Tag Archives: Apple

The Apple Boycott: Apple quality control vs. This American Life quality control (not)

Economist Joshua Gans does a very nice job of peeling apart the many failings in TAL’s fact-checking. It was a simple Google search that unravelled Daisey’s lies. Why did TAL screw up so badly? Could it be that they really wanted the story to be true? [Ed, that's my speculation, not Prof. Gans].

Like everyone else, I downloaded and listened to This American Life‘s podcast about Mike Daisey, an entertainer, who had produced a show about workers at Apple suppliers in China. When I listened to it, I didn’t hear anything new. These allegations had been around for some time. What I heard was This American Life giving them weight. They are the ‘gold standard’ in journalism much like Apple is the gold standard in design. In both cases, their brand carries credibility. I can take each at face value and, of course, on this issue they clashed.

As everyone knows, Daisey’s story was a fabrication. The best take is it was a dramatic retelling of the existing allegations. The worst take is obvious. To their credit, This American Life devoted an entire episode to their failings and not only retracted the story but covered precisely why. The whole episode will become a textbook case for journalism for years to come. But what I want to focus on here is, why did This American Life fail?

The line by them is that their fact checking process was flawed in just one way. It was flawed because they did not go far beyond Mike Daisey in checking those facts. In particular, the one person who could verify much of the story — Daisey’s interpreter — could apparently not be located. And how did they know that? Daisey told them so. That was a critical link that could have broken the chain and uncovered all this before the story went out. Somewhat embarrassingly, a simple Google search found the interpreter. (Of course, I had to wonder if that was really the right person but I’ll take the reporters’ words for it.) But it wasn’t the only link that was fragile and This American Life did not spell that out. Let me indicate some others.

First, the reason the issues were uncovered is that journalists who report on China and these suppliers were suspicious. So why didn’t TAL ask any of them beforehand what they thought? Some were at public broadcasting. Were they keeping the scoop secret? What happened there? Had they asked, this would have been taken care of.

Second, in the podcast, Apple refused to comment on the story. But Apple could have been key in verifying some of this. This is a difficult issue given they are surely conflicted but just seeing if a corporation wants to comment is not enough. We do not know how pressed Apple were on this.

Third, Daisey claimed to be a huge Apple fan. This is actually one of the most powerful parts of that story. In the retraction, there is nothing about this. It is not hard to check if someone is an Apple fan. There are things they would know and do. What happened there?

(…) There is a remarkable similarity between the tight conditions that generate quality both at TAL and at Apple. Indeed, that should have given TAL special insight but it did not. Instead, their own quality assurance processes failed at multiple points. It wasn’t just one thing. Ironically, it was Apple (and the podcast invention) that brought This American Life to my life (as I did not live in the US). Hopefully, they can learn more from them in the future.

Read the whole thing.

More excellent analysis by Tim Worstall at Forbes.

The Apple Boycott: People Are Spouting Nonsense about Chinese Manufacturing

Tim Worstall at Forbes tackles some of the lies and uninformed rubbish of the daily news cycle. Tim credits the NYT series as being the source of the anguish, but surely a lot of this nonsense derives from the “theater” of the now-discredited Mike Daisey. If you are quoting the execrable Daisey from the This American Life episode then you need to study RETRACTING “MR. DAISEY AND THE APPLE FACTORY”:

Ira (Glass) writes:

I have difficult news. We’ve learned that Mike Daisey’s story about Apple in China – which we broadcast in January – contained significant fabrications. We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s acclaimed one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.

The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China. The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show. On this week’s episode of This American Life, we will devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.”

Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.

We’re horrified to have let something like this onto public radio. Many dedicated reporters and editors – our friends and colleagues – have worked for years to build the reputation for accuracy and integrity that the journalism on public radio enjoys. It’s trusted by so many people for good reason. Our program adheres to the same journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case, we did not live up to those standards.

It is shocking how gullible are the producers of This American Life. It seems obvious to me that they wanted to believe Mike Daisey’s emotional story about big bad Apple destroying the lives of underage workers making iPads. So they did not factcheck properly – “the story was so good it must be true”. The only good news is that they are taking some very small responsibility for their mistakes in giving credence to Mike Daisey’s lies. But they take no responsibility for any harm done to the workers at Apple. Not a single word of apology to Apple, Apple workers or Apple shareholders. Not a single word.

