The Less Pretty Look At Steve Jobs

Some have wondered whether Apple has become the Big Brother/1984 company they railed against in their famous Super Bowl ad? It’s a fair question.

Like most of us I was saddened by Steve Jobs death. I wrote about his accomplishments. Then I read Gawker’s portrayal of Jobs and remembered my upset/concerns with those same things. If you only want to remember the innovator Jobs click elsewhere. There is more to this complex man and the company he built.

Jobs created a tightly controlled vertical infrastructure for Apple products. Once you buy an iPhone or iPad you are stuck buying everything else you need from Apple!

If I come up with a great program for your iPhone or iPad I cannot sell it directly to you. I cannot sell it at all without selling it through (and giving a cut of the profits to) Apple. I can’t even write a program Apple would consider for its iTunes Store without writing it using Apple’s tools and a Mac! That is an artificial barrier.

From Gawker: In the name of protecting children from the evils of erotica — “freedom from porn” — and adults from one another, Jobs has banned from being installed on his devices gay art, gay travel guides, political cartoons, sexy pictures, Congressional candidate pamphlets, political caricature, Vogue fashion spreads, systems invented by the opposition, and other things considered morally suspect.

Imagine you bought a Ford and were only permitted to fill it with Ford gasoline. Same thing.

Some have wondered whether Apple has become the Big Brother/1984 company they railed against in their famous Super Bowl ad? It’s a fair question. After all, today it is Apple that’s all about slavish conformity and control.

Apple is also a company that’s moved American jobs offshore. As far as I know all their products are now manufactured overseas. As Mike Daisey wrote in the New York Times:

Apple’s rise to power in our time directly paralleled the transformation of global manufacturing. As recently as 10 years ago Apple’s computers were assembled in the United States, but today they are built in southern China under appalling labor conditions. Apple, like the vast majority of the electronics industry, skirts labor laws by subcontracting all its manufacturing to companies like Foxconn, a firm made infamous for suicides at its plants, a worker dying after working a 34-hour shift, widespread beatings, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to meet high quotas set by tech companies like Apple.

There’s no doubt much of what Jobs did was good. He was not a saint.

22 thoughts on “The Less Pretty Look At Steve Jobs”

  1. It’s true that Apple sometimes has too tight a grip on their products, but that grip largely is why their products work so well. On average, Steve did far more good than bad.

    1. Mike – I had to jailbreak my iPhone in order to put a calendar on the lockscreen. The phone could do it. Apple didn’t want it. But isn’t it my phone?

      This is like buying a car and being told you are forbidden from driving on I95. Why? Because.

  2. The reason Apple works and is innovative is the reason you can’t get it anywhere else and you can’t buy others products for service. Their inventions ( Apple) exist and sell because the”old ways” of technical products are just that “old”.

    1. After I buy a product I don’t feel my options should be limited by what benefits the seller. That seems greedy and unfair.

  3. So why buy apple? I mean really this all is not new news, unfortunate that it’s being rehashed just because he has died. There is something to be said if not speaking I’ll of the dead, especially when it’s been said before. Why bother? Why bother now? Stranger still, why get an ianything if you have gripes with not only the controlling factor but the labor conditions? Surely jail breaking your phone for a calendar isn’t helping those poor workers over there?

  4. I can’t believe the cult of Apple! The best thing Jobs did was showing the big companies of the time that the little guy can engineer a product and make it successful (most currently: the “angry birds” phenomena). But don’t defend the company when they are caught doing (or at least allowing) horrible and inhumane business practices (especially since they built their image on, like you said, anti-establishment). They are no better or worse than any other large company, including Microsoft.

  5. I wonder when YOU are dead and gone if people will see YOU as the meterologist that got fired from WTNH or the man who was often judgemental. The guy is dead for heavens sake. Unless YOU are perfect, I see no need to bash someone. Pick on someone that has the ability to defend themselves not someone who has passed on. Although not perfect, as no human being is, Mr. Jobs has accomplished many tasks. Think of the positive side of life, just saying!

    1. Scott – people make judgments about my worth on a daily basis. I get it. It comes with the territory.

      I am not bashing Steve Jobs. Look back a few days ago and you will see I wrote about his innovations. However he is being set up as a saint.

