How Apple Is Helping Resolve The Social Dilemma By Taking On Its Big Tech Rivals

by Arihant Pawariya - Sep 26, 2021 11:31 AM
How Apple Is Helping Resolve The Social Dilemma By Taking On Its Big Tech RivalsApple
  • Apple is not concerned with being first but being the best, says a noted reviewer.

    Although Apple's teams may have the same idea at the same time as Google's teams, Apple has the constraint of having to work with the rest of the ecosystem and plug into as many different things as possible,” he adds.

Apple Inc’s operating software iOS is often mocked for being behind Google’s Android OS, sometimes by years, in offering same design and features.

But what most people don’t want to admit is that the former almost always ends up doing the same things better than the latter because of better integration not only between software and hardware of an Apple device but also among different products running on the iOS ecosystem.

That’s why, someone else may have made wireless earphones first, but there is no product better than AirPods (and especially the seamless way they work with Apple devices).

Ditto for file sharing. Nothing beats Airdrop. Google Lens had the idea of Live Text first (capturing text from live photos) but Apple has managed to make it even better.

Same thing with the iOS15’s new feature Share Play which is available in Google Meet, Zoom, Microsoft Team, etc in one form or another for some time now, but nowhere does it work as smoothly as it does in the Apple ecosystem (think of just how amazing the coordination is when you can use the mouse on a Mac to click on files on an iPad kept on the side and drag them on to the Mac!). On and on it goes.

Apple is not concerned with being first but being the best. So while Google's teams can be ridiculously innovative because the teams are a little more siloed and they get to work without the constraints of having to talk to each other all the time, they will often churn out amazing, incredible new features that just don't talk to anything else," says Marques Brownlee, one of the most followed tech reviewers on YouTube.

“Although Apple's teams may have the same idea at the same time as Google's teams (or, let's be honest, maybe even earlier), Apple has the constraint of having to work with the rest of the ecosystem and plug into as many different things as possible,” he adds.

No wonder then that the product timelines are delayed but the end result is always better than the competition. Such nuances are often disregarded in simplistic comparisons between iOS and android.

Android may be ahead on the ‘bells and whistles’ part, but iOS has an edge on offering things that matter the most to users (apart from the fact that it will eventually beat Android on bells and whistles too, sooner or later).

One of the most fundamental ways that iOS has tried to differentiate itself from Android in recent years is on privacy. Since then, the latter is trying to play catch-up.

The problem is that Apple doesn’t hurt anyone but its Big Tech competitors like Facebook, Google et al by betting big on privacy because these companies are the ones who rely heavily on deploying a wealth of users data for better ads-targeting.

However, Google can’t simply ignore the question of privacy and has to be seen concerned with protecting privacy via its Android OS but doing so would hurt it even more because Android smartphones have a bigger market globally and are not just owned by the rich and wealthy like the case is with iPhones.

Not only Google stands to lose due to Apple’s actions (as it earned ad revenue even from data of iOS users), it will be hurt even more by similar actions it itself has had to initiate, lest it be viewed to be callous on such an important issue like privacy.

Before 2020, in response to Apple’s actions on safeguarding privacy, Google announced some big measures in Android 10 release and mandated that users will be in charge of their data and can delete it with ease.

But there were two convenient flaws with this — the data stayed on Google’s servers for a minimum of three months before one could remove it and this was enough time in which ‘Google would have already extracted most of the advertising value’ as ‘anything up to one month is extremely valuable’.

Moreover, Android 10 would only be available in flagship phones and not to everyone. This not only shows that Google was merely paying lip service but even in token privacy measures, it was only targeting that segment which had enough money to dump Android for iOS.

Those with less money were not seen fit to be worthy of given privacy measures at par with the rich.

But Google and other Big Tech companies relying heavily on ad-targeting for their revenue were in for another shock. Apple was about to ratchet up the game in 2020 with release of iOS 14 and further updates which would make matters worse for its rivals.

Apple forced all the apps on its store to mandate declaring the type of data they were collecting from users — data linked to them such as contact information and data not linked to them such as search history.

Once everyone complied, the big tech players were exposed as users could now see for themselves who was collecting what kind of information on them.

It was an eye opener, especially the comparison of how less data Apple was collecting on its users compared to other players (naturally, because the former doesn’t rely much on user data to make monies).

But Apple didn’t stop at simply ‘exposing’ its rivals. In iOS 14.5, it provided an important tool in the form of App Tracking Transparency to users to block these apps from actually tracking them.

Every app on iOS store has to seek independent approval from users. Whenever you open an app for the first time, a window pops up and users have the option to click on ‘Ask app not to track’ to deny them the permission for collecting information such as location of the user among other things.

Thanks to Apple, Android has also been forced to provide some important privacy features such as visual indicators on the phone’s screen when cameras or microphones are being used by an app.

Android is also allowing users the option to give apps access to their approximate location as opposed to precise location. Earlier, apps would simply collect such data even when they didn’t need it (for example, Ola/Uber/Swiggy/Zomato wanting to know exact location is understandable but not some gaming app).

Still, Google is reluctant to provide more foolproof features like ATT in Android because its ads-based business model will suffer badly. It has an incentive to be behind Apple in providing more privacy to its users.

Meanwhile, Apple has moved on to newer territory — solving the problem of ’The Social Dilemma’ (the problems highlighted by a recent Netflix documentary with the same name).

In its latest software update iOS 15, it has come up with ‘Focus Mode’ where users can customise receiving notifications based on their schedule. In ‘Work mode’, one will receive work related notifications only — it can be from office people or apps one uses for work.

During ‘Sleep mode’, one can block all notifications, during ‘personal mode’, notifications from work can be blocked and so on.

Essentially, it aims to free the users from the tyranny of constant distracting notifications which have sounded the death knell of productivity.

Of course, ultimately, all depends on one’s willpower, but this is an important tool which has been provided to users to reduce ‘screen time’.

One another big issue that was highlighted by ‘The Social Media’ was how social media companies use algorithms to constantly track the content consumed by the users and serve them more of the similar content to keep them engaged and hit them with more and more ads during that time.

Perhaps, Apple can try to tackle this dangerous use of tech by these companies in coming years. It’s interesting that Apple is best suited to take on these Big Tech firms whose existence is solely based on more and more user engagement and keeping them hooked on their screens because Apple’s business model is driven by selling products, not their usage (though the latter drives the former to some extent — if I want a phone that can play heavy duty games for long without glitches, I would want an iPhone).

But, if one talks of pure competition, Apple’s actions have the potential to wipe out the Big Tech competitors while it may only get scratched a little.

It seems that the solutions to challenges posed by new age tech are being deployed by the biggest tech company in the world and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.
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