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Wednesday, 28 March 2012 00:41

Toothless ACCC tiger sinks teeth into Apple's crunchy '4G' iPad

OPINION: Australia's Competition and Consumer Commission, the ACCC, cannot seem to get Australia's two major supermarkets to stop jacking up fuel prices, but there's 'good news' - it's going after Apple for its initial claim that the new iPad works with 4G - even though Apple, Telstra, JB HiFi and other retailers make it clear the new iPad does NOT work with Australia's current 4G network.

OPINION: Was it a slow day at Australia's Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) yesterday?

Despite incredibly important issues like ever higher fuel prices in Australia which affect every Australian alive today, which the ACCC seems unable to genuinely do anything about (despite pages of sound and fury signifying nothing), the ACCC has set its sights on Apple Australia.

When Apple first announced the new iPad via press release in Australia, iTWire colleague and highly respected telecommunications journalist Stuart Corner immediately shot off an email to Apple telling the company that "I have just seen the Apple email promoting the new iPad and it is seriously misleading. It talks about '4G' in numerous places and it shows a Telstra logo, yet there is nothing to say that it won't work on Telstra's 4G (i.e. LTE network). You have to know that Telstra LTE operates at 1800MHz, read the spec and see that the iPad does not support 1800MHz LTE to work that out. I would not be surprised if the ACCC goes after you for this."

Stuart's article yesterday entitled 'ACCC taking Apple to court over misleading 4G iPad claims' explains this.

After the new iPad was announced, and before it went on sale in Australia, plenty of Australian and worldwide news outlets explained to readers that the new iPad's 4G capabilities only worked in the US and Canada, with one Australian publication prominently stating that the 4G iPad probably wouldn't work in Australia until 2015, when the necessary 4G frequencies would be opened up for telcos to start using.

Apple also changed its Australian iPad pages at the Apple Australia site, removing the boxed 4G logo from the wireless section of the new iPad's advertising, replacing it instead with 'Ultrafast wireless', while putting in admittedly small print on the iPad's pricing page that 4G capabilities were only available on compatible telcos in the US and Canada. Apple also kept the name of the iPad Wi-Fi and 4G as the iPad Wifi + 4G when describing that model on its order and other pages, rather than renaming it as 3G, or 3G+, or something similar.

In addition, retailers such as Telstra have stated they carefully explain to new iPad purchasers that the new iPad does not work on Telstra's 4G network, while retailers such as JB HiFi, which is where I purchased my new iPad, have signs up clearly stating to consumers that the new iPad is incompatible with Australia's 4G network.

To me, despite the name of the iPad WiFi + 4G retaining its name, this looks like a pretty solid effort from all concerned to make it clear, at retail, that the new iPad does not work with Australia's 4G network.

However, in what appears to be a 'make-busy' attempt at the ACCC, we're now going to presumably see the ACCC 'win' some kind of pyrrhic victory in court that will see Apple post some 'corrective advertising' and refund a few people who pre-ordered the millisecond pre-ordering was available without reading the new iPad's spec sheet.

Let's not forget that in the US, AT&T claims its HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA networks are actually '4G', with Telstra offering those networks in Australia too, although Telstra labels them as 'Next G', and not '4G'.

Unfortunately for Australians, the ACCC is really little more than a mosquito when it comes to a company like Apple. Apple will undoubtedly do whatever it has to do when it comes to keeping the ACCC happy.

However, if Australia is relegated to the second round of launch countries when the iPad 4 launches next year, rather than being in the first round of countries as happened on March 16, we'll all be able to thank the ACCC for that happening.

The same might happen with the next iPhone, the iPhone 5, the 'new iPhone' or whatever Apple decides to call it. Take note as to whether Australia is in the first round of launch countries - or not. We'll have to wait and see, of course.

Of course, there's no guarantee that Apple will 'punish' Australia in this fashion next year, but somehow, I doubt Apple has a short memory, and while it may forgive, it's very unlikely to forget.

Look, in no way, shape or form am I condoning misleading advertising by anyone, be it Apple or anyone else.

However, the new iPad with 4G does indeed have a 4G capable chip within - no-one is saying it doesn't. It's just that the chip concerned does not work on the 4G frequency currently used in Australia: 1800MHz.

To me, Apple and its retail partners seemed to move very, very quickly to ensure that, at point of sale, 4G disclaimers were up - I certainly saw a very prominent notice when I purchased the new iPad on Monday the 19th of March at a JB HiFi store.

So, good luck, ACCC. It's good to see bashing Apple is of such great importance and priority to the esteemed, yet dentally challenged, government agency.

Perhaps once the iPad 4G kerfuffle is over, the ACCC can have a look at those petrol prices again - especially the scandalous massive overpricing of 98 octane fuel ever since the Coles and Woolies duopoly decided to take over the petrol business in Australia?

That's an area where the ACCC's fangs might actually be useful. Instead, while we all know that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, it's useless against frivolous government lawsuits.

Finally, if the ACCC truly wants to be useful, it might start asking the telcos why they haven't yet switched on Apple's new "personal hotspot" feature in the new iPad - something that's advertised on Apple's Australian iPad pages but not yet delivered to consumers - but not a word of that in the ACCC's announcement yesterday!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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