A Dovetailed Life

The things that interest us weave us together to create who we are.

Tag: iPod

Why Apple’s Supply Chain Problem is Such a Big Deal

If you clicked this link, your thought was likely, “Bryant’s a fanboy, let’s see what kind of spin he puts on this horrific topic.” Or, you might be someone who has tweeted to me, emailed to me, or trolled my Facebook timeline with this NY Times article released the other day.

The gist of the article is this: Apple employs hundred of thousands of poor Chinese workers who spend their entire lives connecting cables inside of iPhones for very little pay. The article goes further than that though, too. The article makes the pronouncement that Apple cares very little about the working conditions of their supply chain and you should feel guilty for owning an iPhone, iPad, or iPod. Here’s a taste:

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

Tim Cook, the newly appointed CEO, made it clear in an email to employees that he was ‘outraged’ by the accusations that the article made and was deeply offended. It’s not hard to see why…The New York Times and Apple have mostly had a very cordial relationship. The NYT’s website is included in iOS’s default bookmarks and Steve often visited their site first when demoing a new product. The Times was quick to adopt the iPad as a way of releasing their content and the relationship has worked for the betterment of both companies. Everything seemed fine.

Until this.

Even today, the BSR, who is quoted heavily throughout the Times’s piece refuted much of its claims. I suspect that we haven’t seen anywhere near the end of this.

As a point of reference, here’s a short clip of Steve Jobs reacting to the Wall Street Journal’s questions regarding the suicides and suicide attempts by Foxconn employees a while back:

Again, we haven’t heard the end of this. As we shouldn’t.

The poor workers. They’re worked hard, worse than many Americans will ever work, and when Apple wants to lower production costs and raise quality of the products, something’s got to give. The media is beginning to claim that the cost of these two desires is human lives and well being. In fact, the NYT titled their piece, “In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad.”

It’s linkbait, but it starts a good conversation. Why is this so important? Why does Apple take the heat?

Sure, it’s because theyre bigger than everyone else. That’s what got Nike in so much trouble. Sure, it’s because they are a hugely profitable company. They made more in profit than Google brought in total last quarter. Sure, it’s because people love their products. But I think this has become a bigger deal for another reason.

I think it’s because their products speak a bit of hope.

Andy Crouch referred to this phenomenon when he spoke about the gospel that Steve Jobs preached in a piece immediately following Steve’s death. I don’t agree with the correlations that Andy drew throughout the entire piece, but his general thesis is good. Steve had a different, often better, way of envisioning how a human interacts with a product. (Andy’s piece comes off a bit harsh at times, though I know that Andy is an Apple fan because when I saw him speak live once he referred to his MacBook Pro as the true representation of ‘perfection’ on earth.)

Apple’s mindset has always been about Thinking Differently. Using a computer sucked until 1984 when the Macintosh was introduced. MP3 players sucked until 2001 when the iPod and iTunes made it possible to actually enjoy listening to digital music. Cell phones sucked until 2007 when the iPhone finally made a smart phone easy to use. Tablets sucked until 2010 when the iPad reimagined what a tablet was and how humans interact with it.

Steve’s quotes. Apple’s marketing campaigns. The products themselves. All of these presented nearly hyperbolic statements about what it was like to use an Apple computer and how much there was to love about them. Sites like “CultofMac.com” and documentaries like “Mac Heads” and terms like “fanboy” are signs of the effectiveness of this message. (I’ll admit, I often get accused of buying into the Apple gospel more than the Jesus Gospel. I’d argue that that might be because Apple is better at presenting it than our churches are right now, but that’s an argument for another day…)

When you use an iPhone, you fall in love with it. Or, most people do. Apple is no longer an electronic company; they become an ideology, a mindset, and a way of life. Apple has engrained this “Think Different” message into our understandings of who they are as a company. When we love their products, we want to believe that the truly are better than everyone else. In every single aspect.

Yet this Foxconn situation seems to be the same as everyone else. I remember getting in trouble at a young age and my first response was to say that ‘everyone else was doing it!’ To which my parents were quick to point out, “Perhaps, but you’re better than that.” These poor (literally) workers in these factories are indicative of what is wrong with the world we’re in and we’d like to think that Apple can rise above those problems. For God’s sake, they’ve risen above it with all of their products!

