Apple’s third-generation iPad might have 4G networking capabilities, but the fact is, not all countries have 4G networks.
And that has become a problem for the company and its branding of the new iPad, because while Apple’s device can hit 4G LTE speeds – which are significantly higher than the currently available 3G speeds – the lack of networks in other countries means Apple’s 4G branding isn’t always accurate. According to a report from GigaOM, Apple is backing away from the 4G branding in several countries that don’t include 4G networks, following lawsuits and other legal entanglements over false advertising.
The first country that saw Apple change the way it was marketing the iPad was Australia, where Apple changed its “Wi-Fi + 4G” branding language for the device to “Wi-Fi + Cellular” on apple.com. Australia is the site of a lawsuit that Apple has been fighting over the 4G branding, which accuses Apple of engaging in false advertising by selling customers on the iPad’s 4G capabilities when they couldn’t actually access a 4G network in the country.
A lot of the issue is a lack of understanding of 4G LTE technology, not only in other countries, but in the U.S. as well. There’s no unified standard for what constitutes 4G speed for cellular devices in the U.S. At most, what carriers call 4G has to be faster than 3G, and that’s about it. One survey last year found that many U.S. cellular customers thought their devices were 4G-capable even though they weren’t; it’s not a big stretch to think that cellular customers in Australia might not be aware of the fact that 4G service isn’t offered anywhere in the country.
But Apple isn’t changing the 4G language on the iPad everywhere, apparently. Even though there’s no 4G presence in Germany or France, for example, Apple still maintains “Wi-Fi + 4G” branding there. Using the phrase “4G” is banned in the U.K. because there are no 4G networks there, but that hasn’t stopped Apple from using the phrasing – it just includes a footnote that states the iPad is only compatible with certain 4G networks (many of them belonging to U.S. carriers). At the end of the day, though, the iPad’s 4G capabilities have one major, definable flaw: they only exist in North America.
If nothing else, the confusion of 4G marketing as it relates to the iPad highlights the need for a real standard and a way to keep companies like Apple from advertising a feature of which users can’t actually take advantage. The simple fact is that customers know 4G is faster (or even “better”) than 3G network capabilities, and Apple benefits from that knowledge, even though the actual 4G feature isn’t really available. Apple’s trouble arises from different regulations and issues in different countries, but the only people that are really hurt are consumers when they buy iPads expecting a certain capability and not getting it.
Someone has to step up, be it device makers and cellular carriers or governments, and find a way to make clear the issue of 4G LTE or to regulate the use of those terms once and for all. Apple could also stand to change its iPad claims, unless it’s rolling those changes out but slowly; if it did, it could probably avoid some lawsuits and angry customers.