This morning, I missed an important phone call because I fell back asleep after my alarm. The person trying to reach me called four times and sent two texts before giving up. When I woke up two hours later, the first thing I did was call them back and apologize profusely. The second thing I did was go through the checklist of possible explanations for why my phone didn’t ring.
Volume up? Check.
Ringer on? Check.
Do Not Disturb off? Check.
Didn’t accidentally mute or block the caller? Check.
This is the second time this week that my phone has simply not functioned when I needed it to. My alarm didn’t go off at all on Monday. Add to this sporadic slowdowns, overheating, barely audible calls and wi-fi that drops randomly. I’m generally pretty careful with my $700 electronic devices, so wear and tear isn’t the culprit. Besides, after an unfortunate accident which left my original iPhone at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, I got a brand new one only a year ago. So what gives?
Then I remembered: the iPhone 15 was announced about a week ago. That explains it.
Everyone with a smartphone knows that hardware companies typically spike the performance of their devices after a certain amount of time, or around the reveal of a new device. And this isn’t some half-baked conspiracy theory. Apple admitted to the practice back in 2020 when it settled claims about poor battery life from multiple lawsuits. In the settlement, Apple promised to be more transparent about its updates and adjustments to its phones, but it didn’t promise to stop the practice itself.
I admit that my own experience is only anecdotal, but that’s how Apple was caught the first time, by multiple users sharing anecdotal evidence. My question is, why do regulators allow this practice at all?
Before we get into the heavy-handed government regulation debate, consider the approach that European regulators have taken toward the iPhone. Just about a year ago, regulators in the European Union voted to enforce a common charging standard for all smartphones sold in the EU. As a result, Apple announced that it would no longer require consumers to use the absurdly overpriced “Lightning” proprietary charging cable. Starting with the iPhone 15, any normal USB-C charger will do.
We have a long history of a hands-off approach to business in the United States, but in practice that usually plays out as anti-consumer policies and behaviors that are “rectified” by lawsuits after the fact. But government has been especially lax with tech companies in all their forms since the beginning of the Internet Age 30 years ago. As a result, internet search engines have ballooned into multi-billion dollar monstrosities by selling user data; a company that started selling books now undergirds a full third of all internet cloud services; and computer companies make cell phones that they can throttle at will.
Meanwhile, politicians are still arguing about arcane regulations and whether they should be updated or not. The most famous of these debates revolve around Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which basically immunized telecommunications companies from the consequences of what users say and post. Like everything else, a legitimate policy question has turned into a political football, with Republicans claiming that the left is trying to silence them while Democrats accuse the right of fomenting hate and bigotry under the guise of free speech.
Once again, the Europeans come to the rescue of Americans held hostage by tech companies and recalcitrant politicians. All of those annoying pop-ups regarding cookies you’ve seen over the last few years are the result of another EU ruling designed to protect consumer data (you can read about it here). Without action from our own leaders, we’re left to rely on our friends across the pond for even incremental improvements to our expensive devices and internet services. Maybe a world government wouldn’t be so bad if it meant my iPhone would actually wake me up in the morning.