Friday, January 27, 2012

Apple's Outrage

Oh, please.

Responding to the New York Times stories, which we itemized and commented on in today’s column, CEO Tim Cook sent out an e-mail to all Apple employees.
“Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly,” he says.
“Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It’s not who we are. For the many hundreds of you who are based at our suppliers’ manufacturing sites around the world, or spend long stretches working there away from your families, I know you are as outraged by this as I am.” 
Bringing to mind Captain Renault:

I know they have to put on these pretenses for public consumption, but really, the notion that Apple was somehow unaware of the implications of their manufacturing choices strains credulity to the breaking point. They just hoped we wouldn't notice, while they pocketed the profits.

They'll talk about needing to trim manufacturing costs to keep prices low, but truly, how can you make that argument with a straight face in light of their recent quarterly earnings:
Apple reported a net profit of $13.06 billion, or $13.87 a share.

A naive person like me might suspect that without sacrificing too much of their $13 billion profit, Apple could build iPhones and iPads and MacBooks in better conditions. Heck, they could probably build them in Cupertino and still turn a merely huge profit instead of an outrageous one. Perhaps it's time to Occupy Apple.

Meanwhile, here's the Times expose mentioned. And refer back to my earlier entry about Mike Daisey's monologue on the subject. Mike is all over this stuff, which is very cool. He's making a difference.


Rod said...

The problem is much bigger than just Apple. Virtually all of our consumer electronics come from overseas contract manufacturers. Take a look at this article which looks at conditions in Chinese factories manufacturing products for Apple, Dell, HP, Sony, Nokia, and Motorola. That's just the big name electronics companies.

Our cars are also filled with computer controls which are likely assembled in China. A trip down the aisles of your local Walmart would probably find most products are manufactured in China.

It's unreasonable to expect a single company to willingly decrease their margins (or risk losing market share) by being the only company in their sector to move to higher cost American manufacturing. I believe a better solution is for Congress to offer tax breaks for companies which take this step. Doing so would probably increase tax revenue by putting more Americans to work and by inspiring construction of American manufacturing facilities.

Chard said...

I totally agree, up to a point. I know the factories used by all the manufacturers have the same conditions and they are all responsible. But, Apple is the biggest, the leader, and certainly the most visible of those companies. And, need I add, they at least used to encourage one to "Think Different."

It might be a niche market, but some people, at least, will buy a product that provides at least some daylight between themselves and their competitors on some axis other than pure price. Look at the markets for fair-trade coffee and chocolate and such. High-end goods that people are willing to pay a premium for. And that's Apple in the electronic market.

I was listening to a tech podcast this morning, and someone said something along the lines that corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to get every dollar of profit they can. And that's crap. Only if you take an extremely narrow, short-term interpretation of the economic concept of maximizing profit can you even suggest such a thing.

Companies embody values. Currently all the electronic firms seem to embrace the same "race to the bottom" on costs. Which is one reason why I've dumped my less-than-two-year-old Asus laptop that has the worst keyboard I've ever encountered. Great computer; terrible user experience. I would gladly have paid $10 more to have the same laptop with a nice keyboard, and I'm sure a nice keyboard would have cost Asus less than $10.

As long as we treat everything as disposable crap (a la Walmart), we will continue to get crappier crap. But at least when you walk into Walmart you know you're walking into a crap store. If I walk into the Apple Store, I expect something different, both in the quality of the goods I buy and in the consideration put into building it.

In the case of Apple, I think it's quite clear that they pay a lot of attention to the details of what you can see and feel about their product, but have consciously chosen to make some deals with the devil in places it's harder for their customers to detect. And now they're being called out on it, and I think their reaction says a lot.