I hope Tim and Steve are (were 😦 ) right that they are actively working to take greater measures in treating their workers fairly. They’re certainly working to spread a good word about how much better they are than many other suppliers. I hope that what they say is true, is true, and that it will continue to get better quickly.

Apple has nearly $100 Billion in the bank. If there is one company who can actually Think Different when it comes to this type of labor ethics, it’s Apple. They have the means.

I’d like to see them turn this around. Not just politically. Not just through marketing. I’d like to see them make gigantic strides and stand up for the right and well being of humans.

Because that’s what Apple does. They Think Different.

Please, dear God, don’t let that thought leave with Steve.



Scrolling in Mac OS Lion

Apple released the newest version of what they call “the most advanced operating system on the planet” on Wednesday, as expected, at 8:30 in the morning. It is the first operating system (by Apple) to be distributed solely by online digital means at launch and is highly encouraged to be installed without any use of optical discs, USB drives, etc. Supposedly, Apple will sell copies of OS X Lion in the coming months in their retail stores for $69 on a USB stick.

While $69 is still cheaper than your typical install of Windows, it is basically what you pay $29 on the Mac App Store on a USB drive. The USB drive would only need to be about 4GB in size (and you can buy these as low as $8 on Amazon) so a $30ish markup sends the customer one clear message from Apple: download this, don’t buy a physical copy. When they released the Mac App Store not long ago they dropped the price of their photo editing software, Aperture, from $200 to $80. The price didn’t drop on the copy with physical discs. If you went into an Apple store and bought Aperture you would pay $199. If you wised up, went home, and downloaded it online through the Mac App Store, you could install it on any machine you own as many times as you’d like for no more than $79. Apple is getting rid of optical media(DVDs) in a large way and is more or less pushing their customers into the future…like it or not.

This is all well and good, but if the download and install for Lion went horribly wrong (think MobileMe), Apple would have to answer for this seemingly hasty decision.

But it didn’t.

It installed perfectly, without a single hitch, on both of our machines and seems to be running well. The rest of Apple customers seem to be saying the same thing. More than a million people downloaded Lion on day one and everything everyone has said has been more than positive about the download and install process.

I have had limited experience with it thus far as we have been traveling, but I really do like it. And to be able to install it on as many machines as you own for $29 is more than a good deal, it is a steal. To not upgrade to Lion seems absurd, unless $30 is really a huge strain on your wallet. If you through down the >$1000 on the computer to begin with, chances are that you can afford the $30 upgrade. If you’re even considering it, and don’t have a legitimate reason not to (some of the old PowerPC apps will not run anymore in Lion), it seems very dumb not to do it. You don’t have to got to the store to buy a disc, you don’t have to have it shipped. You simply pay $30 through your iTunes account and download. Within an hour and a half, you’ve got the brand new operating system.

Many, many things have changed in Lion. Almost 100% of these changes are easily seen as good, from the user’s perspective, right from the start.

One, though, has been getting some backlash.

For years, you’ve been able to scroll on the Mac using either a scroll wheel on a non-Apple branded mouse, the Apple Magic Mouse, the Apple Magic Trackpad, or the trackpad on your laptop.

I assume that scrolling really evolved from the directional arrows that have sat on the side of our browsers and windows since the beginning. If more content went past what was currently visible on the screen, you clicked on the down arrow to move the page downward. You could also click on the scroll bar and move it toward the bottom.

Scrolling, without having to interact with the side scroll bar, developed from this idea. The most common way on a Mac has been with two-finger swipes on the trackpad. If you want to go down on the page, you swipe with two fingers downward. It makes sense, right? Not anymore.

One of the things Apple is starting to do with Mac OS X Lion is to bring some of the quality designs and decisions they made with iOS back to the Mac. One of the most immediately evident is…scrolling.

