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When Apple says no ... before saying yes

The iPhone 6 continues Apple's history of embracing technologies it once derided. Far from fickle, the company has many reasons for changing its mind about what features it supports.

"People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are."
--Steve Jobs, 1997

Apple has now rolled out two iPhones with large screens (at least relative to its previous models) and with NFC capabilities. With the new Apple Watch, it also has introduced its first mobile product with wireless charging. Fans of Android and Windows Phone may have treated last week's moves with derision, welcoming Apple as late to the party. But in at least the first two instances, it wasn't as if Apple hadn't consider these technologies previously.

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Once, Apple scoffed at large phones. Now it has two new ones. Apple

In fact, it actively rejected them. Steve Jobs had said in the summer of 2010 that nobody would want to buy a big phone and compared jumbo smartphones to the now-defunct Hummer SUVs. Senior Apple exec Phil Schiller said last year that it wasn't clear that NFC (near field communications), seen by some as a promising technology for mobile payments, wasn't the solution to any problem.

And now the company has embraced those former pariahs. These reversals were just the latest in a long line of reversals of direction for Apple, which also once shunned Intel processors and SD cards in Macs, and kept video off the iPod line for many years after it appeared on competitive devices.

Was Apple wrong? Did it change its mind? Can we just not trust its stated intentions? While the company has a well-justified reputation for saying no, there are often other influences that may determine its embrace of technologies beyond changing times and cheaper components that drive so many of those decisions.

Components. Apple may feel as though the quality of components available to support a particular technology are not up to its expectations of quality. For example, when the company announced NFC support, it noted that it had sourced a version of the NFC solution that could operate at greater range. Other times, even if a component is available -- for instance, curved glass like that on the LG Flex phone or the round display on the Moto 360 smartwatch -- it may not be available in quantities large enough to support Apple's volumes.

Standards. Apple has a longstanding reputation for not jumping in to industry consortiums, having abstained from broadly supported initiatives such as DLNA and UltraViolet; it is reluctant to be beholden to committees for its products' features. Indeed, sometimes these consortiums are created in response to functionality that Apple has pioneered or implemented well. And sometimes, it can take a while for a standards war to shake out. Apple introduced SD card support only after it was clear that the format had triumphed over its main rival, Memory Stick. When Apple does decide to support a broad industry technology, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, it generally leaps in with strong support. One exception, though, was Blu-ray, which Apple backed but never implemented.

Priorities. Engineering time is always a fixed resource, and even with the limited family of products that Apple offers (CEO Tim Cook has remarked that the company's entire product portfolio could fit on a small table), time spent implementing an industry standard could take time away from implementing other features. For example, while certain Android phones beat the iPhone 6 to the punch with support for higher-resolution displays and NFC, Apple had them all beat in terms of 64-bit processing support. Prioritizing may also go beyond tradeoffs in a single product and extend to freeing up resources for other products -- existing or on the drawing board.

Partnerships. As Apple increasingly reaches beyond the bounds of traditional personal computing into many of our everyday activities such as entertainment and payments, it must increasingly work with other companies. Schiller's comments after the release of the iPhone 5C last year about NFC not solving any problem was true for Apple at that time because the company had not put together the collection of retailers, banks and credit card companies revealed in last week's Apple Pay announcement. While NFC has value for tasks other than payments, implementing it without the supporting payment mechanisms would be akin to launching the iTunes store without support of the major labels.

In short, when Apple disparages a given technology from which it is abstaining, consider adding something to the effect of "at this moment" to its statements. The tech landscape constantly shifts, and the company isn't going to let public-record continuity get in the way of making the decisions it feels are best for its products.