Apple seems to have a worm inside it. At least, that’s the perception. It happens to any daring darling innovator. At some point, they do something that exposes them as just another craven rentseeker, sucking profits out of the market like a capitalist leech. IBM had it in the 1970s, Microsoft had it after Windows 95 (and Internet Explorer), Google’s having it now over fraudulent ads. Apple’s problem is two-fold: it claims it can’t build things in the U.S., and those companies that build for it abuse their workers, as the New York Times reported. One of the best anecdotes in the Times piece involved a last-minute change Apple wanted for the iPhone, to get rid of the plastic screen it was designed with and replace it with glass.
As the Times put it:
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
Say what you want about newspapers, but the NYT piece clearly matters. In just a few days, Apple’s gone from being the company for the rest of us to being on top of the 1 percent. It didn’t help that the head of Foxconn, Apple’s major supplier of iPhones and other products (the company that employed the slave-driver foreman), chose the same weekend to call his workers “animals.” But the Foxconn gaffe was just a bit of grease for the skids. Today a search on Google News reveals more than 2,000 articles about Apple’s image problem. Erik Sherman in his column takes this damning shot at Apple:
However, the screen swap example reveals something else even more stunning. What company changes a major design at the last minute? That betrays a serious lack of managerial foresight and planning. In other words, the real reason Apple operates in China is so it can have a captive workforce in what amounts to the high-tech equivalent of a company mining town. Employees are supposed to be on-call at any hour, while earning a pittance, to make up for Apple’s mistakes.
Of course, Apple just posted spectacular financial results. And for all the noise, the Daily Beast apparently could only find 18 Twitter users giving up Apple. I don’t have an iPhone, but I am typing this on a MacBook Pro, sitting next to it is my iPad, and off in the kitchen on the table radio is my iPod Touch. I feel uncomfortable about all these Apple products. But will I switch? Large numbers of people profess to hate Microsoft, but it remains incredibly profitable. I still have and use a Windows computer. I have an XBox Kinect, too. It is truly cool, but that doesn’t make Microsoft cool, as this Bloomberg BusinessWeek article shows.
I hope Apple gets its act together, and stops behaving like the Durham Company in “The Jungle.” But its Cool Kid days are over. All that’s left now are profits.