Back to Tim Worstall at Forbes:

It would appear that there’s momentum being gained for the idea of boycotting Apple‘s products over conditions in the company’s manufacturing chain in China. This is a very silly idea and there is much nonsense being spouted about those conditions.

Apple, the computer giant whose sleek products have become a mainstay of modern life, is dealing with a public relations disaster and the threat of calls for a boycott of its iPhones and iPads.

The company’s public image took a dive after revelations about working conditions in the factories of some of its network of Chinese suppliers. The allegations, reported at length in the New York Times, build on previous concerns about abuses at firms that Apple uses to make its bestselling computers and phones. Now the dreaded word “boycott” has started to appear in media coverage of its activities.

“Should consumers boycott Apple?” asked a column in the Los Angeles Times as it recounted details of the bad PR fallout.

Two of the New York Times articles are here and here. Dan Lyons weighs in here.

Essentially, the list of charges is that the near 1 million people who work for Foxconn (about 230,000 of whom produce products for Apple, the others assembling for Dell, HP, just about every electronics company in fact) have to work long hours for low pay in dangerous conditions.

Well, yes, they’re poor people living in a poor country. That’s what being poor means, having to work extremely hard to make very little. Yes, that is a harsh thing to say but then reality can indeed be harsh.

To show that it’s not just uncaring neoliberals like myself who say such things why not try reading Paul Krugman on the subject of sweatshops? Specifically, here, on what would happen if we were to try and stop the manufacturing being done in such poor places:

First of all, even if we could assure the workers in Third World export industries of higher wages and better working conditions, this would do nothing for the peasants, day laborers, scavengers, and so on who make up the bulk of these countries’ populations. At best, forcing developing countries to adhere to our labor standards would create a privileged labor aristocracy, leaving the poor majority no better off.

And it might not even do that. The advantages of established First World industries are still formidable. The only reason developing countries have been able to compete with those industries is their ability to offer employers cheap labor. Deny them that ability, and you might well deny them the prospect of continuing industrial growth, even reverse the growth that has been achieved. And since export-oriented growth, for all its injustice, has been a huge boon for the workers in those nations, anything that curtails that growth is very much against their interests. A policy of good jobs in principle, but no jobs in practice, might assuage our consciences, but it is no favor to its alleged beneficiaries.

And a very important point, again from Professor Krugman, about what determines the wages that are paid:

Wages are determined in a national labor market: The basic Ricardian model envisages a single factor, labor, which can move freely between industries. When one tries to talk about trade with laymen, however, one at least sometimes realizes that they do not think about things that way at all. They think about steelworkers, textile workers, and so on; there is no such thing as a national labor market. It does not occur to them that the wages earned in one industry are largely determined by the wages similar workers are earning in other industries. This has several consequences. First, unless it is carefully explained, the standard demonstration of the gains from trade in a Ricardian model — workers can earn more by moving into the industries in which you have a comparative advantage — simply fails to register with lay intellectuals. Their picture is of aircraft workers gaining and textile workers losing, and the idea that it is useful even for the sake of argument to imagine that workers can move from one industry to the other is foreign to them. Second, the link between productivity and wages is thoroughly misunderstood. Non-economists typically think that wages should reflect productivity at the level of the individual company. So if Xerox manages to increase its productivity 20 percent, it should raise the wages it pays by the same amount; if overall manufacturing productivity has risen 30 percent, the real wages of manufacturing workers should have risen 30 percent, even if service productivity has been stagnant; if this doesn’t happen, it is a sign that something has gone wrong. In other words, my criticism of Michael Lind would baffle many non-economists.

Associated with this problem is the misunderstanding of what international trade should do to wage rates. It is a fact that some Bangladeshi apparel factories manage to achieve labor productivity close to half those of comparable installations in the United States, although overall Bangladeshi manufacturing productivity is probably only about 5 percent of the US level. Non-economists find it extremely disturbing and puzzling that wages in those productive factories are only 10 percent of US standards.

