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Apple has 435 retail stores worldwide and sells its gear through its online store in 43 countries, and as of Friday morning, it appears that none of those outlets are selling Bose speakers, headphones, and accessories anymore. The move to pull Bose products from comes in the week after Bose and Apple settled a lawsuit centered around Bose accusing Beats, Apple’s new audio-focused subsidiary, of infringing active noise cancellation patents.
While it’s hard to judge the validity of Bose’s complaint because the final deal was sealed, it’s important to note Apple has been accused of stealing noise-cancelling technology in the past. On the other hand, Bose is a distant second in the premium headphone market in the U.S. behind Beats.
[company]Bose[/company] and Apple have had a positive relationship in the past, including collaborating on a iPod speaker dock in 2004.
The feud between the two technology companies has entered the national consciousness thanks to the recent Bose deal with the National Football League. Players often wear headphones on camera while warming up and in post-game press conferences, and some of the league’s biggest stars endorse Beats. Bose became an exclusive sponsor of the NFL earlier this year, which means that players like quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers have been required to tape over the Beats logo on their cans or face fines, which naturally only draws more attention to Beats.
In a closely related matter, Re/code reported earlier this week that Apple was planning to remove Fitbit (see disclosure) products from its stores as well. While that hasn’t happened yet, the Apple Store online is currently showing 2-3 weeks to ship the Fitbit Flex activity tracker. Apple is releasing its own wrist device early next year, and it’s likely that Apple Watch and Fitbit products — which according to some measures is currently the most successful activity tracker on the market — will be in direct competition for consumers’ wrists.
Also complicating the Fitbit relationship with Apple is the fact that Fitbit said on its own forums that it has “no current plans” to make its app compatible with Apple Heath, the new biometric data repository in iOS 8.
[company]Apple[/company] has every right to sell what it wants to in its stores, which have been estimated to have sold $16 billion in merchandise in 2012, although it’s safe to assume the majority of that revenue is from Apple products as opposed to the accessories on the fringes of the store. Optimally, Apple Stores should optimally carry products that work well with Apple computers, and it makes sense that it would remove a gadget for willfully not working with a major iOS 8 feature. I mean, it would be crazy for Apple Stores to carry Windows computers.
Still, for a small startup like Fitbit, or even an established company like Bose, losing a major retail channel could be disastrous. It’s hard not to read these Apple retail inventory decisions as a warning: If your products aren’t aligned with Apple’s overall strategy, then Apple Stores won’t sell them, even if it has in the past.
Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in Gigaom.