Today has been an interesting day for anyone interested in the mobile communications landscape in Australia. The ACCC taking Apple to task over iPad 4G claims is a major turn of events, but probably the least interesting part of the day's news for me. It was bound to happen, it should happen — it's what the ACCC is there for. Selling the tablet as iPad Wi-Fi 4G is like claiming a new model Holden is a V8 when Holden knows that only six cylinders will work in practice. Although the car still drives, there is a measurable dip in performance without the use of the inactive cylinders.
What's surprised me more is the perception that Apple is not doing anything wrong by advertising the iPad as being 4G. We are currently running a poll asking our readers whether Apple has behaved badly, and the results are neck and neck so far, with as many people absolving Apple as those who believe Apple has done the wrong thing.
The reaction on Twitter is interesting, too, with users calling for the ACCC to swing the ban hammer in the direction of the Aussie carriers, specifically Telstra. @airbagsandtree posted "Why can't ACCC say Telstra is misleading Australians for calling Teltra's 4G misleading when it is not compatible to the 4G around the world" and @Alexstarkey wrote "I object! speeds achieved on the new device are astounding,the limitations are Telstras own determination of 4G".
Should Telstra rename its 4G network? Or submit to a sub-par American standard? This does highlight confusion around what 4G means, and shines a light on the term's overuse in marketing in the US, but it seems to me like this anger is off course. The telcos shouldn't have to fudge the numbers to pretend the new iPad is 4G ready when it's not. Telstra shouldn't claim that Next G is 4G to sell iPads, even if it's Next G speeds are comparable to so-called 4G networks in the US.
The telcos are not blameless, of course. Vodafone's flagrant use of the term 4G in its iPad sale page is tremendously misleading and can only add to the confusion of its customers, especially those that have no prior knowledge of the difference between 3G or 4G, except the assumption that 4G must be better.
Consumer confusion isn't a "get out of jail free" card for Apple to misrepresent its products, though. Even if you could argue that Aussie tablet shoppers don't understand what 4G is, you can be sure that Apple does. There should be a clear acknowledgement at the point of sale that the tablet is only compatible with 3G networks in Australia and there should be no mention of 4G anywhere in sight. Apple fails to do this on its website and on its packaging, and should be pulled into line.
Update: Vodafone has amended its iPad sales page since this article was originally published, removing all references to the iPad offering 4G connectivity.