Mar 262013

I’m having a crisis of faith. It seems like The Verge has been yet again tainted with some word count that I have deemed unworthy of its otherwise-excellent presence. This one is on the “broken promise” of iCloud. The author is Ellis Hamburger who, according to his Verge bio page has penned a grand total of 2 articles for them (including this one). And he comes to The Verge from SAI at Business Insider, so you know he couldn’t possibly be a troll.

iCloud, perhaps more than any Apple software product, is meant to “just work.” When Apple introduced iCloud, it made clear its hopes to eradicate settings menus and file systems in favor of automation. Steve Jobs pledged to do a better job than he did on MobileMe, Apple’s notoriously horrible stab at web services a few years ago. With iCloud, changes you make to documents on your computer show up instantly on your iPhone and vice versa. “It just works,” Jobs exclaimed when he first demoed the service in 2011. “Everything happens automatically,” Jobs continued, “and it’s really easy to tie your apps into iCloud’s storage system.”

That does sound like a broken promise, doesn’t it? The link to Jobs’s famous introduction of iCloud, the one where he describes MobileMe as “not our finest hour”, he does talk about iCloud integration for apps. Except the apps Jobs is talking about are Apple’s own Contacts, Calendar and Mail.


Listen: I can almost understand the temptation to dig up and defile Steve Jobs’s corpse for hits, but if you’re going to juice your bait with SJ’s memory, try invoking something that relates to your core premise. But the Hamburgler isn’t just content to make a false tie-in to something Steve Jobs never said; he also has ample evidence from several (mostly unnamed) developers who (mostly don’t want to) go on record calling out Apple’s sync solution for their apps as a steaming pile. I guess it worked for The New York Times, right?

First up: Dan Pasco, CEO of Black Pixel, creator of the allegedly (based on critical reviews such as here) excellent Kaleidoscope, where he claimed, on the company’s blog, that they couldn’t resolve issues with iCloud and Core Data and therefore wouldn’t be including it as an option for their app. Chiming in is Pocket lead dev Steve Streza with a tweet “ Remember that @blackpixel has many of the brightest people in Cocoa development. If they couldn’t get iCloud working, who can?” Pretty heavy hitters make for a pretty damning indictment of the thing Steve Jobs never mentioned when he introduced iCloud. But a quote from one respected developer and a tweet from another can’t be the basis for an article, can it? The Verge obliges, but from here, the quality of the commentary takes a nose dive.

“I’ve rewritten my iCloud code several times now in the hopes of finding a working solution,” complains Michael Göbel, developer of several Mac apps, in a blog post, and “Apple clearly hasn’t.” If you do a little digging, you’ll find that one of Göbel’s apps is Free, a “distraction free” writing app which one reviewer describes as “a blatant rip-off of iA Writer“. What separates the 2? iA Writer managed to find a way to use iCloud to sync. Later in the piece, Göbel continues to lament “If you don’t incorporate iCloud into your apps, Apple will never feature them.” Let’s test that theory by looking at the top apps from Apple’s own featured “New to the Mac App Store” section:

Screeny Shot Mar 26, 2013 4.25.06 PM

Off the top of my head, I know that 1Password, Evernote, Paprika and (obviously) Pocket don’t lean on iCloud. There goes that theory. Clear, Pixelmator and Wikibot did manage to find a way to feature iCloud, however. Let me offer an alternative explanation as to why Göbel is having a tough time getting noticed: naming your app after a suffix that’s tagged on the majority of free apps in the App Store (256 from a cursory search) isn’t going to help people find your product. It also helps if you app isn’t one of the most hackneyed productivity app types –  distraction free writing apps – in the Store.

Following Göbel’s lament, we get a flood of unsourced quotes, from “a very prominent developer, one top developer, and a developer quoted in the Apple developer support forums (no bile thrown out there, ever).

Then we get Brian Arnold, who has been “receiving customer complaints and one-star ratings” as a result of Steve Jobs’s broken promise that he didn’t make. The link provided takes you (again) to Apple’s Developer Forums, the account for which a certain blogger let lapse so I can’t verify the context of the complaint. I do know Arnold is author of “I Ching, the Book of Changes”…oh wait. Brian actually reprinted the classic Fu Xi tome, except that Fu Xi didn’t have access to the App Store and was therefore unable to juice his $7 app with $40 of in-app purchase options. Arnold’s By Flat Earth Studio LLC also has “What the Walrus Knows: A Guide to Beastie Energies!” to his credit, which as far as I can tell gives you advice from a walrus.

The next named source, Justin Driscoll, again from the Developer Forums, writes “Can anyone from Apple comment on this [Core Data] situation? I’m scheduled to run a promotion for the app (which I’ve already paid for) tomorrow and now it looks like I have to remove the app from sale instead.” Without access to the actual app he’s referring to (which probably would have made for not-SAI-level reporting and therefore omitted), I’m assuming Driscoll is referencing the one app on his site, the journaling app OnePAD. You’ll be happy to hear that apparently he has found a way to incorporate iCloud sync, as it’s listed prominently as a feature as of version 1.3.3 and is currently enjoying a 4.5 star average rating.