Finally, and most importantly, it is not obvious to non-economists that wages are endogenous. Someone like Goldsmith looks at Vietnam and asks, “what would happen if people who work for such low wages manage to achieve Western productivity?” The economist’s answer is, “if they achieve Western productivity, they will be paid Western wages” — as has in fact happened in Japan. But to the non-economist this conclusion is neither natural nor plausible. (And he is likely to offer those Bangladeshi factories as a counterexample, missing the distinction between factory-level and national-level productivity).

I quote at such length because it is an extremely important point. Wages paid to manufacturing workers in China are not determined by the productivity of those specific workers. They are not determined by US wages, by the profits that Apple makes nor even by the good intentions of the creative types that purchase Apple products. They are determined by the wages paid by other jobs in China and that is itself determined by the average level of productivity across the Chinese economy.

But now to the specific complaints that are being made. There are three that are being repeated around the intertubes as being particularly outrageous.

(…)

Tim’s graphic above summarizes some of Tim’s following points. But best to get over to Forbes to read the whole thing which includes all the resource-links that I left out above.

David Pogue on OnLive

OnLive is a remarkable achievement, as David Pogue writes:

You’re probably paying something like $60 a month for high-speed Internet. I’m paying $5 a month, and my connection is 1,000 times faster.

Your iPad can’t play Flash videos on the Web. Mine can.

Your copy of Windows needs constant updating and patching and protection against viruses and spyware. Mine is always clean and always up-to-date.

No, I’m not some kind of smug techno-elitist; you can have all of that, too. All you have to do is sign up for a radical iPad service called OnLive Desktop Plus.

It’s a tiny app — about 5 megabytes. When you open it, you see a standard Windows 7 desktop, right there on your iPad. The full, latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer and Adobe Reader are set up and ready to use — no installation, no serial numbers, no pop-up balloons nagging you to update this or that. It may be the least annoying version of Windows you’ve ever used.

That’s pretty impressive — but not as impressive as what’s going on behind the scenes. The PC that’s driving your iPad Windows experience is, in fact, a “farm” of computers at one of three data centers thousands of miles away. Every time you tap the screen, scroll a list or type on the on-screen keyboard, you’re sending signals to those distant computers. The screen image is blasted back to your iPad with astonishingly little lag.

There’s an insane amount of technology behind this stunt — 10 years in the making, according to the company’s founder. (He’s a veteran of Apple’s original QuickTime team and Microsoft’s WebTV and Xbox teams.) OnLive Desktop builds on the company’s original business, a service that lets gamers play high-horsepower video games on Macs or low-powered Windows computers like netbooks.

(…)

OnLive says that its service works great over 4G cellular connections (like the one provided by an LTE MiFi) — but 3G connections and feeble hotel Wi-Fi hot spots are too slow to be satisfying. OnLive wants at least a 2-megabits-a-second connection on your end.

Finally, you have to sign into OnLive every time you want to use it, even if you’ve just flicked away to another iPad app. (OnLive says it’ll fix that.)

Even so, if ever there were a poster child for the potential of cloud computing, OnLive is it. This is jaw-dropping, extremely polished technology. It opens up a universe of software and horsepower that live far beyond the iPad’s wildest dreams — with no more effort on your part than a few taps on glass.

Do read the whole thing »

Walter Isaacson’s ‘Steve Jobs’

John Gruber reviews Isaacson’s biography. This is by far the most useful book review that we have seen. John closes with this:

(…) Note that my complaints here are not about Isaacson being insufficiently deferential. That the book is not a hagiography is to its credit. The personal stuff — documentation of Jobs’s cruelty (and histalent for cruelty), his tantrums, his tendency to claim for himself the ideas of others — that’s not problematic. Isaacson handles that well, and what he reports in that regard jibes with everything we know about the man. My complaints are about outright technical inaccuracies, and getting the man’s work wrong. The design process, the resulting products, the centrality of software — Isaacson simply misses the boat.

You could learn more about Steve Jobs’s work by reading Rob Walker’s 2003 New York Times Magazine piece than by reading Isaacson’s book, but even then we’re left wanting for the stories behind any of Apple’s products after the iPod. Isaacson’s book may well be the defining resource for Jobs’s personal life — his childhood, youth, eccentricities, cruelty, temper, and emotional outbursts. But as regards Jobs’s work, Isaacson leaves the reader profoundly and tragically misinformed.

