Apple is clueless about international people

International people are those who travel a lot, or live between two different countries. This tends to happen a lot in Europe, and is just generally more and more common with the cheap price of travel these days. Indeed there were over 800m international tourist arrivals in 2006 – clearly not a trivial market.

Steve Jobs clearly doesn’t get out much, and the reason I say that is that Apple and Apple products are generally lousy at dealing with us international folk. Let’s examine why:

First, those DVD regions. Apple uses DVD drives that are impossible to unlock – you get 5 shots at changing the region and that’s it. Many of those drives have extra securty that stos you ripping DVD’s. Hence the DVD drives in all of my macs are essentially useless, as I have DVD’s from pretty much every region. I can’t rip them, so I put those DVD’s into folders so I don’t carry around plastic cases, which means I am equally clueless which region each DVD is from. If I can buy a $50 DVD player that can play anything, I’d expect my $4000 macbook pro to do the same. It doesn’t. Yes- I need to rip all my DVD’s for once and for all.

Secondly, the iPhone is tied to local providers. There is clearly huge demand for unlocked iPhones, something which any European could tell you as their market has been open for years. Instead Apple locked the iPhone to particular local providers, as Apple get significant revenue from them.

Next – the international roaming costs are prohibitively exensive – for making and receiving calls, for my foreign friends calling a NZ number from the USA when I am down the street and most of all, for data. At the moment international roaming (for data) is not viable on the iPhone, which renders it pretty pointless for global travellers.

Finally, Apple has split their company into country-based entities. While I think it is great that NZ finally gets Apple swag (except for the iPhone) at a similar time and price to the USA, I feel they Apple has a way to go towards treating customers as people, not as people with countries. Witness my email inbox from Apple from the last day:

my email

4 identical emails about the MacBook Air – one from Apple-USA, 2 from Apple-Asia and one from Apple-Europe. As someone that has used online Apple stores and iTunes in several locations, I am getting US, Australia, NZ and UK/South Africa directed emails.

Those emails went to three different email addresses.

I’ve had to use those different email addresses for my Apple dealings as each email address defaults to a particular country, and you cannot easily move countries. That’s really painful, as I’d love to buy things from, say, the Apple USA iTunes store that are not available in NZ, and I also want to buy things from the Australian store using my NZ credit card. I can kludge my way through the second, but the only way to buy from iTunes USA is to have a US-based credit card, or to pick up those iTunes gift cards next time you are in a USA Apple store.

So – what should Apple do for us internationals?

1: First and foremost, please move to DVD drives that are region free, or easy to hack. Let grey-market DVD-rippers provide the input to what we really want – iTunes that rips DVDs without the pain.

2: Offer the iPhone at two prices (as in Germany) – one tied to a carrier and one completely unlocked. Let us vote with our wallets, and support us if we want to roam the world swapping sim cards as we go.

3: Use your market power to demand reasonable data and voice roaming prices for your customers. If not then make it easy to use one of the third party solutions that are out there, or, again, just unlock that iPhones so that we can swap sim cards.

4: Move to being one firm, with single Apple and iTunes stores. The iTunes UK debacle should be a lesson that splitting by country is a thing of the past. Get global licenses for media as a matter of course. Be like Amazon – let me order from anywhere, use a credit card from anywhere and deliver to anywhere. Again like Amazon, be clever about where you deliver from, depending upon where I want the goods.

5: Above all, please keep making those fantastic products, and keep releasing them simultaneously across the world.

Published by Lance Wiggs


14 replies on “Apple is clueless about international people”

  1. Totally agree about the DVD drives – it seems so antiquated to block them this way.

    One thing tho about the iphone data charging. The whole beauty of an iphone with wifi is that you rarely need your data plan anyway – unless you’re somewhere with no internet. I would guess most people who have iphones and travel would go to internet-connected places. If they’re in non-internet connected places, they probably don’t want to be contacted anyway!


