Mar 302012
 

The FLA has performed a preliminary audit of 3 Foxconn plants and by looking at my RSS tech feed, it doesn’t look good. Ars Technica reports “Apple supplier in violation of labor and safety rules, outside audit says”, trusted news source Gizmodo says “Overworked and In Danger: The Full Foxconn Labor Report” and even The Unofficial Apple Website (TUAW) tells us “Fair Labor Association finds multiple violations at Foxconn facilities”.

Holy shit: Mike Daisey was right!

Because I’ve been burned in the past by the “truthiness” of tech blog headlines in relation to actual facts, I actually took the time to download and read the FLA report. Turns out they did find violations of their “10 Principles of Fair Labor and Responsible Sourcing”, but maybe not as egregious as some of headlines would have you believe.

Labor

The most-often cited violation, as you probably guessed, involved the amount of overtime worked. You’d think that’d be cut and dried, but it’s not. You see, there are 2 standards relevant to the amount of overtime worked in China. The FLA upholds a standard of a maximum 60 hour work week (40 hours + 20 hours overtime). Curiously, the Chinese law states that maximum consist of 40 hours + 36 hours overtime per month, or 9 hours a week. Why would the FLA standard be higher? Maybe China has more interest in the number of people working than the number of hours people work, or maybe their government is just a big ol’ teddy bear after all.

Anyway, the 3 Foxconn plants visited by the FLA had at times violated both the FLA standard and the more stringent Chinese standard, most flagrantly during the months of November – January. The average work week was just over the FLA maximum of 60 hours (61.05 hours). There was also violations of the “7 consecutive days working without a 24 hour rest” standard. 11.57 days was average of those surveyed when asked what the longest number of days they worked consecutively. Sounds like Foxconn didn’t get the memo on that one.

Interestingly, the FLA also asked workers if they thought they were working too much. Half those surveyed (48.4%) said their hours were reasonable compared to 17.8% who said they weren’t. The other 34%? They said they’d like to work more to make more money. Guess those people aren’t going to like the plan Foxconn has for complying with the FLA’s findings. They’ve pledged to pare back overtime hours (and therefore hire more people) to comply with the more stringent Chinese law by July 2013.

There were also issues with the handling of internships and the benefits covering interns. Apple and Foxconn have agreed to a number of steps that will better integrate interns into the benefit system deployed for the larger worker population.

Sadly, the FLA did not find any incidents of underaged labor, so Mike Daisey: still a liar.

Safety

Despite the doomsday scenario painted in some headlines, issues with worker safety were almost exclusively those of worker perception as opposed to actual observed conditions that were a danger to worker safety. To explain, in addition to auditing conditions, the FLA surveyed thousands of employees. The questions about safety involved how “safe” the workers themselves felt. I though one particular question, “Have you ever experienced or witnessed an accident in this factory?” was particularly leading, sort of like “Were you ever or do you know anyone who was the victim of a violent crime?”. Of course a majority of the respondants are going answer in the affirmative. In this case of Foxconn, 43.3% responded “yes”. I would be more interested in “Have you ever been the victim of an accident while working?” as a indicator of actual safety conditions, but I guess that’s why I’m not in China doing audits for the FLA.

As far as actual violations, the report mentions miscellaneous infractions by way of summary such as “blocked exits, lack of or faulty personal protective equipment, and missing permits”. It was also noted that these many of these conditions “have already been remedied.”

As you can imagine, the FLA also paid particular attention to the issue of aluminum dust:

Our assessors did identify some machines at which sensors, hoods or barriers needed to be connected to automatic cut-out mechanisms to prevent workers from reaching into the machines, and they also flagged the use of compressed air in some sections where it could pose a risk.

Again, it was noted that “A number of these issues were rectified immediately.”

Wages & Benefits

Another focus of the report, pay and the administration of benefits was covered extensively through direct observation and survey. Although the FLA did find that the credit of overtime needed some re-tooling (Foxconn’s policy was to pay in 30 minute increments (i.e. if you worked 28 minutes, you didn’t get OT) and worker meetings were not thought to qualify for OT when they should), compensation was deemed adequate. Of course workers surveyed were split in their opinions about how well they felt they were compensated (only 35.7% felt that their wages were “sufficient to cover basic needs”), something I think that many of us can identify with personally. The FLA recommended a “cost of living” analysis for each of factories to see how far apart perception and reality are.

