cook made the unusual decision to say that quiet part out loud. 

More: The painful shame of owning an Android phone

At Vox Media's Code 2022 event, the Apple CEO was asked about adding RCS messaging support to iPhones. First, he said "I don't hear our users asking that we put a lot of energy in on that at this point," then he followed with "I would love to convert you to an iPhone." Even when pressed about the issues one attendee had with transferring video between him and his Android-using mother, because of a lack of RCS support in iOS, Cook's solution to the problem was "buy your mom an iPhone."

Granted, the CEO seemed to perceive his response as humorous. But, for many of us with friends and family using Android devices, the constant annoyances instigated by Apple's refusal to support RCS are no laughing matter. Apple's users may not be calling Tim Cook and demanding RCS support because they simply don't know that a workable, simple solution to their green bubble struggles is entirely within Apple's reach, and has been for some time.


Samsung beat Apple to capture the early "Phablet" sized phone market, now it's letting them beat it to the early foldable market as well.

Jason Hiner/ZDNet

A folding iPhone 

File this under "it'll happen eventually, but not soon." 

Apple vigorously resisted the idea of making a "phablet-sized" iPhone for years, despite Samsung enjoying impressive, uncontested Galaxy Note sales during that time. Eventually, phablet-sized phones became so commonplace that the term "phablet" lost all meaning. By then, Cupertino had finally joined the party.

What's this got to do with the idea of a foldable iPhone? Apple's growing tendency to play it too safe, usually to the benefit of Samsung.

It's no secret the first generation or two of foldables had a rocky start. From unintended breakage caused by removing screen protectors that were actually part of the screen, to dust getting under the display, to scattered reports of cracking from long-term use, these devices were not without their growing pains. Thankfully, recent generations have improved to the point where they're completely viable, and very in-demand, options.

More: Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 4 is a high-priced ticket to productivity heaven | The Galaxy Z Flip 4 solves these two big problems for me

The perceived riskiness is likely what's been holding Apple back. The company is notorious for wanting products to be "just right." I'd argue this contributes to the stagnancy many critics claim it has fallen into. The original iPhone was one of the biggest gambles in consumer electronics history. Follow-ups like the iPhone 4's glass sandwich design or the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack were also huge risks. Apple seems unwilling to take those kinds of risks anymore. 

Instead, it would rather incrementally upgrade and tweak existing models. It's gone from attracting users with innovation to relying on forced exclusivity and attempts to convince consumers they all need features that only a tiny subset of them will ever actually use. 

Apple Watch Series 8 specs

None of those cards mention that its battery is still rated at just 18 hours

Image: Apple

A main-line Apple Watch with a multi-day battery

I own an Apple Watch Series 7. I've never once used it to track my sleep. 

Apple introduced some intriguing upgrades to sleep tracking with the Apple Watch Series 8. It also added new body temperature sensor that could benefit its female wearers by tracking vital health statistics using their overnight body temperature readings. 

More: Apple Watch Series 8 vs. Apple Watch Series 7: Which is best for you?

There's one problem with all of this: the Apple Watch Series 7 and 8 batteries only last 18 hours. This means, by the end of the average 16-hour day, the Apple Watch is usually very much in need of a charge. Like most Apple Watch owners, I top mine up overnight, so I'm never without its many conveniences. Are you beginning to see the problem?

The current Apple Watch battery can't support the 24-hour usefulness Apple is designing it to provide. The new Low Power Mode might help some folks by doubling the Apple Watch's battery life to 36 hours. Unfortunately, it does this by disabling several features that many of us likely rely on being available throughout our day. The current state of the Apple Watch's battery is just not sustainable. 

Also: Garmin's Enduro 2 is the ultra sports watch to beat

Garmin's tweet taking shots at the Apple Watch Ultra

The tweet was obviously aiming at the 36-hour battery of the Apple Watch Ultra. The Series 8's battery lasts half that long.

Garmin's Twitter account

While other manufacturers release watches with battery lives in the weeks or months (hence the now-infamous tweet from Garmin above), Apple continues measuring its watch's battery life in hours. Certainly, many of those smartwatches lack the same feature set provided by the Apple Watch, but the delta can't be so massive that Apple couldn't make at least some progress towards making the Apple Watch's overnight functions actually feasible without major daytime sacrifices. 

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Does this mean I should avoid Apple's products? 

Let me answer by saying this: right now, I own a Mac Mini, MacBook Air, iPhone 13 Pro, Apple Watch Series 7, AirPods Pro (1st gen), and an Apple TV 4K. It would be absurdly hypocritical of me to steer you away from an ecosystem I've personally invested so heavily in. 

Rather, I'd beg you to look carefully at every new Apple product with a keen eye. Determine, for yourself, if you really need that new satellite SOS feature to save your life. Or, if you're more likely to be struck by lightning outside the corner store than you are to get lost in the wilderness.

More: Apple Watch SE (2022) vs Apple Watch SE (2020): What's new?

I don't doubt there are some adventure-seeking users thrilled with the more "outdoorsy" features and a few up-and-coming film producers agog at the new camera highlights I've mentioned. But, I worry that Apple's gotten too complacent, too used to an incremental drip of modest, niche improvements being "good enough" for it to realize that the vast majority of its user base is just growing bored.

It would be more forgivable if nearly all of the suggestions I've made above hadn't been things users have been requesting for years now. But, they are. 

No, you shouldn't avoid Apple's products. But, if you're anything like me, owning them doesn't provide quite the same feeling of being at the forefront of technology and convenience that it used to, and that's something only Apple can fix.

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