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Apple’s balancing act – how a desire for profits impacts features and prices

Compromises and upsells are the untold story of the iPhone 15 event

By the measure of people who know about such things, Apple is the most valuable company on the planet. It didn’t get there by accident. Under the stewardship of Tim Cook, the company has been canny and shrewd in business, with a ruthlessly streamlined supply chain and relentless updates to key technologies. Occasionally, there are blips, but Apple is nonetheless a machine – a machine that happens to make a whole lot of money.

For the consumer, Apple is keen to regularly point out you are not the product. Rivals reliant on advertising sell your data and attention to their customers. Despite irksome ads for first-party Apple services that pop up now and again in Settings, Apple tends to be better. But it’s important to remember its first priority is making money, rather than what you’d specifically like the company to do.

This was apparent at Apple’s September 2023 event, where the twin monsters of compromise and upsell made an appearance, as Apple again figured out how best to balance new features and profits.

The iPhone 15 display gets Dynamic Island, but remains stuck on 60Hz

With iPhone, Apple arguably got the balance right. The new iPhone 15 makes compromises and lags behind a number of broadly equivalent Android devices regarding the 60Hz display refresh rate and USB-2 connectivity speeds. Apple made a calculation that these things won’t matter to most people – and it’s right. The shift from 60Hz to 120Hz displays isn’t nearly as pronounced as the move to Retina. The revamped camera and Dynamic Island are likely to have far more appeal.

But in upsell territory, Apple’s approach looks far more cynical. After years of people hoping for new iCloud tiers, they finally arrived. But rather than adjusting existing tiers, Apple bolted on new ones – expensive new ones.

The free – and borderline insulting – 5GB tier remains, useful for nothing. And in an age of 48MP cameras, the 50GB tier now feels similarly laughable. At the high end, you can now go beyond 2TB of storage with 6TB and 12TB options. But, boy, do you pay for them: 6TB costs $29.99/£26.99 per month and 12TB is $59.99/£54.99 per month.

Where the iPhone compromises seem reasonable, the new iCloud tiers feel like a squeeze. It’s no coincidence Apple’s growth increasingly relies on services rather than selling hardware – and so we can expect more of this kind of thing in the future.