Tuesday, 23 June 2015


The technology company, not the fruit.

Not that the apple (the fruit, not the vast rich technology company) isn't a fascinating subject, of course, but not one I've time to write about just now.

No, I'm talking about the megalithic corporation that is Apple, Inc. I'm sure their products are all very good and that, but I don't actually own any. I'm not a hater or anything, it's just that I've never seen the reason to buy any of them.

They've done extremely well for themselves, anyhow, and are now the biggest company in the world. There are some good reasons why, they released some innovative products at the right time, made them intuitive and simple for use and made people want them. And all their devices are compatible with one another, which is a big plus (provided you only own other Apple devices). So yeah, I can understand their continued success, but I don't really like or understand it.

A few of my problems:

- The good thing about PCs is that you can swap all the bits and pieces in and out, add RAM, get a better graphics card, etc. You can buy the bits piecemeal and build yourself a PC easily enough. Various PCs I've had over the years have been Frankenstein machines, which is only possible because you're not tied to any particular manufacturer and (unless the component is really outdated) old and spare components can be re-used, because there is compatibility across the industry. Apple on the other hand insist that everything goes through them. Attempt to modify the device invalidates the warranty.

- Any Apple product is automatically at least 25% more expensive than all of its equivalently capable rivals and the more successful the product becomes, the higher they push up that price point. I think the top of the range iPhone is getting on for 800 quid now, with all your contracts and crap, which - call me old-fashioned - is a fundamentally ridiculous price for a phone.

- Like most mega-corporations, they have partly grown so huge by the simple expedient of paying as little tax as possible - this article from 2013 - sums it up quite well (and as far as I know, still holds true). This has cheated governments all around the world out of billions of dollars

- Again, like other huge corporate manufacturers, Apple have all their products made in China, by workers in intolerable conditions (enforced 70-hour weeks, punishingly rigid output controls, very little time off, in fact no real workers' rights at all). They do this because everyone else does it and because they can. But that doesn't mean it's right. They make such vast profits and are sitting on such an enormous pile of cash, they are in an ideal position to change this system. Granted, they wouldn't make quite so much money, but they could easily afford to ensure that their workers are paid more and have better working conditions and rights than their rivals. If they were very publically seen to do this, then they could even shame their rivals into doing the same. But do they? No, they always wait until they get caught, then profess ignorance, launch investigations and promise to improve matters. And as Apple does this repeatedly, it's evident that no improvements are really made.

Plus various other stuff, in fact pretty much their whole corporate ethos and the way they do business. The latest story of course is the one about their impending music streaming service; having presumably done all the royalty deals with the record labels, they then announced that there would be a 3 month free trial but "forgot" to mention that during this period, they would be paying no royalties to the labels, and so nothing to the artists. Giving that they've got a pile of something like $230 billion stashed away, this seem a little bit stingy, not to mention duplicitous. Luckily Taylor Swift stepped in to save the day and they've reversed their decision and royalties will be paid during the trial period after all.

It just gets me that a company so big, so rich and so powerful are still trying to screw everyone else, their competitors with a seemingly constant stream of plagiarism lawsuits, etc., their customers by keeping all their stuff proprietory and non-standard (so you can't just charge their products with conventional battery chargers, for instance), and in general trying to lock them into using only Apple products and then screw them with long-term contracts, etc., further ensuring their loyalty...

I reckon that has to lie at the core of it, the customer loyalty. Once they've got you with one product, you're tied in and because their stuff is so expensive, I think people justify continuing their phone contracts and buying new Apple products because of that high initial outlay.

At least that's the only reason I can think of; a company that is well-known for restrictive business practices, tax avoidance, poor value for money, general evil, etc. doesn't usually inspire such fierce loyalty.

I'm glad I never got sucked into it, anyway.

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