I’m not going to say much about how the myriad benefits are applied, because their application is convoluted by the transferability of rights of migrant workers have (mostly don’t have) in their home provinces. It’s an situation that both Foxconn and Apple have committed to studying, if not improving.

I’d encourage people to download the report and draw their own conclusions. I personally didn’t find any “holy shit!” moments, but my bias is obvious in the name of my blog. Two things I’d like to mention in closing. First, this was not an official FLA audit. Apple requested that the FLA come in immediately to get a lay of the land, so these conditions were documented cold. I like that Apple did this, because it will give them a better starting point, but I do feel that many of the issues documented would have been resolved if the FLA’s insertion wasn’t so sudden. I expect conditions to improve markedly as the FLA becomes a fixture at these facilities. Second, I’d like to invite all of Apple’s peers to enlist the involvement of the FLA. Or they could continue to hide behind what Apple does and remain blissfully mute about the conditions on their own production lines.

You can probably tell which of these two scenarios I think will play out.

Mar 292012
 

Tim Cook visits the new Foxconn facility in Zhengzhou. See if you can pick out the Gizmodo headline from among our five contestants:

  • Tim Cook tours iPhone production at new Foxconn plant
  • Tim Cook Tours Foxconn’s New Zhengzhou Plant During Trip To China
  • Glorious Apple Leader Surprises iPad Minions with Foxconn Visit and Smiles
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook visited new Foxconn iPhone plant during China trip
  • Apple’s Tim Cook Visits Foxconn IPhone Plant in China

Gizmodo: the source for important Lego-related news.

 Posted by at 11:55 am  Tagged with:
Mar 292012
 

The Android proposition sends somewhat mixed messages. On the one hand, you pay the same amount of money for the top-tier Android shartphones that you would for an iPhone; on the other, once you open the box, chances are it will be the same device when your contract expires. I’ve banged this drum for what feels like forever: Android is made by a company interested in getting a device into your hands; the iPhone is made by a company that extracts value from the experience of the consumer. One makes its money in ways you don’t see and no one really understands; the other through the devices it sells. Anyone who buys an Android device expecting the same level of attention to their experience is deluded and destined for a disappointing epiphany. Take the case of Jason Perlow: ZDNet columnist, devout Android user and the latest battered spouse to realize that the only way out of the relationship is to light the bed on fire.

His problem is the same as anyone who has an expectation that an Android device will be treated like an iOS device: currency. Sure, Google spits out Android updates at a respectable rate. The problem is that no one else in the “experience chain” gives a shit. Carriers and manufacturers are far more interested in getting you to buy the latest XIOR Xtreme Nebula S II Pro than keeping its existing customers current. That’s why Android isn’t current on Google’s own flagship phone. That’s why less than 5% of handsets have received Ice Cream Sandwich updates. People who still defend the “free and open” nonsense love to point out who’s at fault in the relationship instead of finding ways out of it. I’ll illustrate using a point only tangentially related.

I have the misfortune of being a commuter into New York. Because I don’t want my life to end due to a road rage-related shooting, this means I have to rely on NJ Transit to deliver me to work every day. I also have the misfortune of using NJT’s “Northeast Corridor” line, the tracks of which are actually leased by NJ Transit from Amtrak. Amtrak is responsible for all of the maintenance of the rails and the overhead power lines that power the trains, a task they don’t appear to take all that seriously. This leads to a dependency issue which frequently results in trains almost never being on time as well as several hours-long catastrophic delays every year. NJT, in all of their delay announcements, is quick to blame Amtrak for these delays. There’s a point here, I swear.

During one of these catastrophic, hours-long delays, one NJT employee had the bad luck of running into yours truly. This poor soul made a comment to someone within earshot about how badly Amtrak was screwing them. What follows is a rough transcript of the conversation after that point:

Me: It sounds like you guys are getting very comfortable blaming Amtrak for NJ Transit delays.