Isaacson gives us the story of an asshole. But the world is full of assholes. What we need is the story of the one man who spearheaded so many remarkable products and who built an amazing and unique company.

Something Very Special and Very Historically Different

Fraser Speirs wrote:

This is why I get up in the morning. I have nothing to add.

“Right now, if you buy a computer system and you want to solve one of your problems, we immediately throw a big problem right in the middle of you and your problem which is learning how to use the computer. A substantial problem to overcome. Once you overcome that, it’s a phenomenal tool. But there is a barrier of having to overcome that problem.

What we’re trying to do … is to remove that barrier so that someone can buy a computer system who knows nothing about it and directly attack their problem without learning how to program their computer.

Our whole company, our whole philosophical base, is founded on one principle. That principle is that there is something very special and very historically different that takes place when you have one computer and one person. Very different than if you have ten people and one computer.”

Steve Jobs, 1980

Ars Technica: Apple to Announce Authoring Tools for Textbook/E-Book Publishing

Very interesting speculation in Ars Technical. Tomorrow (19th in California) we should find out what is true. Even if this turns out not to be exactly correct, there is useful perspective. Here’s a small excerpt:

(…)

Technology-in-education expert Dr. William Rankin also believes digital books will expand with tools that will enable social interactions among textbook users. Rankin, who serves as Director of Educational Innovation of Abilene Christian University and has extensively researched the use of mobile devices in the classroom, was one of three authors of a white paper on the effects of digital convergence on learning titled “Code/X,” published in 2009.

In that document, Rankin and his colleagues laid out their vision for the future of learning, which included an always-on, always-networked digital device called a “Talos.” That device turned out to be very similar to the iPad that Apple announced just six months later.

“What we saw coming was a change in the kinds of places that learning would happen,” Rankin told Ars. Since the device would always be with the student, it would give her access to information anytime and anywhere. “For that, you need a different kind of book.”

Such digital texts would let students interact with information in visual ways, such as 3D models, graphs, and videos. They would also allow students to create links to additional texts, audio, and other supporting materials. Furthermore, students could share those connections with classmates and colleagues.

(…) Steve Jobs’ pet project

We know that former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was working on addressing learning and digital textbooks for some time, according to Walter Issacson’s biography. Jobs believed that textbook publishing was an “$8 billion a year industry ripe for digital destruction.”

UPDATE: The speculation was correct. See iBooks textbooks for iPad . There is an Apple Keynote podcast of the NYC special event. The free iBooks Author app (Mac only) is described here. iBooks Author generates the HTML5 so you can yourself publish directly to the iBookstore – or anywhere so long as you don’t profit from the sale of content produced by the app.

John Lasseter on Steve Jobs

(…) Before he went back to Apple, we were on Charlie Rose together. Charlie asked him about Apple on the air, and Steve didn’t really answer. But after the cameras were off, he turned to Charlie and said, “I know how to save Apple. But they’re just not listening to me yet.” I thought, “Huh. That’s interesting.” A few months later, Apple bought NeXT, and Steve sat me down at Pixar and asked my permission to go back to Apple. He didn’t want to do it without our blessing. He said he wanted to go back because the world would be a better place with Apple in it. That was incredibly touching to me, and it showed that Steve cared about people. He knew that his products and technology could improve people’s lives.

Read the whole thing »

What I Learned Building the Apple Store

Ron Johnson has a new article up at Harvard Business Review.

(…) People come to the Apple Store for the experience — and they’re willing to pay a premium for that. There are lots of components to that experience, but maybe the most important — and this is something that can translate to any retailer — is that the staff isn’t focused on selling stuff, it’s focused on building relationships and trying to make people’s lives better. That may sound hokey, but it’s true. The staff is exceptionally well trained, and they’re not on commission, so it makes no difference to them if they sell you an expensive new computer or help you make your old one run better so you’re happy with it. Their job is to figure out what you need and help you get it, even if it’s a product Apple doesn’t carry. Compare that with other retailers where the emphasis is on cross-selling and upselling and, basically, encouraging customers to buy more, even if they don’t want or need it. That doesn’t enrich their lives, and it doesn’t deepen the retailer’s relationship with them. It just makes their wallets lighter.

Read the whole thing »

Ron has recently accepted the offer as CEO of J.C. Penney.