  6. Ive never bought apple products fot the reason Geoff. Some co. going to tell me i cant buy anything but their product,games,software thats crazy

  7. I’ve personally never purchased Apple products for all the reasons you mentioned. The manufacturing issues apply to Apple and many other companies in the U.S. as do support issues (try getting Dell support without being routed to India). Yet I still greatly admired the man. I prefer Windows, knowing that much of what Windows does was a reaction to what Apple did. I read somewhere recently that Jobs had a consumer driven view, defining and controlling the end product, where Gates had the view that his consumers wanted to be able to look under the hood. That’s probably a good comparison. Whichever product you use is probably based at least in part on that preference and criticizing that choice is not a useful exercise because both are valid choices.

    At the end of the day, Jobs was an imperfect man, like the rest of us, with an extraordinary vision. He was thinking years ahead of everyone else and the world would be very different had we not had the benefit of that vision. The loss of that vision is a loss for us all. People who talk about Edison and Ford recognize their genius at the same time as their tyranny without diminishing them and that’s just perspective.

    One more thought. For Apple, there is a concern in the long term that is best described by a similar corporate loss. It reminds me of the death of Walt Disney (another man of genius and faults). After he died, whenever Disney the company had a decision to make, the people there would ask,”What would Walt do?” Then they ran out of things they knew Walt would have done and went nowhere until they got someone in charge who could think beyond Walt. Apple will need that kind of leader.

  8. Hello, Geoff:
    I for one do not own any Apple products. I have used Microsoft Windows since I got my first computer in ’98 or so. There is good and bad in everyone, and you’re right; the man was no saint. (nor are any of us)
    One thing I noted in going over all of the information about him since his passing is that he wasn’t known for giving back as Bill Gates and his foundation have done. I know that it was his money, and we’re all free to do what we want with our money, but if I were as wealthy as he was I would most certainly find ways to help the less fortunate. I’m also not surprised by the outsourcing and inhumane working conditions either; something I think any reputable business person should feel personally obligated to rectify if such conditions existed at any company they own. Not just him, but everyone. Profits before people. Isn’t that part of what Occupy Wall Street is about? Big banks, corporate greed, profit before people? It certainly would fall under that umbrella.
    The guy was a genius. And yes, he had his faults. You’re right in that some folks are making him into a saint. And it would appear he was a control freak as well; i.e.–having to buy only their products or you can’t use it because it won’t work.
    I enjoy the many topics of discussion you bring up. You are also my favorite meteorologist. I switched to Fox News primarily to see your forecasting and science reports. By the way, I can’t choose between hot weather and wind-chill weather…I’m a Spring / Fall guy. Not too hot, not too cold.
    Be well

  9. Your choice comes before you buy the product, which is why my phone uses the Android platform. Steve Jobs was a brilliant innovator who knew how to market his products. The rest of us fell for it. If you believe that Apple products are built under inhumane conditions, don’t buy them – but don’t judge Mr Jobs for running his comapny while putting money in his pocket.

  10. I think the point many people (including Tracy) fail to understand is that people who sell things and make billions SHOULD be judged on a blog like this. It’s easy to say “don’t buy the product”, but the simple fact is that 99% of people don’t know those things are going on. They see the flashy commercials and products. People should be scrutinizing all these big corporations and what they’re doing, so that you can make an informed decision. (I’m pretty positive Droids are also made under similar conditions, so I’m not promoting one over another.)

    How can you rightly say “don’t judge him for making money”? That’s exactly why you should judge him. He claims to be a leader and a visionary … So then why resort to 18th-century manufacturing and labor techniques? If you’re going to claim to be advanced, then be advanced – don’t take advantage of people and turn a blind eye when you have the power to stop it.

  11. “Imagine you bought a Ford and were only permitted to fill it with Ford gasoline. Same thing.”

    If Ford gasoline cost less, offered me what I wanted and had the best quality controls around that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Actually, given the out-of-control made-up prices that the oil cartels force on us, it might be a good thing. and would sell more Ford cars if they had exclusive rights to Ford gasoline.

    I’ve used Apple products for making movies, writing books, listening to music, watching video and probably a dozen other uses for the past 15 years or more. I’ve never been left wanting something that some other competitor offers. A tightly controlled vertical infrastructure is not a bad thing. Just ask the hundreds (thousands?) of developers that make good livings playing by Apple’s rules and selling high quality apps in the app store.

    As far as manufacturing overseas, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an electronics company that manufactures in the U.S.

    Geoff, this blog post should be filed under nitpicking.

