How Do You Like Them Apples?
This is the post in which I make some enemies.
Apple has surged to tech dominance in the last couple decades, inspiring rabid fans that have a near-religious surge when they see the hallowed bitten-Macintosh logo—some of whom have even had the corporate brand tattooed on their bodies.
Nice. Here's the thing:
Apple is teetering on the cusp of a fall.
When Cool Becomes Uncool
Things that rise to cool on the tide of "hipness" eventually become less hip when embraced by the masses. When your mother—or even grandmother—has an iPhone and a Mac, the product is no longer artsy, counterculture, antiestablishment, and noncorporate/anti-"The Man."
Doing Good—Or Not
In a time when people increasingly expect the companies they buy from and work for to be involved in the community—to do good, not just do well—Apple doesn't. (Need extreme proof of this movement? Note the new type of corporation created in 2012 that allows for hybrid profit and nonprofit companies.)
Steve Jobs closed Apple's philanthropic programs when he returned in 1997 and only in September 2011 instated a matching-gifts program through which Apple matches charitable funds donated by employees, wrote Peter Whoriskey for The Washington Post. New CEO Tim Cook may be making attempts to change that, but he has a long way to go.
And part of what people perceive as "doing good" in the world is a focus on employee well-being and opportunity. Apple doesn't rank well here, either:
Per this in-depth article in The New York Times, Apple Store employees could get paid more for jobs elsewhere that treat them better and offer upward mobility. (In other words, Apple is preying on its fans' rabid devotion to work them hard for low pay in dead-end jobs.) Eventually, these employees will wake up, angry and disillusioned.
The controversy over Apple's Chinese manufacturing processes—dangerous sweat-shop labor and environmental harm—may have been proven to be slightly exaggerated. But only slightly. There's no doubt that the people in China making Apple products are working hard in poor conditions, per Charles Duhigg and David Barboza for The New York Times and reporter Chi-Chi Zhang for CNN. It's hard to buy from a company that treats people like this--especially for antiestablishment hipsters, Apple's original devotees and most rabid fans.
You, Mr. Customer, Are an Untrustworthy Idiot
Apple's products don't respect the customer. They treat users like idiots and untrustworthy ne'er-do-wells who shouldn’t be able to replace computer parts—or even batteries.
Corollary to lack of customer respect? Lack of customer service. Personally, I've tried to get help in the Apple Store, and although the staff there isn't rude, it doesn't go out of its way to help much. E-mail support is impossible. In a recent exchange, I was outright accused of trying to cheat Apple out of a $50 iTunes credit, when I was simply trying to get a replacement for a card that had an unreadable PIN code.
Ongoing Racial Discrimination
Apple has refused to sell products to people in its stores due to their perceived nationalities. Most recently, an Apple Store in Georgia refused to sell an Iranian-American woman an iPad. Someone in the store caught the dialogue on video. Isolated incident? No. In 2011, Apple was sued by two black men who recorded on a cell phone an Apple Store employee kicking them out of the store because he didn't like "their kind." In 2010, Apple refused to sell Chinese people iPads in New York City.
Apple hasn't apologized for any of these cases.
A company can't keep going like this without eventual consumer disillusionment—or even backlash, as the pendulum swings from the extreme of "rabid fan" to the opposite extreme of "pissed-off former devotee."
We're starting to see it in some of the recent negative stories hitting the media. And without the Svengali-like presence of Steve Jobs, it's just a matter of time.