The Rotten Side of Apple

Last Updated: Thu, Oct 27, 2011 05:13 hrs

First things first: I'm a big fan of Apple head honcho, the late Steve Jobs. I have been since the 1980s. Long before the iPod came, I used to tell people about how his company gave us the mouse, graphical user interface (GUI) and desktop publishing. People would stare at me and say "Bill Gates!"

I had even written a column to that effect titled "Einstein, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs" a few days back.

But with his untimely death, I think a lot of issues vis-a-vis Apple and Jobs have simply been swept under the carpet. There are two sides to every story and both should be discussed.

Here are 4 points to ponder...

1. The iPhone from the Chinese labour camp...

Let me begin with the most serious charge.

Aren't you totally in love with that iPhone you are using? Well, how would you react if you were told that it was made by child labourers and other workers facing exploitation in a sweatshop in China?

Why does a $65 billion company need this method to maximize profits?

When Apple was confronted with this allegation, it officially said that the company had identified 11 children working in Chinese plants and they were no longer working there.

But the issue goes much beyond that. iPhones and iPads are made by a secretive (how else?)  and highly controversial manufacturer called Foxconn. There have been many charges of employee mistreatment, extra-long working hours, discrimination and abuse at Foxconn.

The most high-profile case was a 25-year-old who committed suicide after he lost an iPhone prototype. There were other cases of suicide too. Three people were also killed and 15 injured in an iPad 2 assembly line factory fire that required 10 fire trucks to contain.

One media company called Foxconn a labour camp and Apple the next Nike (in terms of sweatshop exploitation). That's the only time it got bad press.The headline "Rotten Apple" was bandied about freely.

2. iShare? Not on your life!

For them it has never been about sharing. The "i" in their products really stands I (Jobs & Apple) in real life too.

I'll divide this into four parts...

a. Philanthropy: At his highest, Jobs was worth more than $8 billion. That's a huge amount, but philanthropy was never on Jobs' radar. In 1997, Jobs put an end to all corporate philanthropy programmes. When they were resumed much later, they were nowhere near the scale of other corporate giants.

When the richest man in the world Warren Buffet began his billionaires' pledge for charity, Bill Gates became his biggest supporter while Jobs totally rebuffed him.

b. Free Software Movement: Free software proponents were dead against things like Apple's Digital Rights Management (DRM). But I'll simply quote what software freedom activist Richard Stallman quoted on his website, "Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died."

c. Environment: Recently Newsweek did its rankings of global green companies. IT companies have done really well. IBM is at No.2 and even Indian faints TCS, Infosys are in the Top 10. And Apple? It doesn't make it to the top 100.

d. Globalization: Globalization is a two-way street for everyone except Apple. Apple has held all its cards close to its chest. It is among the most secretive companies in the world. It is totally unwilling to share its expertise or talent with anyone outside America.

3. Jobs hated India...

Since I'm an Indian writing in India, let me make this point too.

Yes, he backpacked in India once. Yes, he used to walk miles to eat in a Hare Krishna temple and was very thankful for it. But for all practical purposes he hated India.

All the top IT majors have made India a priority. Not Apple, though. In the beginning Apple products would come late and at exorbitant prices. When they would finally arrive, stocks would be so less that sometimes they would be sold out in hours.

That problem was addressed much later, though still not fully. We are still treated like second class buying citizens.

Steve Jobs refused to visit India in his entire Apple life. Why? All the other greats like Bill Gates and Sam Palmisano made it a point to check out India as soon as they could. Why couldn't Jobs be bothered? I once asked an Apple India head and was told that the great man showed absolutely no interest in this regard.

India has a lot of iStores, but they are franchisees. The ones owned by the company are called Apple Stores. There are a whopping 350+ all over the world. Do you know how many of them are in India? Zero! They are present in China and Japan, but India is not worthy of a single Apple Store. Makes you wonder why.

India's buying power is second to none. We keep adding dozens of dollar billionaires. Top brands like Tiffany and Canali are making a beeline for India.WalMart and Starbucks are trying to come in a big way and only problems regarding licensing and tie-ups are holding them back.

Apple, of course, couldn't be bothered.

While this is all sales related, what about the company's corporate presence? That's also the least in India among all IT majors. Apple opened a development centre in Bangalore and shut it down two months. We were simply not good enough.

In the DQTop20 rankings of 2010, which is the definitive list of the Indian IT industry, Apple India was ranked at 99 in terms of revenue! Can you believe that?

India is the world's No. 2 IT power for everyone except Apple.

4. A company for the creamy layer only...

At some level, Apple could be called an elitist company.

The PC is at the centre of the IT revolution for the common man. But how many of us have owned a Mac? Windows always had a stranglehold of the PC market share. Part had to do with superior marketing and licensing schemes by Microsoft.

But part also had to do with pricing and positioning. Apple has always been interested in a niche high-end market. Apple was never really interested about the common man.

Even today, the iMac and MacBook are out of the reach for most middle-class Indians.

The iPhone also caters to the high end of the mobile market.If you want to buy a normal mobile, you can't think of Apple. It only comes into the picture when you're thinking of a smartphone.

One thing that has reached the maximum number of people is the iPod. However, buy any other MP3 player of a decent brand and you'll probably get twice the storage capacity. It's all about great Apple marketing, its aspirational value and it being a status symbol more than anything else.

The iShuffle doesn't even have a display screen or lets you choose songs. That's criminal in its price band. But people buy it anyway because they want an iPod.

While IT services have percolated down to the masses (think e-chaupal and Bhoomi), one cannot say the same of products like PCs, laptops and smartphones. Only the basic mobile seems to have reached everyone, not the other computing products.

Most personal IT products are reserved for the upper classes of the world population.
And even in that upper class, Apple caters only to the high-end.

Jobs also had other flaws like a dictatorial streak within him, but that can be forgiven for many leaders have been like that.At times that's the only way to get things done.

Anyone remember iCon: Steve Jobs?

The hype continues with the release of Steve Jobs: A Biography, the "authorized version" from Walter Isaacson.

In 1996, Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon had written a provocatively titled unauthorized biography called iCon: Steve Jobs, The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business. That book called Jobs a con man and introduced the concept of Reality Distortion Field (introduced by none other than Dr Bud Tribble a former Apple Vice President and founder of NeXT).

It talks of Jobs ability to distort the reality around him to convince himself or the world of almost anything. While many people would have probably rubbished the book what was disturbing was Jobs' going after the publishers and getting the book removed from the shelves.

So much for free opinion!

Don't forget the other great IT companies too...

One should not forget that many companies and leaders have shaped the IT Age that we live in today.

Who is the tallest leader amongst them? Steve Jobs still looks likely to get that vote, despite all his flaws.

But which would be the leading company? That wouldn't be Apple, despite its market capitalization.

Companies like IBM and Microsoft have affected more people in more ways than Apple.

Steve Jobs is definitely a Genius, but not a Saint as he is being made out to be all of a sudden!

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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs at