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Apple to lose fans because of tough privacy laws

Sahil Mohan Gupta
Sahil Mohan GuptaJun 15, 2016 | 16:20

Apple to lose fans because of tough privacy laws

In the past few months Apple has adopted a hardline on privacy with regards to its products. Apple denied any help to the FBI for unlocking of an iPhone 5C that was removed from a suspect in the San Bernardino attack back in December resulting in a nasty spat between the company and the security agency. The matter escalated and both parties landed up in a court battle. FBI eventually withdrew as it hired hackers to unlock the iPhone in question.

If you think about it, Apple has always been like this, it takes privacy as a moral issue. Its uncompromising stand about not using user data or mining data from its users has helped build it reputation among users.

The fat margins on its hardware products like the iPhone can help the Apple's boat stay afloat for a while, but in the long run, it might affect Apple's products like the iPhone in a negative way. Users will certainly not like this and it will be its undoing.

At the Apple Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC), Apple showed shades of the same belligerence which landed it in a public spat with the FBI. Here's what is likely to happen if Apple contuinues down the same path.

As Apple gets cornered by agile hardware start-ups in China and India, there will come a point that it will not be able to charge the premium it does for an iPhone. It already has issues in markets like India. Let's get real, many phones that cost half as much as the iPhone offer 90 per cent of the experience one gets with an iPhone. That's good enough for most people. However, it's the services that people love. Apple's cloud services are inferior to the ones that Google, Microsoft and Facebook offer. That's just a blunt reality.

One of the ways Google, Facebook and Microsoft enhance their services is by reading user data and understanding how they are using services. Using technologies like machine learning, and neural networks, these tech giants are able to use their vast cloud platforms to continually evolve and adapt their services at a break neck pace. Apple isn't able to do it because it refuses to invade the privacy of its users by reading the data.

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Google, Facebook and Microsoft have more data to play around with and they for sure have more computing power on tap by order of magnitude.

It is a noble cause regardless, but do people really care about their privacy or do people care about better products? In my opinion if you asked most people then the answer will be that they care about privacy, but they don't get paranoid by the fact that Google is able to read your mails and is able to remind you that you have a meeting at 11PM at ITC Maurya or you have 3PM flight to catch and it will take you 30 mins to reach the airport before check-in closes.

Here's the thing; people want maximum value out of their devices and the software and services do that. Apple's announcements at WWDC are a good example of this stance. Apple announced a bunch of new features for the iPhone and Mac that Google and Microsoft are already offering with their own platforms. What's perplexing is that Apple's functionality is not only late, it could be inferior.

The new photos app now supports "Advanced Computer Vision" which is just a fancy term for understanding what's there in a photo. If there are photos in which people are hugging, the algorithms will understand that and deliver you just those photos. Google has been doing this for a while on its Google photos app. Apple says that it does all the computer vision on the phone itself as it has the most powerful mobile processor, however, Google leverages the cloud - its own cloud which arguably is the most advanced cloud infrastructure on the planet and that A9 processor on the iPhone is no match for it. Comparisons, in fact are laughable. It's like bringing a knife to sink a warship.

Google, Facebook and Microsoft have more data to play around with and they for sure have more computing power on tap by order of magnitude.

Similarly, Apple has advanced the quick type keyboard with deep learning on the iPhone. But Google and Microsoft have been doing this for a while on their keyboards. Again Apple is doing this on device, while Microsoft's SwiftKey keyboard is able to tap into your Facebook, Twitter and Gmail. Google's keyboard also is able to tap into all of your Google history to improve your predictions.

Siri has been finally opened up to app developers, but again Microsoft and Google had opened up their assistants far earlier. WWDC wasn't just a case of Apple playing catch-up, it was a case of Apple playing catch-up within the confines of its own morality. The longer it is straddled by it the faster the iPhone will fall behind.

It already is starting to show signs of falling behind Samsung. The Galaxy S7 is most certainly a better phone than the iPhone 6S in terms of hardware.

Moreover, Apple's hard stance on privacy is rubbing governments the wrong way. While it had a skirmish with FBI, this war is far from over. With terrorist attacks happening once in every 6 months, there will come a time when Apple loses the battle with the governments.

The security agencies will want to clamp down and want a backdoor or more access. Apple's hardline will just strengthen their resolve to ask for more, than back off.

When that happens, Apple would've lost battle on privacy and a lead in technology because its rivals would've gotten ahead. Its stance on privacy will eventually result in its undoing, at least that's my view on the situation.

Last updated: June 15, 2016 | 16:27
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