When Apple says “buy,” consumers around the world jump to follow the command. Only Apple can release an expensive new gadget like the iPad with limited advertising and no pre-existing market, and somehow end up selling 300,000 of them on the first day alone. One comedian noted later on Saturday Night Live that the iPad’s massive sales were proof “that people will buy something to find out what it is.” But it’s really just proof that Apple has mastered the art of building consumer curiosity in its products to the point where the masses will spend hundreds of dollars to satisfy that curiosity.
It’s been nearly 10 years since the company released the first generation iPod, and in that time, they have become one of the most popular and powerful businesses around. Bloomberg and Business Week consistently rank Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) as the most innovative company in the world, beating out Google (Stock Quote: GOOG). Meanwhile, Steve Jobs, Apple’s figurehead, was recently declared the CEO of the decade by Fortune.
Yet, all that praise obscures the fact that Apple and Steve Jobs are anything but perfect. Like all companies, they have skeletons in their closet. In fact, they may have more than their share.
Apple Is More Paranoid Than You Think
Earlier this week, Gizmodo, a popular tech site, published leaked photos of what was supposedly the next generation iPhone, set to be released this summer. Allegedly, the phone had been left at a beer garden by an iPhone software engineer, and eventually the phone ended up in Gizmodo’s hands. Many bloggers debated whether it was real or just a knockoff, but then Apple came calling to get their device back. As one Silicon Valley insider told The New York Times, “There is no one else on the planet whose shoes I would less like to be in” than the engineer who accidentally left the phone behind.
It might sound like a lot of fuss over nothing, but Apple prides itself on secrecy, often to an extreme degree. No one faces greater scrutiny than Apple’s employees. One employee told The New York Times that workers are often under the watchful eye of security cameras. “Some Apple workers in the most critical product-testing rooms must cover up devices with black cloaks when they are working on them, and turn on a red warning light when devices are unmasked so that everyone knows to be extra-careful,” the employee said.
Similarly, Reuters reports that Apple is careful not to let any single firm manufacture every part of a product in order to minimize the risk that someone will be able to leak it in advance. “The upshot is that even the people who man the assembly lines have no idea what the finished product will look like,” according to Reuters. Likewise, suppliers sign strict confidentiality agreements and several have been threatened with losing their contracts over leaks.
Not only does the company restrict the information that becomes available to its manufacturers and suppliers, but also to the press and most importantly, the public. Apple has gone after multiple Web sites for publishing what they considered classified information. In one 2005 case, Apple sued three bloggers and claimed they did not deserve First Amendment rights. Apple eventually lost the case and had to pay $700,000 in legal fees.
Despite these precautions, there have been a few other Apple leaks in the past.
One of Apple’s darker secrets is that most of its products are made in Chinese factories that are notorious for hiring underage workers and forcing them to work more than 60 hours a week. Last year, one worker killed himself after an “iPhone prototype” reportedly disappeared from the factory. And four more workers attempted suicide earlier this year, allegedly due to more stressful working conditions to crank up production of the iPad.
To be fair, Apple is not the only big company to rely on questionable factories overseas. Microsoft has recently come under fire for a similar problem.
Apple Holds a Grudge
No one knows how to a hold a grudge longer than Apple and Steve Jobs. By now, most readers are probably aware that Apple products like the iPad and iPhone do not support Adobe Flash, which is what much of the Internet runs on. Jobs has argued that this decision stems from the belief that Flash is a sloppy program that can cause a computer or portable device to crash. But according to BusinessInsider, Apple’s policy toward Flash may actually be the result of a decision Adobe made 15 years ago to pair with Windows rather than the Mac operating system. Jobs & Co. may never have forgiven them for that.
The First Generation Products Always Have Problems
Apple may be great at building up anticipation of new products until it reaches a fever pitch, but over the years one thing has become especially clear: the first generation models of their gadgets are always riddled with problems. It may be true with other tech companies as well, but it’s especially bad with Apple. One blogger points out that the first iPod Nano scratched easily and early MacBooks had serious overheating problems. More recently, there were a ton of complaints about the iPad’s weak Wi-Fi capabilities and problems recharging the battery. To top it all off, Fast Company points out that Apple’s second generation models are usually significantly cheaper and include fixes for many of the early complaints.
