Prophets of Doom Prod Apple to Reveal Its True Self
Nov 7, 2013 5:00 AM PT
Apple has delivered a delightful mix of products and profits this year, all the while facing skepticism from various analysts and pundits over its strategies, plans and abilities to take over the world -- especially the part with low-end, cheap markets. Apple CEO Tim Cook's leadership has been questioned, the company has been accused of losing its creative mojo, and it's corporate integrity has been attacked in a variety of ways, including a Congressional probe into offshore bank accounts -- never mind that Apple is truly a global business.
Plus, Apple has been caught up in the scrutiny of tech companies that work with various law enforcement agencies (and judicial systems) to turn over customer data. The NSA's secret electronic leeches have been exposed on data center pipes, where they've been siphoning the blood of the so-called free world. How does Apple deal with parasites that, left unchecked, actually weaken us?
Apple's responses to all these questions and pressures, it turns out, actually reveal something quite interesting about the company's core identity -- its business, the people who work there, and what they want their jobs to represent.
And it's damn cool.
Rock and Hard Place
Let's start with the USA PATRIOT Act, law enforcement, and the widely panned NSA efforts to slurp and surveil everything for the good of American humanity. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo have attempted to come clean with their customers about all the different ways they have to comply with law enforcement requirements, including PATRIOT Act orders that are delivered to their businesses complete with gags that spell "treason" all over them in glow-in-the-dark letters.
Of course, these companies can't exactly reveal what's going on lest they break a gag order in a way that lands them in jail (or worse).
It's an untenable situation. However, Apple and others are stuck in it. Apple has tried to sort out its law enforcement requests -- even though the U.S. government only allows broad ranges of numbers to illuminate them. In the freest country of the world, this is sadly ironic.
Still, by flatly calling it out, Apple works the fringes of civil disobedience about as well as it can. It also takes an opportunity to define itself -- to at once speak to its customers, put down its competitors, and remind the U.S. government that it's not in the business of being a secret spy machine. The key wording? It's worth repeating:
Perhaps most important, our business does not depend on collecting personal data. We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers. We protect personal conversations by providing end-to-end encryption over iMessage and FaceTime. We do not store location data, Maps searches, or Siri requests in any identifiable form. ...I've always hoped that Apple wasn't creating and mining massive databases to figure out who I am, how I will act, what I might do, places I might go, and people I love. Apparently, Apple seems to realize -- even though it could create a massively powerful database of customer information -- that collecting personal data just shouldn't be part of its business plan: Apple isn't about connecting your Siri requests to your credit card and identifying your mood to take advantage of your weakest moments.
Unlike many other companies dealing with requests for customer data from government agencies, Apple's main business is not about collecting information.
Count me a fan of that.
What Does Apple Focus On?
Products. Creating astoundingly fantastic products that work well, that evoke feeling, that create meaningful connections and experiences in the world. Will an Apple product make life better? Apple asks this question.
In fact, Apple seemed to feel so battered by criticism this year that it launched several ads and videos to articulate who Apple is and what Apple is all about. For example, Apple is not all about creating a dirt-cheap iPhone to make sure that every potential customer in the world buys an iPhone instead of an Android. To make that point, Apple's passive-aggressive take is sappy videos like this one:
or this highly visible TV spot:
Even if the tones of these videos make me want to curl up in a bathrobe by a fire and sip hot cocoa while contemplating the best way to knock myself unconscious, I respect the message: Apple has guiding principles. Strong core efforts to produce products that matter to the world and positively affect people's every day lives. Not exploit them, but to make their days better. You don't have to believe Apple. I do.