Before every episode of The Vergecast I sit down, read through a bunch of news, and take a bunch of notes. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my week, and I started thinking it might be fun to do every day on the site. So, I just sat down and wrote some notes on today’s news as though I’d be talking about it later. Are you into this? Am I into this? I don’t know. But it was fun to do! Give me some feedback and we’ll keep mutating this into something good.
Apple’s ecosystem walls keep getting higher
- Dieter reviewed Android Wear 2.0 with an iPhone, and found that it just isn’t very good. Basically everywhere Google couldn’t get access to something on the iPhone — iMessage, for instance — it tried to build the entire feature into the watch. Messy!
- Apple has some weird incentives around the iPhone right now — as sales taper off, the company has publicly said the next plan is to extract more revenue from every iPhone owner. Part of that is services like Apple Music, but another big part of that is the huge iPhone accessory market — and Apple is setting itself up so that its own products have major advantages over everyone else.
- Take headphones, for example: Sean O’Kane reviewed the new Doppler Labs Hear One wireless earbuds and found that they sound better than AirPods, but have some frustrating Bluetooth issues.
- No one else has access to the simplified pairing and management APIs Apple uses to make the AirPods and other Apple W1 products work better on iOS, so if you want the simplest wireless headphones to use with Apple products, you have to buy Apple. If you’re Doppler Labs and you come up with a killer competitor to the W1, you’re still stuck with Bluetooth, unless you convince Apple to open up the new API hooks in iOS and macOS so your chip can use them, too.
- In another era, Doppler Labs would solve this problem by shipping a custom driver for Windows or Mac, but none of that is allowed on iOS. How do headphone manufacturers compete in a world where Apple doesn’t have a clear incentive to make standard Bluetooth work as well as its custom W1 Bluetooth experience?
- Same with wearables: the killer features for wearables are basically fitness tracking and notifications. Apple won’t ever let anyone else touch iMessage replies, so the only wearable worth buying if you’re an iPhone owner interested in a smartwatch is the Apple Watch. Fitbit might struggle along with its popular fitness trackers as long as they’re better at fitness features than the Apple Watch, but the company’s hazy ambitions to take on the smartwatch market are eventually going to hit a brick wall made of Apple API restrictions.
- In a world where Apple sells around the same number of phones every year, it’s more important than ever that the company increase sales of high-margin services and accessories. And if the two most expensive hardware accessories for a phone are headphones and some kind of wearable, Apple is in a position to make sure it has significant advantages over any potential competitor.
- It’s great to say that everyone else should just compete, but if you can’t get Apple to update iOS to support whatever new wireless thing you invent, it might as well not exist for an iPhone owner. This has already happened once before: there are tons of Bluetooth headphones out there that support better-quality aptX audio, but iOS doesn’t support it, so... yeah.
WHERE YOU AT AJIT
- New FCC chairman Ajit Pai has been on a tear lately, with many of his changes specifically addressing the transparency of the FCC. Jake Kastrenakes asked around, and while the moves are generally positive, there’s equal concern that Pai is just making it easier for cable lobbyists to influence things.
- Chairman Pai has an open invitation to come hang with us on The Vergecast; we’ll see if he ever takes us up on it.
LITTLE THINGS THAT MIGHT BE BIG THINGS
- The most popular story on The Verge all day? Rachel Becker’s dive into a huge rainstorm predicted for California. I think we all know why apocalypse stories are doing so well right now.
- Some miserable leaked photos of the Galaxy S8 leaked, and you can look at them. They look like miserable leaked photos. But! There’s another hint about a feature called “DeX” which will turn the S8 into a desktop computer when you plug it into a dock. Mobile and desktop convergence is one of those things that bubbles up every couple years; it looks like it’s about to be a trend again.
- For example! Jide’s new Remix OS also hit today. We’ve been looking at Remix for a while; it’s always popular when we put it on the site. It’s like the inverse of putting Android apps on Chrome OS — you’re adding desktop features to Android, instead of taking adding Android apps to a desktop. In general this all feels like one of those ideas that I really want to have in the world, but will never actually use. Especially because I like picking up my phone and walking away from my computer to make a call.
- Intel is making a huge push into modems around MWC next week — the company just announced LTE modems with gigabit speeds, and there’s a lot of chatter about 5G stuff in Barcelona to come. Really feels like the industry is a little sick of Qualcomm’s dominance in LTE over the past few years and ready for some competition as the next generation of LTE networks rolls out and 5G standards start to settle in.
- GM has a new infotainment stack that’ll come out first in new Cadillacs; the product manager was previously at Sonos. “You want your car to be magic,” he says. It looks like a prettier version of the same old mess to me, but you can put Android Auto and CarPlay in a split screen with the GM interface now. Which is something, I guess.
- We’re also about to roll out a new series where we review car interiors as gadgets — Ashley Carmen has the first one coming this week. It’s going to be super fun.
- Speaking of Sonos, the new PlayBase leaked out — it’s basically a PlayBar that your TV can sit on. It’s a fine idea, and there are plenty of competing products like this that sell well. But when is the company going to get with the times and put 802.11ac wireless in all their speakers and update the ancient PlayBar with some modern surround codecs like DTS? All the promised voice assistant integrations in the world won’t help if your actual hardware is so dated.
- And finally, over the weekend Micah Singleton broke some very sad news: LG has not licensed Like A G6 to launch the LG G6 at MWC next week. Someone had better be scrambling to fix this obvious oversight.