updated 09:55 pm EST, Sun November 27, 2011
Tech fans need to accept Apple's position in tech
Drawing attention to something Apple is doing wrong certainly isn't new, and arguably something that's needed to keep the company honest. Some of this has always come from those who are predisposed to avoid anything Apple makes. But we've lately seen a strain of anti-Apple rhetoric that's not just opposed, but produces a kind of anti-exceptionalist myth where everything bad in tech is Apple's fault: we like to call them Only Apple Does Wrong advocates. It's a trend that needs to stop, and the sooner it does, the better for intelligent tech fans of all stripes.
Nowhere is the split more obvious than in the debate over Apple's use of Foxconn for manufacturing iPads, iPhones, and much of its lineup. As one of Foxconn's biggest customers, it deserves close scrutiny, and it gets that close look frequently. While there are still serious problems, that investigation has led to pay raises and an overall attention to labor rights in China.
Check story comments, YouTube comments, or forums, however, and you'd think that Foxconn had been a perfect model of ethical labor until Apple came and turned it into a Dickensian workshop. By extension, many of these same commentators also sincerely believe that anything that isn't made by Apple is made in good labor conditions. In their mind, Only Apple Does Wrong, and they're not helped by media investigations that focused almost exclusively on Apple while giving everyone else an effective pass.
The truth is, of course, very different. If you're using a Windows PC from Acer, Dell, HP, or MSI, there's a chance your system was made by Foxconn; Microsoft uses Foxconn for its hardware, as well. And don't think you're immune if you use Android: Barnes & Noble, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson contract with Foxconn, too. Odds are, many of those same people refusing to use Apple because of its Foxconn connection will need to throw out the PC or phone they used to make that statement if they want to avoid being hypocritical.
It's not just labor issues. Many are convinced, for example, that only the iPhone had antenna issues, when studies showed it to be common, if not quite the same for Apple. They think Apple was solely responsible for copy protection in music. It's easy to find people online who not only believe the trope that Apple overprices its products but that it's the only company that asks as much as it does -- never mind that ultrabook makers struggle to undercut Apple on price or that a 4G Android phone often starts at $300 where an iPhone 4S begins at $200.
Why the change in attitude from simply being against Apple to believing it's the source of evil in technology? It's true that Apple's having the world's largest app and digital music stores has meant that many of its policies dictate where technology goes: if it doesn't allow third-party apps or makes subscription services pull store links, that's what many will experience, and the nature of Apple's ecosystem means they can't break out unless they switch platforms. Android is still where you want to for maximum flexibility in mobile, even if carriers and device builders sometimes give users less control than they would have on an iPhone.
Most likely, the attitude change has come because Apple is now in a position that many critics aren't used to: major player. When Apple was just producing Macs and even with iPods, it was hard to believe that the company could dictate where the industry went. But now it's growing much faster than the industry in computers, second in smartphones, and clearly dominant in MP3 players and tablets. When Samsung is doing its best to make Android look like an iPhone, and Microsoft has decided to rework its entire Windows OS and bring in an app store just to say it has an alternative to the iPad, it's easy to start thinking that Apple is the only one responsible for everything you don't like if you already hated Apple's products to start with.
The answer isn't to ignore what Apple's doing wrong. That would be irresponsible. What we instead need to do is accept that the companies who make our technology are all complex creatures dealing with issues larger than themselves. Apple, HP, and Motorola all have to deal with the conditions where their devices are made, and some of those outside of Apple have their own problems. HP is often considered a large contributor the race to the bottom in cost and quality for PCs, and Motorola has been accused of bowing too easily to carriers on locking devices. Even Google, whose stereotypical motto is "don't do evil," has been accused of anti-competitive ad rates and of possibly abusing its dominance of search to offer Android for free or to squeeze mobile search rivals.
We're allowed to accept that a company can do many things we like and while still doing things we don't. Life is defined by contradictions and flaws. If we can get past Only Apple Does Wrong, we can focus on what everybody should be doing right.