    1. Nathan – You might not mind it, but that kind of vertical integration has in the past been found to violate the Sherman Antiturst Act. Take United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. where Paramount’s ownership of most pieces of the production and distribution chain (theaters) was found to be illegal. It’s also why your car dealer can’t specify only they change your oil to maintain your warranty.

      I am not a lawyer, but you get the idea.

      I am not saying Apple shouldn’t sell these things as they do in the iTunes store. You are always free to buy their products (and should be). I am saying they shouldn’t reserve sole distribution to themselves as they now do on a product I own.

  12. I agree with Geoff. “(Apple) shouldn’t reserve sole distribution to themselves as they now do on a product I own.”

    As someone who actually has a small software company in Connecticut who writes study software for Firefighters, EMTs, and Paramedics for both Windows and Mac OSX, I am extremely concerned about the restrictions Apple has placed on their IOS devices. I think the company that wanted us all to think different, may not feel that way anymore.

    In order to have your software run on an IOS device, right now, your only choice is to use XCode. There are other languages that are emerging, but it is uncertain whether or not Apple will allow these languages to be accepted on the IOS App Store, even if they are compiled with Cocoa.

    Unlike my Windows and Mac OSX apps, I cannot sell the software directly to you. I don’t mind that Apple takes 30%, because my wholesalers actually get over 40%. My concern is that I am out of the picture. I wouldn’t mind selling in the App store, if I could also sell my IOS software on my own site as well.

    This separates me from my customers. It takes me out of the loop and I have no control over piracy, or information about my customers. I like to talk to them, get feedback and ask their ideas as to how to improve my products.

    My fear is that this practice will spread to the Mac in the future.

    In addition, Apple has what is called the “Human Interface Guidelines.” This is a set of standard operating procedures, as to how they want the software to look on their devices. Unless Apple gives you their golden seal of approval, they may reject your products. Thinking different is okay as long as you don’t think different than Apple.

    With all that said, I am a huge fan of Apple. Anyone who has ever used their computers knows that they are vastly superior to any Windows machine. As someone who thought Apple was junk until around 2002 and who had over 15 Windows machines, I have come to love their computers. We now have 7 Apple boxes and one token Windows machine.

    Steve Jobs was a hero to me. I felt that I grew up with him – he was one year older than me. Before Steve was working with Steve Wozniak creating the first Apple I, I was hacking around on a machine bigger than my refrigerator. I have tremendous respect for the man, and I have tried to fashion my business in Apple’s image as far as quality and customer service and support.

    I know he had many shortcomings, but we all have those. I never met him, but I feel like I have lost a friend. No one is perfect, but someone who may have been imperfect spent his lifetime striving to make the perfect product. That was Steve Jobs.

  13. I don’t know of any person who could be considered to be both a saint and successful in business at the same time. Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Ben Franklin, Sam Walton have all done things to further their success at the expense of others.

    American business is “do what you want until you get told you can’t”. If the outrage grows, laws can be made to prevent products made by oppressed workers being sold in this country. Perhaps in the future some will use their iPhones to email their elected officials about this issue.

  14. I see your point about the locked down device, but the locked down is a feature for me! I know Apple currates its iOS store and typically finds any malware and will not even offs it on the store. I am an Android and iOS user and feel “safer” using iOS for two main reasons:
    – iOS applications need to be screaned by Apple prior to being uploaded into the store. I don’t think I have heard of one rouge iOS app that was doing “bad” things; but can find such Android Apps.
    – having a single store is better; Take Amazon’s android app store I could buy from them but if the developer only update the app on the android market I don’t get the update unless I pay for it again. Plus side loading apps to me makes the android platform too much like windows.

    Plus the tools that Apple has given its developers appears to be more robust – the apps just “pop” both grahpically and features; compared to the same app from the same developer on Android. That could be due to the fragmented world of Android though (I’m not a coder so I don’t know)

    at the end of the day the good news is consumers have a choice! I’d rather have that choice than say one of the CEOs has a bad side! But to dig the CEO of Google (at the time that is) I find it strange that Android copied the iOS look only after he was on the board of apple! If you find what Android really looked like prior to being bought by Google it looked more Blackberry like than iPhone.

  15. I have to venture you don’t hang with any young gay men (especially from NYC)… the iPhone/iPad app “Grinder” is about as gay as you can get (brings “social networking” to a VERY different level)… and it is available only on the iPhone.

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