Apple is losing its grip on iPhone accessories as companies look to a better Bluetooth standard with longer battery life as the way to connect to both iOS and Android devices.
According to a recent report in the New York Times, the Bluetooth wireless standard is allowing accessory makers to connect to Apple devices without having to deal with the complications that arise from having to apply for access the Lightening port included on current generation iPhones and iPads.
Currently, any accessory that wishes to physically connect to an iOS device has to get the go ahead from Apple to use its “made for iPhone” and “made for iPad” licensing programs, and they must pay Apple a fee.
As Bluetooth is an industry standard, any manufacturer can have their devices certified. The technology has seen widespread adoption and is included in handsets from every device manufacturer. Accessories that rely on Bluetooth can work with devices running Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10. By using Bluetooth accessories, vendors are able to create one device to work with as many phones as possible.
Apple may have unintentionally aided Bluetooth adoption when it switched from the dock connector port it had been using to the Lightning adaptor last year. Many accessory manufacturers had not anticipated any possible change to how Apple devices physically connect to accessories and were left scrambling to test and redesign their accessories to work with the new port.
If these reports are correct it could spell a huge issue for Apple as it seeks to keep its grip on the smartphone landscape. Traditionally Apple releases new mobile products into undeveloped markets, then grows quickly and crowds out other competitors. Apple is able to do this by creating an ecosystem around their products with easier to use software and a large selection of accessories from its partners.
Once a user has purchased into the ecosystem, the costs of leaving become too high for some users to bear. For example users switching from an iPhone to Android device would have to repurchase all of the accessories they already have. Since Bluetooth makes it easier for users to take their accessories with them, they could be more inclined to leave the Apple ecosystem for Android’s beefier processors and new form factors.
Kyle Thompson, director of marketing for Cambridge SoundWorks told the Times that a lot of the exploration in Bluetooth stems from the way Apple normally treats its partners. “You really don’t know where Apple is going to go next, if they’re going to change to something else down the road”.
Thompson believes that Apple has “made a lot of companies like us really nervous.” According to the report, both Logitech and Voxx Audio have stopped manufacturing speaker systems that use any form of Apple’s proprietary connectors.
For its part Apple has created a wireless media standard of its own to shore up its lock-in practices and still take advantage of the latest wireless technology trends. Its AirPlay wireless standard allows users to stream audio and video between Apple devices and accessories.
According to the latest numbers from market research firm IDC, Apple trailed Samsung with 17.3 percent of the smartphone market in the first three months of 2013. By comparison, Samsung made up 32.7 percent of all smartphones shipped in that same time frame.
This shift in market share is starting to reflect in the latest accessories that are on their way to consumers. The recently announced FitBit Flex uses Bluetooth technology to connect with popular Android flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One.