Being number one puts Apple right in the crosshairs. So the critics are always looking for a huge fall, while even Apple’s supporters will make a big deal out of problems that may not deserve so much attention. At the same time, claiming Apple can be nothing but perfect is foolish, as is overlooking past failures, and pretending the new ones are something unique to the presence of a new CEO.
Consider outsourcing. In the 1990s, more and more major tech companies decided to build their gear outside of the U.S., particularly China. The reasons were simple. Salaries were much lower, so manufacturing costs were less. This made it possible to make the product cheaper, or at least get larger profits from each unit sold. But in the race to the bottom in the PC industry, saving a few dollars per unit is not a bad thing.
Now China and other countries have become notorious not just for slave labor and low salaries to match, but for simply horrible working conditions. There were even reports of an unusual number of worker suicides at Foxconn, one of the largest contract makers, and a key Apple partner. So the media went about looking for a scapegoat. Since Apple is one of Foxconn’s largest customers, it’s their fault for tolerating such a terrible state of affairs.
One article in The New York Times closely examined the plight of the Foxconn worker, and I doubt any of my readers would accept such a labor situation, even if it was the only job available. Under Tim Cook, however, Apple promised to do better, asserting they had been working with Foxconn to provide a better working environment, fewer hours and, of course, higher salaries. They even contracted with a third party service, the Fair Labor Association, to monitor Foxconn’s labor situation.
Here the media meme was all about Apple, and since Tim Cook was the key player in outsourcing the company’s manufacturing, he had to bear the brunt of the complaints. But often ignored in these criticisms was the fact that many tech companies, including PC giants Dell and HP, also built a high amount of products at the very same factories under the very same working environment.
Apple, at least, took the responsibility to make things better.
Of course, with salaries increasing by several times, the production cost advantage to Apple lessens, making it more and more appropriate to bring some manufacturing back to the U.S. Just a few weeks ago, Cook promised that at least one Mac line would be built in the U.S.A. come 2013, at a cost of some $100 million to set up the production lines. That, to Apple, is chump change, but it may be a sign of things to come.
There’s already speculation of what Macs will be American built. Some suggest the Mac Pro, which carries high margins and doesn’t require any ultra-sophisticated tooling to manufacture. Others are suggesting the Mac mini, which is also pretty straightforward to assemble, though the components are far more densely packed.
Of course, Apple was also attacked for Mapgate, the failure of Maps for iOS 6, and why it wasn’t near perfect out of the starting gate. With a mapping app, the criticisms were easy to illustrate, with colorful screenshots of the melted landmarks, and the incorrect locations. What a disaster!
While I haven’t minimized Apple’s mistakes with the initial release of Maps, it’s unfortunate the media, by and large, has failed to realize that navigation apps in general are highly flawed. Google Maps is far from perfect, and I continue to document navigation mistakes, although they aren’t quite as severe as the ones for which Apple has been blamed.
But Mapgate was a story that was mostly relevant for the first few weeks of the release of iOS 6. Since then, things have improved in many respects. Landmarks are more accurately positioned, and 3D displays are more consistent with reality. Even at its worst, though, Siri’s verbal descriptions were far more descriptive than the ones provided by Google Maps for iOS. That’s another distinction the media seldom draws.
Apple was even lambasted for releasing two revisions of the iPad in a single year, as if they are fated to do it annually. How dare they betray the customer’s confidence that these products would only receive one refresh per year, even though Apple never agreed to any such thing. It was simply assumed, although it’s also true that other Apple products have gotten more frequent upgrades. Do you recall, for example, that there was both an early 2009 and a late 2009 iMac, two revisions of the MacBook in 2006, and two revisions of the MacBook Air in 2008?
I’ll stop at those three. There are others, but I think I’ve made the point. That Apple choose to release two full-sized iPads in a single year is not a unique situation by any means. Indeed, those who bought the fourth generation iPad appreciate the huge improvements in performance. Was there a valid reason to wait a few months? Indeed, Apple may already be at work on a fifth generation model for next spring that will be thinner and perhaps shed a few ounces. Or should Apple hold off releasing that update for a few extra months, because people who bought a new iPad for the holidays might be upset?
Sure, there are lots of things for which Apple can be blamed. But some of the criticisms are a stretch, and that’s putting it mildly.