September 21, 2021

Apple’s Rivals See an Edge in Using Wireless Accessories

Hotels outfitted guest rooms with alarm clocks containing a telltale wedge of 30 tiny pins that could play music from Apple’s devices and charge their batteries. Retail stores were thick with sound docks and other speaker systems meant to work with Apple gadgets.

But Apple’s iron grip on the digital accessories in hotel rooms, store shelves and living rooms is starting to slip — potentially risking the royalties it earns from accessory makers and, more significant, giving Apple customers more freedom to switch to rival products. That could be an issue for a company whose stock has been shaken in recent months as investors worry that the iPhone business is slowing.

Jeremy Horwitz, editor in chief of iLounge, a Web site devoted to Apple accessories, said Apple’s aggressive control over accessories for its products drove many makers to more open means of connecting devices, which helped feed the success of mobile devices made by other companies.

“At some point Apple’s obsession with having control over everything that is associated with its products may wind up biting it,” Mr. Horwitz said.

The Bluetooth standard for wireless connections has allowed accessory makers to build products that can work with many kinds of devices because they no longer have to worry about a physical hook. Other phone makers like Samsung and tablet-computing device makers like Amazon have become strong alternatives in the eyes of gadget shoppers. And Apple itself provided an opening for competitors when it changed the way its phones connect to other devices, aggravating both its business partners and consumers.

Now accessory makers are eager, even obliged, to think beyond Apple.

“We’ve had to adapt to new technology, support more devices and meet the growing demands of consumers looking for accessories that can accommodate multiple devices,” said Ezra S. Ashkenazi, chief executive of iHome, one of the biggest makers of iPhone clock radios and other Apple audio accessories. This year, iHome is releasing more products with Bluetooth than ever before, he said.

Apple says it is fine with the wireless direction in which accessories are headed. “Apple provides users with the best wired and wireless connectivity options to work with the broadest range of accessories,” said Tom Neumayr, a spokesman for Apple. “As a result, iOS users have access to the world’s largest ecosystem of options and the most seamless integration with our products.”

Apple expected some grumbling from customers and partners last fall when it introduced in the iPhone 5 a new way for the mobile phone to connect to other devices. But its executives defended the connector, Lightning, because the new, smaller design allowed for slimmer phones and tablets. While the 30-pin connector can be plugged into an old iPhone in only one way, a Lightning cable works even if it is flipped over.

Apple did not tell accessory makers about the change ahead of time, which is normal for a company known for its secrecy, but it was painful for many of its partners.

“You really don’t know where Apple is going to go next, if they’re going to change to something else down the road,” said Kyle Thompson, director of marketing for Cambridge SoundWorks. “They’ve made a lot of companies like us really nervous.”

That change frustrated partners whose customers had invested in products that used Apple’s old 30-pin connector. Those older devices are incompatible with the latest Apple products without an adapter that Apple sells for $29 to connect to the latest Apple products. Also, the new Lightning connectors are more expensive to license and manufacture than the old ones, electronics makers say.

“A lot of us were bitten pretty badly by the connector transition,” said Ian Geise, senior vice president for marketing and product development at Voxx Accessories Corporation, which makes audio products under RCA, Acoustic Research and other brand names.

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Japan Cargo Is Screened at U.S. Ports

Three Customs and Border Protection officers used the equipment to screen Japanese cargo plucked by cranes as high as 24-story buildings from the NYK Aquarius, a massive cargo ship. Semi trucks hauling the containers passed slowly between two government trucks mounted with radiation detectors that resembled white cabinets.

If the lights flashed, it would mean the equipment detected unusual levels of radioactivity in the cargo. A white light means gamma radiation was detected; a red light indicates neutron radiation.

But on this day, like every day thus far, no dangerous cargo was found.

Although the government agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, checks every cargo container coming from Japan since radiation began escaping from a damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima, its officers have found no radioactively contaminated seafood, auto parts or electronics. The officers waved the Aquarius’s cargo through.

“To date, we have not held one container for contamination,” said Richard F. Vigna, a director of field operations for Customs and Border Protection. “There hasn’t been anything.”

The federal government operates a vast web of radiation screening at the nation’s seaports, airports and border crossings. Originally installed after the Sept. 11 attacks, the system is now also being used to make sure no contaminated Japanese imports reach store shelves.

The agency expects to keep working at the nation’s ports despite a government shutdown, if one occurs.

The heightened scrutiny increased for Japanese products immediately after the Fukushima nuclear plant’s troubles started. Typically, ship cargo goes through at least one round of radiation screening before being cleared to leave the port. But as a precaution, containers from Japan now get multiple checks.

The radiation screening program, which cost billions of dollars to put into effect, is operated by Customs and Border Protection. Radiation is just one concern for the agency, which also seizes drugs, detains illegal immigrants and eradicates invasive insects that stow away on incoming ships and airplanes.

But these days, attention is focused on the lights of the radiation detector. Should any contaminated products slip through, they could pose a health hazard, and would more than likely set off a panic among consumers, some of whom are already skittish about eating Japanese sushi. Only dairy products and produce from near the Fukushima plant have been banned outright by the Food and Drug Administration.

Scanning imports is a huge undertaking because of the volume of goods involved. Japan alone ships $120 billion in cars, electronics and other products to the United States annually.

Customs and Border Protection also has to balance the potential impact on commerce. Delays could mean lost money for shippers and the businesses that depend on supplies from Japan.

Michael Zampa, spokesman for APL, a container shipping company, said there were some initial backlogs in Los Angeles because of the expanded inspections, but they seemed to have eased.

“There was some delay, but it’s what you would expect with any new process,” he said.

The biggest excitement at the Port of Oakland came one day last week when a trucker ran over a traffic cone that then became stuck between his vehicle’s tires. The officers had to stop him to pull it out. Another driver balked at driving through the detectors because she feared that she would be subjected to radioactivity, as if she were going through an X-ray machine. The machines, in fact, do not emit radiation; they only measure it. Another driver took her place.

The offloaded containers get a second inspection when they leave the port. All trucks, no matter the origin of their cargo, must drive through radiation detectors resembling yellow gates at each terminal’s exit.

Earlier that day, in a nearby booth where officers monitor the port’s gate, an automated voice barked “gamma alert, gamma alert.” The equipment detected abnormal radiation on a passing truck. Although ominous sounding, such alerts are actually routine.

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