NJT: Because it’s their fault.

Me: To a point. I’ve been riding you guys for 2 years now and I’ve been hearing the same story. I work in a building that leases space from another party. Do you think that I can go to a client and blame my not turning a proposal in on time on the landlord inadvertently shutting off the power to my floor? Or the faulty air conditioning that brought down our servers? At some point, it’s just me and my customers. You guys appear more interested in making excuses than finding solutions. You should thank God you have a monopoly on rail service into New York and don’t have to run this thing like a business.

I don’t think this poor NJ Transit employee appreciated the customer’s perspective on providing service, but it’s a good illustration of why Apple strives to control every element of their products’ experience. At some point, blaming the carriers or blaming the manufacturers is bullshit. At least to the average consumer. When defenders like Jason Perlow fly the coop, you can bet consumers won’t be far behind.

 

Mar 282012
 

As a young man, I never owned a car, but I had several high school friends who had them gifted to them by their parents. One friend in particular had an annoying habit of using access to his car as a dealbreaker when deciding among our group of friends what a particular evening’s activities should include. His catch phrase was “if you don’t want to do x, maybe you should walk”. Coincidentally, we haven’t spoken since I was in high school.

Nokia reminds me a lot of my car dick-swinging high school friend. The issue involves what the future standard for the nano-SIM should be. Apple has a proposal, which, as you’d expect, is for a device about as small as you can make it, a design that if approved the company would license royalty-free. A consortium made up of Nokia, RIM and Motorola (three names almost synonymous with innovation) has a competing design, which one would assume it has no intention of allowing to be used without coughing up some dough to keep their dying companies afloat. The decision about which design will be approved lies in the hands of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). Suffice it to say, Nokia wants their design to win out over Apple’s, claiming Cupertino’s submission “does not meet ETSI’s technical requirements and which would be inferior for consumers and the mobile industry”. Thanks for looking out for us, Nokia.

Not content to let a standards body make a decision based on the merits of the nano-SIM’s design alone, Nokia has now threatened to pull licensing from standards-essential patents it holds that “may be essential to Apple’s proposal ” if Apple’s design should be chosen.

/oblig

What a humorous little temper tantrum. First, check out the balls on Nokia in speaking for the ETSI when it claims the design “does not meet ETSI’s technical requirements.” Isn’t that the ETSI’s job? But then trying to ice a standards board by threatening to pull your FRAND patents if the ETSI votes wrong? If that was my kid, they’d be sitting in the time out chair to think about their behavior. For a year.

For Nokia’s part, they claim that “This decision has no impact on Nokia’s existing commitments to license its standard essential patents under FRAND terms to earlier adopted ETSI standards.” I wonder if the EU courts will see it that way.

Once again, we see that companies who fear Apple’s innovation have to resort to a tactic of “taking their ball and going home” if decisions made by an impartial third-party don’t go their way.

What a bunch of dicks.

Mar 272012
 

I’ve ragged on Microsoft’s ads, but Samsung’s are pretty shitastic too. Their Galaxy S II series that poked fun at people who don’t wait in line for Sammy’s products culminated in a giant shartgasm of recently washed-up rock stars and soon-to-be washed-up Chicago Bears linebackers.

I was making the exact same hand motion as Mr. Hawkins while watching the commercial.

So how does Samsung market their 5.3″ pants-busting Galaxy Note? By appealing to device’s target audience, naturally!

So the takeaway here is…gigantic enough for an elephant to poke? Multi-trunk capable?

He does look a little less ridiculous than the average person holding that stylus though.

Mar 262012
 

It appears as though Mike Daisey has finally yielded to the compounding effect of castigation by the media, the technorati and his “peers” in theater. He wrote something on his blog today that resembles an actual apology to everyone he moved by his lies – almost everyone, anyway. So what’s my beef?