One quoted developer may or may not have a beef with a more successful app that managed to use iCloud, another is an Android app-level reprinter; the last seemingly doesn’t have the problem Hamburger ascribes to his app. I’m not saying Apple’s Core Services is the bee’s knees or that its accessibility to developers couldn’t be improved, but there’s a way to construct a critique that isn’t this. Between the STEVE JOBS LIED linkbait headline – that refers to something Jobs never said – and a little context provided by the not “top developers” who chose to be quoted, I’d say Hamburger learned a lot from his days at SAI. It’s a shame he has to inflict it on The Verge’s readership.

Update 3/28: my other usually-reliable tech news reporting staple, Ars Technica, has a much better piece outlining the issues developers are having with iCloud/Core Data sync. Jacqui Cheng writes an expository, well-sourced piece – unlike what The Verge coughed up.

Apr 302012

There’s a very depressing trend in the media these days, one I suspect has been present for decades: using unsubstantiated sources to say stupid things about successful entities. Hitwhores like Business Insider and Gizmodo use sensationalist headlines and rumors about Apple the same way outhouse TP like OK Magazine and Us Weekly use “close friends” to titillate stupid people with their headlines about that status of Brad and Angelina’s relationship. Up until their scathing non-expose of Apple’s management of its supply chain, respected publications like The New York Times kept out of this cesspool. Now it seems like they’ve dove in head-first and are gleefully doing laps.

Our latest derision under the theme “Apple has so much cash” comes in a Times piece “How Apple Sidesteps Billions in Taxes.” It make come as a shock to some people, but Apple actively employs several means at its disposal to minimize its tax burden – all of them perfectly legal and used by hundreds of other tech companies. Why is Apple special? Because it’s so successful, obviously. Which leads us to statements in the article like this one, which ties Apple’s reduced payment of California sales tax to the welfare of state programs (cue the violins):

Such lost revenue is one reason California now faces a budget crisis, with a shortfall of more than $9.2 billion in the coming fiscal year alone. The state has cut some health care programs, significantly raised tuition at state universities, cut services to the disabled and proposed a $4.8 billion reduction in spending on kindergarten and other grades.

And California is such a well-run state! Apple is taking money from cripples! From kindergarteners! Why do you hate America, Apple?!

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: if you want corporations to become more responsible for the tax revenue “experts” bellyache about not getting, change the tax laws. Apple employs practices that every one of its competitors employs and pointing out how what you’re not getting from them affects social services does nothing. I was happy to see, however, that Apple didn’t like being singled out by the Times and actually had a response to the article printed. My favorite part:

We have contributed to many charitable causes but have never sought publicity for doing so. Our focus has been on doing the right thing, not getting credit for it.

Maybe the Times could direct its attention to the laws and lawmakers that make these practices possible, as opposed to pointing out hypothetical dollars lost by one of the numerous companies taking advantage of them. You know, what journalism used to look like.

Update: well it looks like the Times couldn’t even be bothered to accurately depict Apple’s tax rate. According to this piece in Forbes, the 2011 tax rate calculated by the Greenlining Institute was based on Apple’s profits in 2010, a laugher that sailed past the Times’ crack fact-checkers and used in the article. Tim Worstall, the author of the Forbes piece, calls it an “Appalling, ignorant, calculation cobbled together by [a] small time think tank.” Another fine piece of journalism from The Gray Lady.

Mar 162012

Well, well, well. It seems as though the gods of the Internet are making up for my lack of new iPad disposable income with the news that one of my favorite one man shows has been shown to be a little less than truthful. NPR’s This American Life went so far as to retract a January broadcast featuring Daisey’s Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Brought to you on the wings of angels by the good people at MacRumors:

In a remarkable reversal, This American Life has now announced that it is retracting its January broadcast of Daisey’s content, citing a number of fabrications discovered in a follow-up investigation on his claims.

Paging shocked eTrade baby! Please report to graphics stat!

Mike Daisy's Apple claims found to contain fabrications? This is my shocked-but-not-really face.

I’m sure Daisey has a perfectly legitimate explanation for the fact that the interpreter that accompanied him on his trips to Foxconn “disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show”:

For his part, Daisey acknowledges that some of the information he presented was not entirely truthful, arguing that his monologue was created for theater. Consequently, he agrees that it should not have been presented as journalism, although he stands behind the intent of his work.

And for my part, and on behalf of the Apple community you’ve been gaming to make money off of Steve Jobs’s memory and the company he built, I stand behind my claims that you’re a liar and a fraud and respectfully request that you crawl back under the rock housing the rest of Apple’s baseless detractors.

God, this is almost as good as a new iPad.

