Recorded: October 10, 2010
Published: October 10, 2010
TWiT 269 •Previous episode – Next episode
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Introduction Netcasts you love, from people you trust. This is TWiT.
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This is TWiT, this WEEK in TECH, Episode 269, recorded October 10, 2010, Fowl Play.
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It’s time for TWiT, this WEEK in TECH, the show that covers the week’s tech news. Joining us this week as I go round the table, a nice cast of very talented people, including somebody who hasn’t been on TWiT in a while but is here to celebrate 10/10/10; John Graham-Cumming of jgc.org, the author of The Geek Atlas. Hi, John.
John Graham-Cumming Hi, how are you doing, Leo?
Leo Laporte Coming to us all the way from U.K. Where in England are you?
John Graham-Cumming I’m in a basement, of course. And I am in London.
Leo Laporte In basement, England. I am surprised there isn’t a town in England named ‘in the basement’.
John Graham-Cumming Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was.
Leo Laporte Basement on Avon.
John Graham-Cumming But it wouldn’t be pronounced by that.
Leo Laporte Right. It’s pronounced Derbyshire. Also with us John C. Dvorak in a lovely shirt, that connotes fine-dining. What is –
John C. Dvorak It’s a commemorative Hawaiian shirt, the kind you used to wear –
Leo Laporte I would if I had –
John C. Dvorak On the old screen saver show before the suits told you to stop it.
Leo Laporte Yeah. I told – I asked them once if I can wear bowling shirts and they said it was too down market. So I was wearing Hawaiian shirts and they said stop it. What – commemorating what?
John C. Dvorak What?
Leo Laporte That shirt?
John C. Dvorak To bring the loss of the Hawaiian shirt to this show, I don’t know.
Leo Laporte Is that – what does that mean? It’s got food, wine, sushi?
John C. Dvorak Yeah, just – it’s one those Jams World shirts that people like to collect. It’s has got a bunch of designs on it.
Tom Merritt I like it.
John C. Dvorak It’s like wearing art.
Leo Laporte Okay. Some might call it that. Also here with us – I’m so glad to have him, Tom Merritt. He hasn’t been on. I have been very careful and protective of his time because of course he’s our day-by-day host of our tech news show, Tech News Today. Hey, Tom?
Tom Merritt Hey, Leo, how is it going?
Leo Laporte Since we acquired Tom in a trade in June for a player to be named later, he has not been on TWiT. So this is your first time?
Tom Merritt That’s right because the last TWiT I did was the day before I started, two days before I started.
Leo Laporte Right. And it really is a case of me trying to protect the franchise. I don’t want anybody to think that TNT is TWiT, or vice-versa.
Tom Merritt Or vice-versa.
Leo Laporte And well, I don’t mind the other way round. But and this is your day off. So thank you for being here.
Tom Merritt Yeah, though I was going to come up to the cottage but then I was doing podcasts all morning and run out of time.
Leo Laporte On your big day off?
Tom Merritt Yeah.
Leo Laporte Well, thanks for being here. And finally last, but certainly not least, from gadget gdgt.com, Ryan Block is here and –
Ryan Block Hello.
Leo Laporte The reason I wanted to have you on Ryan actually there’s so much I can talk to you about; the launch of the Google TV and so forth. But you did a fairly – I would say a fairly big deal article this week. You’re calling it Glassgate about the iPhone 4?
Ryan Block That’s I – I certainly did use it as kind of tongue-in-cheek but –
Leo Laporte Too late! Too late!
Ryan Block Yeah, I know that’s certainly the shorthand I think that’s going to stick, if not possible.
Leo Laporte So, let me recap. Apple sells actually, at this time in their stores but one iPhone case. It’s their own bumper case which doesn’t, in anyway, cover the front or the back. It’s just a plastic rim that goes around the case.
Ryan Block Right.
Leo Laporte It has one chief merit which is that it fixes the antenna problem. And I guess if you dropped it on the edge, it might protect it. But it’s really – it’s about as minimalist as a case as you can get. I use, in fact I’ll show you what I’ve been using up until I read your article, for a case, that I bought from the AT&T store from a company called iFrogz, with a Z. It’s a slip-on case that covers the back. And I kind of like the idea because it protects the back. Well, apparently, that’s not what’s happening. Tell us what’s going on, Ryan?
Ryan Block Well, how far back in time you want me to go? I mean is it worth kind of getting into how Apple’s whole system of selling stuff works?
Leo Laporte Yeah, sure.