First of all, the apology stinks of nothing but desperation, a ploy designed to keep Daisey relevant and not totally ostracized from people he considers his peers. When people first got wind of his lies, the assault that hammered Daisey for his practices came from all directions. Despite the ubiquity of condemnation, he remained hilariously recalcitrant, his self-righteousness gland working overtime in the face of uniform scrutiny, his enormous ego probably convincing him that it was the right way to respond. Even universally reviled fuck-ups like Jerry Falwell knew to cut straight to the bawling when they were caught red-handed. Not Mike. It wasn’t until everyone with a pulse and access to a keyboard continued to pound him for a while that Daisey relented. Which leads me to my bigger issue.

Daisey’s apology covers just about everyone: This American Life listeners, the people who paid money to see him lie on stage, even the theater community that he probably believes he can ingratiate himself to in the hopes of working with them again. The only glaring omission is the entity he slighted, the very reason Daisey got to make all that money and get his face splashed across the media in the first place.

He didn’t apologize to Apple.

It’s probably because, on some level, he believes that what he was accusing Apple of is a truth that rises above all the lies he injected into the discourse. Somewhere, somehow, Mike Daisey still blames Apple for the shitstorm he alone created. Nevermind that Apple’s success is the only reason that Daisey was able to line his venues’ seats with asses, nevermind that no one would give a shit about what he had to say if Apple wasn’t the most successful company on the planet; people wouldn’t give a shit about what he said if he spoke the truth about the most successful company on the planet. It’s a little like Dan Lyons’s schtick with Fake Steve Jobs: the parasite’s venom is proportionate to the success of its host.

This is what Tim Cook had to say about the liquified bullshit stirred up by the likes of Mike Daisey:

As a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values. Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly. We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It’s not who we are.

If Daisey knew anything about Apple – if he was 1/10th the “fanboy” he claimed himself to be while operating his manure-spreader on stage – he’d understand that Cook’s quote wasn’t rhetoric designed to appease shareholders. In Daisey’s mind, Apple is some faceless monolith that feels no responsibility towards its supply chain – that’s the image that made him so much money and got him so many sound bytes, after all. But it’s not the kind of company Apple is. Daisey insulted the integrity of Apple and everyone who works for the company. Above anyone else, they deserve your apologies, Mike.

I personally don’t care if Mike Daisey ever apologizes to Apple and I’m pretty sure Apple doesn’t care either. But the company’s absence in his “apology” tells you – again – all you need to know about him. His heartfelt mea culpa is a vehicle deployed for the express purpose of keeping him relevant, a last resort thrown out in an effort to get him off the many, many “most hated” lists he’s found himself on despite his belief that he shouldn’t be there. His words contain the same level of sincerity as anything he’s written since he’s been called out as a fraud.

Which is to say none.

 Posted by at 8:25 pm
Mar 262012
 

If you’ve read my opinions about tech company advertising, you’d know that I think Microsoft has some of the worst in the business. Historically, their ads fall cleanly into one of 2 camps: “disingenuous comparisons” and “adolescent humor”. Their latest attempt to breathe life into their Windows Phone offering, “Smoked by Windows Phone” was doomed to failure the second someone in Marketing decided to port it from “CES novelty” to “major marketing push”.

The gimmick, as it was first covered at CES, is that you bring your smartphone and match it up against a Windows Phone in a real-world speed test using one of Microsoft’s pre-designed benchmarks such as “take a picture and upload it to Facebook”. If you won at CES, you got a crisp Benjamin. In the most current promotion being run at both Windows Stores, if you win, you walk away with a special Hunger Games edition HP ultrabook.

The problem with this set-up should be obvious. Let’s play devil’s advocate for a second and assume that the comparisons are fair and decent representations of useful things you would do with your smartphone. With a $1,000 piece of kit on the line, don’t you think people are going to do everything they can to rig the game in their favor? And how does Microsoft think it’s going to look when someone beats them – fairly or unfairly – and the dude in the Windows Store refuses to pay out? What excuse do you think the general public is going to find acceptable? The answer: none of them. Microsoft is going to looks like dicks that not only rigged a competition in their favor, but dicks that welch on bets when they can’t win a competition rigged in their favor. And that’s exactly what the breeze coming off the Internet about this debacle smells like.

