TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: Apple's 4G tangle

As Apple steams ahead with product and systems innovations, the headache around its misleading 4G iPad branding lingers. But will this hurt sales of the new iPad?

Technology Spectator

Apple may have kick started its Worldwide Developer’s Conference 2012 with a leaner, meaner MacBook Pro, deeper Facebook integration and a host of software updates, but the tech giant is still facing plenty of headaches in Australia as far as its last big product launch is concerned. That product is the new iPad, whose somewhat spurious 4G label, has got Apple into trouble with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

After months of debate, the ACCC has managed to add a major feather to its cap now that a penitent Apple has agreed to pay $2.25 million to atone for its 4G sins. It should be smiles all around at the regulator after sticking it to Google for false and misleading advertising in April it has now cut the mighty Apple down to size. But does the punitive action have more to do with sticking it to the tech giants and less about making any meaningful impact for consumers?

Well for one thing, the new iPad isn’t going to cost you any less. In March, Apple agreed to offer a full refund to those customers who thought they had been led astray by the 4G labelling, unsurprisingly, the queues of the disgruntled demanding their money back failed to materialise.

Then in May, Apple dropped the 4G branding in hopes that the measure would be enough to appease the regulator. As it turns out the ACCC was always going to get its pound of flesh and the question boiled down to how much. It’s a question that presently remains unresolved despite the meeting of minds between Apple and the ACCC, because Justice Mordecai Bromberg isn’t quite convinced that the penalty is appropriate. A ruling is now expected this week as Justice Mordecai Bromberg pores over the financial information and sales figures for the period the device was sold with the 4G moniker and explores the technicalities that set 3G and 4G apart.

Justice Bromberg will need some help on the tech front because there is no clear definition of the term 4G. Telstra’s 4G network runs on the 1800MHz band and the iPad only runs on 700 MHz and the 2100 MHz bands. The existing HSPA networks in the country are actually faster than 3G but not quite 4G LTE, however, they do technically fall into the broad standard of 4G set by the International Telecommunication Union. Similar networks run by US carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile, are also labelled 4G.

Perhaps Apple’s biggest mistake was to defend the branding in the first place, given the current state of our 4G networks the tech giant probably shouldn’t have laboured the point but paid the fine. As for the ACCC, it’s an easy win while far knottier issues lay untouched. Taking Apple to task for misleading advertising isn’t quite as challenging as making the tech giants pay more taxes or lowering the exorbitant prices paid by Australians for tech.

Apple is no stranger to legal action, in fact it is a technique that it routinely utilises to attack rivals, and the fiscal penalty certainly won’t have an impact. In the end it all comes down to publicity – bad publicity for Apple and good publicity for the ACCC. However, will this hurt local sales of the new iPad? Not on your life.

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