Ryan Block So, some people who’ve been in the industry have kind of seen this system for a very long time, and not very many companies outside of the gaming world tend to do this, but Apple does. Way back in the day, I think it was 2003, 2002 when the iPod was first starting to take off, they created a Mayfri iPod program. What that meant that was they would license third-party iPod accessories and a licensed accessory meant that you got access to Apple’s CAD schematics for the devices, sometimes in advance of launch so you could have the accessories ready.
Leo Laporte And you get logos. And Microsoft does this, made for Windows too, with software.
Ryan Block Yeah, they do that. It’s something you see a lot more in, like the gaming world, right? Like licensed accessories.
Leo Laporte Right.
Ryan Block But Apple started doing this and so they had ‘made for iPod’. And then when the iPhone came out, and the iPad came out, they did ‘made for iPhone’ and ‘made for iPad’. And that program is called MFI, Made For I, whatever.
And it’s actually a really cool program for them because they don’t have to go through the work of creating a whole line of accessories. But they get to take basically a chunk of profit from anybody who creates an Apple accessory and gets the license – gets the Apple license. And then, if Apple really likes your accessory, they are going to carry it in the store. And that is – then they are taking both the license fee for the accessory as well as some of the margin off of the actual cost of the sale. So Apple kind of double dips on it. But most accessories companies really like this because they make less money but they sell more units. So they –
Leo Laporte If you think about it, getting in the Apple store is a huge retail opportunity.
Ryan Block Absolutely. It is – if you make Apple accessories, there’s nothing you want more than to be in the Apple store even despite the fact that Apple is double-dipping on your profits. And so where – my whole story with the iPhone cases comes in is – if you look at what cases have become available on the Apple store this week, and there were no cases available for the last couple of months and now cases are just starting to become available, right around the same time I published the story. You’ll notice that there are no slide-on cases and – but actually I might have an example. I don’t have one handy right now. But it’s any kind of case where you know you put the iPhone into it and slides it. And basically what I’d heard –
Leo Laporte So this is the – this is an example of such a case. This is the – and I bought this at the AT&T store. This is the iFrogz. So, it slides on here, and then the bottom slides on there. Frankly, this is what I’ve been using. It does the same thing as a bumper case but it also protects the back.
Ryan Block Right.
Leo Laporte And there’s – I also have a Mophie Juice Pack Air which does the same thing – slides on.
Ryan Block Yeah. So there are a lot of cases that do this and some of them are actually licensed. Like the Juice Pack Air, I think is licensed and I think the Duracell one is a licensed accessory. But Apple is not selling them. And Apple does sell the Juice Pack Air for other products as well and they sold slide-on cases for their other iPhones, for the 3G and the 3GS…
Leo Laporte But not for the four.
Ryan Block But not for the four. And there is a reason why. But before I get to that, I mean when you look at the other cases you see that they don’t have – the other ones don’t have this mechanism where it slides on to the phone. They have some kind of mechanism where it snaps on, or in the case of the bumper, it goes on the edge of the phone and kind of flips on to place.
And the reason being, what I heard from a source who’s given me very reliable information from Apple for many years. And then which I also confirmed from a very large third-party accessories manufacturer, independently, was that Apple’s kind of gone into lockdown. And right after Antennagate, they were basically looking for issues. They were trying to find anything else that could blow up in their face.
Leo Laporte We don’t need another hate on this platform.
Ryan Block Right.
Leo Laporte We don’t want to give consumer reports anymore ammunition.
Ryan Block Absolutely, absolutely. And what they discovered was the slide-on cases, if there’s grit or any kind of matter in between the back of the case and the case as it’s sliding – the back of the phone and the case as it’s sliding on; it can scratch and score the glass which can turn into a fracture or crack.
Leo Laporte So this one – this iFrogz case has some velveteen in there that – I mean you could still get some gravel in there, I mean I don’t know how you would. So what you are saying is really more than just the case, is that if this so-called Gorilla glass back is scoured, that might be sufficient to turn into a fracture on the back.
Ryan Block Right. I mean it’s glass. It’s actually not – Gorilla ….
Leo Laporte Isn’t it Tuffen Glass?
Ryan Block It is. It’s Tuffen Glass, it’s not Gorilla Glass because Gorilla Glass is made by Corning.
Leo Laporte That’s a brand, right.
Ryan Block But it is a strengthened composite glass, very similar to Gorilla Glass. But it’s ….
Leo Laporte It’s stronger than the front, though, isn’t it, the back?
