We’ve received lots of comments on yesterday’s story, “Apple bans protective screen film from Apple Store,” and that’s not a huge surprise: film is one of the most popular accessories in the entire iPod/iPhone ecosystem, and its value—particularly for anti-glare purposes—has spread to Macs, as well, with the same thing very likely to happen with iPads. In the absence of an official explanation from Apple, which we’ve been waiting on, everyone seems to have a theory as to why the company would have done something so drastic. Here are some responses to reader comments that might otherwise get lost in the growing flow of opinions in that thread:
The iPad Theory, from Marko: “Did anyone think that maybe they just need the shelf space for iPad accessories?… But I guess that doesn’t explain online store getting rid of it unless they just want to unite the offering.”
The second part of this comment answers the first: it’s not about shelf space. Additionally, anti-glare and other films would be at least as appealing for the 10” iPad screen as for the 3.5” iPod touch and iPhone ones, just as they are for the screens of MacBook computers. Unless the ban is dropped, iPad screen protectors won’t be carried at all.
The Evil Apple Theory, from Dave M.: “No one has mentioned a glaringly obvious reason. If iPhones stay perfect for years and years, no one will [buy] replacement iPhones. With scratched screens, people are likely to buy the next iPhone when they can if their screen is scratched up.”
As plausible as this theory might be on its face, it doesn’t ring true for a couple of reasons. First, Apple continues to sell bags and cases for every portable product in its store, many if not most of which provide excellent protection for everything except for their respective devices’ screens. Apple’s Stores sell everything at full MSRP with only the most infrequent of discounts, making sales of these items very profitable; ceasing sales is only reducing a revenue stream for some of its most popular offerings. Second, scratched screens—an annoyance—are far less likely to trigger a device replacement than an electronic failure of some sort, which Apple’s products tend to develop over time anyway.
The Elitist Theory, from Roadburn: “The crisp and effective functioning of a capacitance-sensitive touch screen—one that already is constructed of several thin layers—is not enhanced by slapping a piece of plastic on top. You can wrap a plastic covering all over your Roche Bobois sofa if you choose to, but that doesn’t mean the furniture-maker has to assist you in doing so. They know the sofa is better without it.”
“Not enhanced” may be technically accurate, but “not impeded” is also accurate—at least, in virtually every situation we’ve encountered with screen film. Note first that we’re talking about both protectors and anti-glare solutions, the latter of which may enable people to actually see that screen under lighting conditions that would otherwise be problematic, which would quality as “enhanced” for some users. In any case, film provides a far better tradeoff of coverage and continued functionality than any other solution we’ve tested over the past nearly nine years, in most cases with no discernible impact on touchscreen responsiveness. Contrast this with other solutions, such as the thicker clear soft plastic used in armband screen and Click Wheel covers—commonly reducing sensitivity at least a little—and the complete face coverage offered by Apple’s own solutions, including “iPod Socks” and its official iPad Case. All of these are and will be sold in Apple Stores. In this case, the “furniture-maker’s” own protective solutions are far more gaudy than the ones it’s blocking, so there’s plenty of room to discuss which one the “sofa” is better with. If you really believe in purely naked use of your devices, congratulations, but tens of millions of people don’t, and even luxury car companies place clear shields on sensitive parts of their vehicles. There’s no shame in protection.
The Installation Problem/Returns Theory, from Anon: “I’m an Apple Retail employee who has applied roughly a million of these films. A couple months ago, it became our policy not to help apply them, because they’re so difficult to get perfect and it became a liability issue (“There’s a speck of dust, give me a new one free.”)…. Obviously, this is not the ONLY reason for them to be banned, but I thought I’d add my experience.”
While we appreciate the added insight that this comment appears to offer—we say “appears to” only because there is no way to verify whether the commenter is in fact involved with Apple’s retail stores, and Apple has not provided official comment on the subject—the difference between selling film and applying film is an obvious one. A subsequent commenter, Barefootman, added that “What customers need to realise when they buy a screen protector is that they’re buying a product, not a service!”—though frankly, there’s no suggestion anywhere in the Apple Store that employees are supposed to be performing unpaid services such as this for customers. Additionally, it should be noted that Apple is apparently not shy about returning products to vendors, and the vendor—not Apple—bears the primary financial responsibility for the returns. Vendors who aren’t comfortable with that burden could pull their products from Apple’s stores, rather than the other way around.
The Stupid Apple Theory, from Lexplex: “I have a screen protector for my iPhone which I bought from an Apple Store. It’s far, far better than the screen itself – it reduces glare when using the iPhone in bright light and it makes the surface a lot silkier and easier for me to run my sticky fingers over… When will people start realising that Apple are a ridiculously stupid company when it comes to business and design decisions, but have a very very smart PR team?”
There are 25 to 30 billion reasons to think that Apple is impressively smart when it comes to business decisions, PR decisions, and design decisions. The company has grown and profited at an amazing clip during an awful economic crisis, developed more award-winning designs over the past 10 years than perhaps any other consumer electronics manufacturer, and had some of the most effective marketing of any business in the entire world. Most companies—almost any company—would give anything to have the sort of business, design, and PR success Apple has enjoyed. But on occasion, it does make a glaring mistake that really hurts customers; when that happens, it is far better off fixing these mistakes than pretending they weren’t made.
The Future Products Theory, from Mike Curtis: “Perhaps products scheduled to be released will no longer be compatible (as in function correctly or up to Apple spec/snuff) with a film on top, and Apple doesn’t want to set incorrect customer expectations?”
All things considered, this seems like the most probable explanation for what has happened—front-facing cameras, different types of touchscreens, or new and better glass is coming on future devices, any of which might have problems with certain screen protectors. So rather than communicating its future product plans to the world, Apple blocks the sale of similar items temporarily as a weird, quasi-warning to developers. The only problem with this theory is that the ban affects a huge number of products that currently exist and are undeniably both compatible with and capable of benefitting from the film; given that May is only months away from the rollout of numerous new products, Apple might well view such a move as an acceptable and short-term consequence. It’s hard to know for sure.
The Greedy Apple Store Theory: One other possibility, floated by a developer yesterday, is that there’s a purely financial and greedy reason for all of this, the details of which we’re currently exploring in the absence of an official response from Apple. At the moment, we don’t think that it’s accurate, but we should know more in the next day or so. Stay tuned.