  2. Absolutely. Exactly. Yep, amen, yes.

    I am pretty sure the DRM locks are the fault of the studios, not Apple. Apple would probably be sued or lose its studio-iTunes partnerships (just announced) if it opened up DVD players. But, liike you, I have DVDs from all over the world. Mainly for kids. When the kids are setting down to watch a DVD on the laptop, cos the family is on the road, and then it won’t play, you actually want to meet the executive who decided to put the DRM controls in there. You want to take to his or her throat with a piece of piano wire… If I ever meet someone who has been responsible for applying DRM to DVDs…grrrrrr. What I have learned to do is to rip every DVD i buy. I bought a portable hard drive and I just rip the DVDs to those using Handbrake of Mac The Ripper (just srtarted with Handbrake, and it seems pretty good.) I put a few on the ipod touch, so they can be watched anywhere (Visual Hub $$$ coverts anything for ipod touch format). There have been a couple of DVDs that messed with the machine when I tried to rip them, so I just downloaded them. I don’t care what the rules say – I bought the damn movie. Ripping also lets you get rid of the shorts, and the piracy warnings (!!!!!) that they won’t let you fast forward. Disabling fast forwarding!!! What arrogant bastards!!!! Ahem.

    An unlocked iphone available in New Zealand? Amen. But Vodaphone won’t sell it simply out of pique because they didn’t get the Europe contract. They said somewhere they will never sell the iphone. There’s Vodaphone customer focus for you. Plus, the Vodaphone data products are ridiculous – I can get a gig on my vodem for $49.95 a month. But they are charging the same for 10mb of data on my blackberry (including the blackberry plan fee). Hullo?? And there phone customer service is non existent. That is entirely the fault of Vodafone, not Apple. Telecom, meanwhile, use technology that is so backward it’s laughable. Why doesn’t Telecom sell a product I can plug into my MacBook for high speed data access?

    PS, good luck with your manifesto.


  3. While you might be correct, I have found MS to be clueless as well, so they aren’t losing out to someone. I wonder who is cluelessier. (I wonder if I can get folks to use my new word…)


  4. 100% in agreement. I really understand the iTunes store issue since I live in Luxembourg and witness first hand the iTunes store question in Lux (for hilarious “abuse” of the Lux iTunes system check this out ).

    Luxembourg is quite peculiar vis-a-vis other places in Europe since large net companies tend to “need” a base for tax purposes in Lux. So Luxembourg ends up having it’s own “regional” or “national” dedicated site much earlier than other countries… simply for tax reasons. I guess it is only once they realise that you can get into a Lux top ten chart by selling 10 songs that the ridiculousness of the situation becomes evident.

    It’s not just Apple (with iTunes Luxembourg) but also Skype and Amazon (although no site available yet).


  5. I love your analysis of Apple and other countries. I’m up in Canada and since we’re so close to the United States, you’d expect we’d have similar services and release dates. Yet for whatever reasons (copyright, company agreements, etc) we are often delayed, often indefinitely (iPhone).


  6. thanks for the comments everyone
    Jacques – that video is as funny as hell.
    Don – while I agree that Apple wants to lock me in, and in fact they pretty much have, it’s through delivering sexy products. If Apple really wanted to lock me in properly then they’d fix the problems above. Besides, Apple are going to zap zap me by accident.

    Jon – yup I’m going to ave to do as you ave one with your DVD’s. Right now the soutions it seems has been to simply not really watch, or even buy, DVDs.

    びっくり – oh MS is the clulessier for sure. No argument after the Vista debacle.

    Steven – it seems from the thread linked at the end of above that you can hack some of the macbook drives, and that everyone is just waiting for a firmware update to be posted for the later drives so that it can be hacked as well.

    Titus – yup it sure looks grim even if you buy from AT&T and roam into Canada.
    Brenda – yes, but if you are in a wifi zone you may well have your laptop with you anyway, especially in less developed countries like NZ and australia..


  7. I think you’ll find the iTunes issue is not an apple issue. You just cannot buy global music rights – the music companies fragment them for this reason (maximising profit)


  8. Hi, I’m an old fart who doesn’t trust Corporations and am bloody annoyed that I can’t join iTunes without giving them my credit card details. Due to a world of very capable hackers (SONY got hit!) means I will make the decision when I give my credit card details. “Arrogant Apple” say no…. unless you put you CC details in yo’ don’t count. From where in Apple do I get some redress? – Tony J


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