Ryan Block No, I believe they are actually the same material, the same kind of glass.
Leo Laporte Interesting. Okay.
Ryan Block But – you know, it’s glass and it scores and it cracks and it shatters.
John C. Dvorak You know what’s interesting to me about this?
Leo Laporte What?
John C. Dvorak I’ve never heard of such a thing as scratches on any of these devices.
Leo Laporte You are being facetious. In fact this is big problem. Apple got sued because of – because the iPod was so easy to scratch – one of the iPod models. But this is more important than just a scratch, this is not merely cosmetic because if it fractures, you could have a break. Is that you were talking about, Ryan?
Ryan Block Yeah. I mean, when they do fracture it’s not like the – all the glass comes apart. I mean, it’s kind of like the safety glass in a car …
Leo Laporte Right.
Ryan Block … where if it sustains like an acute impact, it’s not all’s just going to fall out, right. It does hold together but you will wind up with – you would not necessarily wind up with a fractured back. But if you do wind up with a fractured back, it’s going to be – it’s going to look like a piece of shattered glass on the back. And so what Apple is concerned about is basically that you would buy a case, and Apple had licensed some slide-on third-party cases – that you would buy a slide-on case, you would put it on. And you are a diligent customer, you want to take care of your phone, you want to put in the case. So you buy the Apple licensed case from, potentially the Apple Store, it could be somewhere else. And then, maybe a month later, you take it off and you find that your phone which you’ve taken great care of …………
Leo Laporte Is scratched.
Ryan Block …. Has a crack on the back.
Leo Laporte Yeah.
Ryan Block So what Apple did, was they kind of went in to lock down on this.
Leo Laporte What does that mean when you say went in to lock down?
Ryan Block So they started a test lab specifically for testing this. They started investigating this very thoroughly; and then they also basically completely wiped the store clear, I mean the slide-on cases.
Leo Laporte So that’s – to me that’s – the proof of this is that you couldn’t buy a slide-on, you still to this day.
Ryan Block You cannot buy a slide-on case.
Leo Laporte Can’t buy a slide-on case just for the phone.
Ryan Block Not from Apple. You can buy them and they are out there.
Leo Laporte Right.
Ryan Block And I am sure that this concerns them but you cannot buy a slide-on case right now from Apple.
Leo Laporte Now, I guess the online store is selling that. Is the online store is selling some? Because …
Ryan Block The online store just this week I think actually the day before I published this story, just put their cases back online. You know the funny thing about the story is I’d been – I had the story. I’d been sitting on it for a couple of weeks and I’d been talking to people and trying to build the evidence I thought that was necessary to publish this with the requisite credibility because the Apple stories are obviously subject to a lot of scrutiny. And I reached out to Apple and asked for a comment and again their store had had zero cases; no iPhone cases for weeks. And then in the time I did that, and about 36 hours later when I published the story, a bunch of iPhone cases went back up on the site.
Leo Laporte You think this is in response to you?
Ryan Block I don’t necessarily think that it’s in response. But it was pretty funny timing because I happened to have reached out and, granted, I reached out in early October. I mean, I had expected them to put some of these cases back online anyway because the case, the free case program ended ….
Leo Laporte Right.
Ryan Block … on September 30. But it was just very, very bizarre timing. And actually I think it kind of worked in my favor because, you know, like you said, you go to look at the accessories that they sell, there’s no slide-on cases. And there are slide-on cases for the iPhone 3G and 3GS. And there are all kinds of slide-on accessories for those phones. And we also know of course that you can buy slide-on accessories for the iPhone 4 but Apple is not selling any of them; they are completely off the site.
Leo Laporte Why would they put it back on the website? Is it – I mean, if they are dangerous why are they selling this spec case?
Ryan Block Well, so – the cases that they are selling on the site right now are not slide-ons; they are the snap-ons.
Leo Laporte Okay.
Ryan Block So, the core of the issue is ….
Leo Laporte So you still can’t buy a slide-on case anywhere from Apple?
Ryan Block Exactly. The core of the issue is, if there is like some grit on the back of the phone or inside the case ……..
Leo Laporte Right. Sliding it scratches.
Ryan Block …. which definitely could happen. It is the sliding motion that scratches it and begins the fracture.
Leo Laporte Right. So you published this in gdgt a few days ago. What was – what’s the response been from your readers? Have they confirmed this or is this – not seen, not very likely?
Ryan Block Well, one of the things that I put out there and I try to be really clear about this is that it’s