Customer Service Horrors
It may be one of the best-known tech support teams out there, but Apple’s Genius Bar is not perfect. In one story, a customer named Stephanie opened her two-month-old Macbook laptop only to find that part of the screen was broken. She brought it in to be fixed at the Genius Bar and was told it would cost her $755 (even though it was under warranty). The tech support guy repeatedly asserted that Stephanie must have dropped the computer, even as she stated multiple times that she did not. At last, she asked the “Genius” if he was calling her a liar, to which he responded, “I can’t comment on that.”
Then, there’s the story of a customer who had his Macbook Pro repaired at the Genius Bar only to notice that there was a screw missing from it afterwards. He returned to the store to have someone fix it, but ended up in a Kafka-esque bureaucratic nightmare that forced him to make repeated phone calls and wait three weeks just to get the single screw.
Steve Jobs Is Not Afraid to Be Rude to Customers
The questionable customer service at Apple extends all the way to the top. Over the years, Steve Jobs has responded to a fair amount of e-mails from customers, though it’s probably a very small percentage of the number of people who actually message him. (Just to save you the trouble, his e-mail address is SJobs@apple.com) Understandably, his e-mails tend to very curt, but some are just plain rude.
One customer had contacted various Apple representatives in order to repair his Macbook after it sustained water damage. It took a long time for him to get a clear answer, and unfortunately that answer included a very pricey bill, so as a last ditch effort, he decided to send an e-mail lamenting the situation to the big man. In response, Jobs replied, “This is what happens when your MacBook Pro sustains water damage. They are pro machines and they don’t like water. It sounds like you’re just looking for someone to get mad at other than yourself.”
In another example, an app developer e-mailed Jobs to complain that he’d been ordered to change the name of his app in order to get it in the Appstore. Jobs’ response was brutally direct: “Change your apps name. Not that big of a deal.”
While Google is busy waging fights against censorship, Apple openly practices it on a daily basis. Their music service, iTunes, has an automatic censor built in that screens for profanity and raunchy content. But on multiple occasions, the system has malfunctioned and songs with benign words like “hot” and “doo wop” were mistakenly censored.
More recently, Apple has encountered some controversy over the way it polices the Appstore. The company made a sudden decision to censor all pornographic apps, which frustrated many app developers. But there is a large gray area over what is and isn’t porn (for example, the Playboy app). Similarly, Apple has been criticized for prohibiting apps that include satire of public figures (even when the developer is a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist). And perhaps most seriously of all, Apple banned an app from Google without any good reason.
Apple Neglects to Pay Developers
Last year, TechCrunch reported that Apple had failed to pay many app developers on time, or even at all. “Developers are claiming that there are massive delays in payments for as early as last fall and are not being paid the amount of money that the developers are in fact due from sales,” according to TechCrunch.
It really can be a tough life for the app developer: they slave to make apps that may not ever be approved by Apple and even when they are approved, they run the risk of not getting paid for their efforts. That’s probably why one study found that more than 70% of Apple developers are in the process of transitioning to Google’s Android phones instead.
Steve Jobs’ Wacky Life
Like any public figure, there are rumors about the personal life of Steve Jobs even beyond his health. But even by these standards, some of the “confirmed truths” about Jobs’ life are just plain bizarre. Allegedly, he does not believe in flushing toilets and carries around a specific chair with him wherever he goes. Plus, there’s the fact that he fathered a love child years ago and then named a Macintosh computer after her. Classy.
Die Hard Apple Fans Are Crazy
Apple products seem to have a way of bringing out the crazies. One customer harassed a PC-enthusiast and another flashed a gun to the Apple Store after his iPhone stopped working. And that’s just what happens in public; one customer shot his iPhone multiple times and then burned it in a bonfire because Apple announced they would not allow Google Voice on the iPhone.
Also, be warned that being among the first to own a hip new Apple product comes with its own…unique risks. When one Colorado man walked out of an Apple store with an iPad, a robber grabbed it from him and in the process, managed to rip off his finger.
For all its success, Apple also has a long history of flops. Does anyone today remember that the company released its own video game system called the Pippin’ or a standalone digital camera called the Quicktake? And then there’s the Rokr, a cell phone that Apple released in partnership with Motorola that can either be considered a precursor to the iPhone… or just a pretty dumb phone, period.
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