Exhibit A: dude beats Windows Phone using Android phone at Windows Store. Windows Store employee redefines the rules of the competition on the fly. Dude tweets what bullshit this is. Windows Marketing guy tweets back and offers the cheated Android user a rematch.

Exhibit B: guy on Reddit finds it funny that Windows Phone outperforms his phone when uploading a photo. Guy Speedtests Windows Phone and finds upload speeds significantly faster than his, leading to claim that Microsoft throttles the WiFi in their store to give them an unfair advantage when uploading a photo to Facebook.

This does not have the makings of a viral marketing campaign; it has the makings of Microsoft hanging itself out there like a piñata at a birthday party.

Update: It looks like the gentleman from Exhibit A is a good example of what howling on Twitter about your misfortunes can do: after challenging Sahas Katta to “a rematch”, Microsoft manned-up and made good on granting him his reward: a laptop and a Windows Phone. Score one for Redmond. I still think the campaign is a horrible idea, but at least they’re honoring the terms of their challenge (after being called out on the Internet, that is).

 Posted by at 11:57 am
Mar 232012
 

In my extremely rich fantasy life, I have this image of Microsoft circa 1995 in my head. They’re partying with Adobe at an exclusive club, smoking some fat Cohibas and rocking out to Gangsta’s Paradise (OK, probably Waterfalls), drinking top shelf liquor and laughing about how rudderless and pathetic Apple Computer turned out to be, how they’d continue to shaft Mac users stuck with versions of their software and how they’d take over the PC landscape together.

My, my how things have changed. A guy named Steve came back, and immediately began chipping away at the establishment. Small victories against Microsoft with QuickTime turned into big victories with the iPod, then the iPhone, then the iPad. Several chairs were thrown in Redmond. Jobs even managed to throw a “fuck you” Adobe’s way when he dumped Flash into an early grave kicking and screaming.

Now Apple is the darling of the consumer electronic industry and Microsoft is a company that has visible stinklines coming off its logo. Its Windows PC business has gone in the crapper, its shartphone business is still trying to gain an itty bitty bit of traction and its presence in the tablet market is still non-existent. As a reminder of Microsoft’s place in the new world pecking order, there was a beautiful rumor circulating this morning that Windows Phone 7 would not be getting Rovio’s latest installment of its mega-popular Angry Birds, a rumor that if true would have been a serious blow to Microsoft’s ambitions in the mobile space. Fortunately, the scare turned out to be false (probably after more than one “What the fuck?” phone call from Redmond). Angry Birds Space will be coming to Windows Phone 7 after all. Someday. Its already available for iOS and Android.

In Redmond, the sense of relief was palpable:

thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou

Look at Microsoft: begging for scraps while Apple blows its own smoke rings. Hey Frank: how’s the view of Tim Cook’s ass?

 Posted by at 8:25 pm
Mar 232012
 

In much the same way that it shocked me to learn that Android had a lead designer, I was similarly shocked to see that Samsung also employed someone who was responsible for the look and feel of Samsung’s hardware. His name is Lee Minhyouk. I was even more surprised when I read in an interview with Reuters that he was angry at being characterized by Apple as a “slavish copier” of their successful iPhone.

“I’ve made thousands of sketches and hundreds of prototype products (for the Galaxy). Does that mean I was putting on a mock show for so long, pretending to be designing?”

I don’t know how long it took to plop an iPhone 3GS down on some tracing paper, but I’m pretty sure I could have nailed it after the 6th or 7th time, tops.

“As a designer, there’s an issue of dignity. (The Galaxy) is original from the beginning, and I’m the one who made it. It’s a totally different product with a different design language and different technology infused.”

There is, in fact, a universe where this is true. Stephen Hawking could tell you all about it. Or you could ask this guy:

"In Bizarro world, Samsung innovate and Apple copy!"

The Reuters piece carries a nice illustration featuring a couple of the Minhyouk’s creations:

Nice work, Lee. How about we spend an hour with the CS6 beta (as opposed to the 5 minutes it would have taken me with Pixelmator) putting your inspiration side-by-side?

Ah. I can totally see where the frustration is coming from.

 Posted by at 11:05 am
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