On an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, when a user wants to scroll through a web page (and much of what users do on these devices is completely through the browser), they take their finger (on an iOS device it is just one finger) and “push” the content on the screen around. This process is actually exactly opposite of the Mac’s directions, but gives the user the sensation that they are physically manipulating the content on the page with their hands. Apple really debuted this concept with the outset of the iPhone with “pinch to zoom” multitouch but didn’t speak at all about how scrolling worked on the iPhone. It just made sense.

The decision seems easy. The layer of abstraction is gone when a mouse and keyboard are gone, so why create another layer? The user knows there is more content they wish to view. So, like in the real world, they physically move the content in front of them, out of the way. You never have to explain to the four year old manipulating your iPad how to scroll a page, they just do it. Because it feels natural.

So on Mac OS Lion, Apple decided to reverse the scrolling. They decided to call this new scrolling “natural” because it feels more “natural”. You can tell there was some internal conflict at Apple about this because the VERY first thing you see when you start up Lion is a welcome box that explains how scrolling works in Lion. They are very conscious that this is going to be very different and very frustrating at first to seasoned users. And, if you’re reading this and thinking that this isn’t good at all and is the sole reason not to update, have no fear, this can easily be changed by unchecking one box in System Preferences (another example of why, perhaps, everyone at Apple was not in total agreement).

The idea is simple. If we are going to interact with the content on our computer in the same way we interact with the information in physical form in our lives, the way we interact with it needs to feel more natural.

Which brings me to my plea: don’t uncheck that box. Give yourself some time. Allow your brain to relearn how to interact with everything. Because, in general, this too is a good change. We want to feel as if we are directly manipulating content on a screen. And, in order to do that, we need to get rid of the layers of abstraction that have existed because we couldn’t think of a better way when we all began.

Here’s where I think Apple went wrong though: Why even refer to it as scrolling? When Phil Schiller introduced it, he described it as “pushing the content” but he stilled called it “scrolling”. They shouldn’t have stuck with that name. “Pushing” is much, much better. Instead of a welcome screen titled “Scrolling in Lion” it should have read “Pushing in Lion”. Because really, we aren’t scrolling anymore. We are manipulating. And when we need to move from top to bottom, scrolling seems silly, we are pushing. In that sense, it wouldn’t appear as if Apple simply reversed the way it used to work, they just came up with a new plan, a new concept, a new paradigm of thinking. Imagine Apple saying, “scrolling is out. We don’t need it anymore. Now, we just push. So from now on, we call it ‘Pushing’. Welcome to the new “Pushing” in Lion, it is more natural, revolutionary, and…magical.” It would have brought the house down.

Give it a shot. Don’t uncheck that box. It took me only a couple of hours to get used to it. It was very, very strange at first, but as we move more into the world of touch screens and manipulated content, “pushing” is the future, not scrolling.

Apple has always been a company to make big sweeping decisions and force customers into the future. They put the computer in one box and gave it a mouse and new user interface (but what about our command lines?). They took the floppy out of the iMac (how absurd!). They took the CD out of music (it’s a shame that didn’t work out). They took the keyboard off a smart phone (that’s been totally unpopular and never was copied). They took the keyboard off of the tablet(gosh, if only 28.6 million of those hadn’t been sold). They ended scrolling on a screen (if only they had marketed it that way). In every instance, it has been met with much positive approval and has led to a complete paradigm shift of thinking in the computer industry.

Stick with it. It’ll get better.


Apple in Education

The iPod family with, from the left to the rig...

Image via Wikipedia

Brilliant, just brilliant.

Propaganda for sure, but still pretty great. Make sure to watch the videos.

I can speak, from experience, that GarageBand and iMovie has helped my father in school announcements, etc.  Yes, this technology was very possible before, but I think it is fair to say that Apple’s implementation of iLife has brought the art of recording and editing audio and video to life for…children. How powerful.

It occurs to me that the integration, ease of use, consistency of not only the products alone, but the User Interface of them makes this an enjoyable experience for all.

My only question: What’s the cost? Who pays for this? Seems to me that private schools might be the first to be able to implement this because of financial constraints.  They could most easily work it into the price of tuition.  I know of many schools (including Duke University) that have given an iPod or MacBook to each of their students when they enter college in hopes that they will use them for school activities (like iTunes U).

Here comes the future my friends.



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