Feb 282012


Looking back through the roster of shitheadedness that is Douchebag’s Row, I’ve noticed a trend that may explain my particular level of contempt for its inductees: all of these guys are old enough to know better. By my logic, once you’ve been banging a keyboard on the tech scene for awhile, ignorance is tantamount to trolling. The latest bust to be carved is that of Jesus Diaz, Senior Contributing Editor for Gizmodo and a person who proves that experience does not necessarily require advanced age when it comes to being an asshole.

Diaz represents the next generation of blogger, one who has consistently shown that he’s learned much from his elder hit-whores. In addition to a less-than-perfect grasp of English diction and grammar, Diaz’s prose is possessed by the slap-worthy self-righteousness common to countries that lie between the Prime Meridian and the former USSR. His ubiquitous presence in the comment sections of not only the articles he writes, but on most of the articles on the site, throws the window into his douchebaggery wide open. So much so that the site actually banned him from commenting temporarily because of how abusive he was (“no link for hit whores” policy suspension due to sheer hilarity of the incident).

No DBR induction ceremony would be complete without a sampling of Diaz’s stylings, so here are some of my favorites:

About the decline in Steve Jobs’ health being the reason for his cancellation of a Macworld appearance in early 2009:

“According to a previously reliable source, Apple misrepresented the reasons behind Macworld and Jobs’ keynote cancellation. Allegedly, the real cause is his rapidly declining health. In fact, it may be even worse than we imagined”

The source, of course, was anonymous, but it didn’t keep them from dolling up the entry with some classy artwork to go with their unsubstantiated story:


About the tight security surrounding Apple’s products, likening their tactics to those of the Nazi Gestapo (an excellent critique – and use of TMA’s douchebag trademark – from DED here).

“No, Tom (the story’s source) never lived in Nazi Germany, nor in East Germany, nor in the Soviet Union, nor in Communist China. He lives in the United States. For sure, he has never been scared of losing his life nor the ones he loves, like thousands of millions in those countries. But he knows how it feels to be watched, to always be considered guilty of crimes against another kind of state. He knew how it felt to have no privacy whatsoever when he was working right here, in a little Californian town called Cupertino, in a legendary place located in One Infinite Loop.

Tom knew about all that pretty well, back when he was working at Apple Inc.”

Lesson for junior link-baiters: few things bring in the link love better than comparing something trivial to the greatest atrocity of the 20th century.

His objective review of iPad app ecosystem:

“The iPad app store is now showing more than 100,000 apps available. That roughly means about one hundred apps that are actually awesome. Which, mind you, it’s about 97 more than everyone else. I don’t give a damn about the rest.”

To give you a sense of the kind of respect that Diaz’s posts elicit, the post was promptly followed by a flood comments listing awesome apps. Even now, Apple’s lame app store continues to hinder the iPad, evidenced by the fact that the company can’t seem to make enough of them.

His scintillating review of Apple’s latest OS, Lion:

“It breaks my heart to say this, but Mac OSX Lion’s interface feels like a failure.”

Another critical mistake on Apple’s part that has crippled Mac sales – oh wait – I mean the mistake that’s encouraging Macs to sell like crazy in a PC market that’s turned to shit. Almost had me there, Diaz.

His continued work reviewing the developer preview of Mountain Lion, an OS that won’t ship until this summer. That didn’t prevent him from giving it 3 stars, or for continuing his whiney detractions summarized thusly:

“It’s the antithesis of Jon Ive’s minimalistic design, all essence devoid of artifice.”

Maybe you meant “substance” instead of “artifice”? Or maybe your incorrect sentence structure mangled your point and you meant Ive’s design was “essence devoid of artifice”? Maybe I fell asleep 3 times trying to decipher the shitty writing that is your trademark.

And his latest contribution, a questioning of Apple’s tactics in acquiring the trademark for the iPad from a bankrupt troll:

“Proview—the former owners of the iPad trademark in China—is suing Apple in California for “fraud by intentional misrepresentation, fraud by concealment, fraudulent inducement, and unfair competition.” Are they right? This is how Apple tricked them. You be the judge”

If you were at all concerned that based on “You be the judge” that the evidence presented would be balanced, you need only look to the piece’s graphic – and the fact that the words were written by Jesus Diaz – that the facts would be somewhat tainted with an already-drawn conclusion.

Diaz does away with any illusion of objectivity in his summary: “Oh Steve, you dirty rotten scoundrel. How much I miss your ways (seriously). Between this and Mountain Lion’s Don Corleone approach to App Store features, you keep stealing my heart even after you are gone.” The practice of having a third party secure trademarks to prevent no-worth companies like Proview from milking the value of words is common, but don’t let a well-known business tactic jam the gears of your hate machine. That last sentence had a chance at some resonance if people didn’t already know you sold your heart for pageviews, just another Gawker whore holding onto his post at Gizmodo in the face of withering unpopularity (check the number of banned comments accompanying anything he writes) long after his co-contributors realized that there was life after penning lopsided anti-Apple screed.

So after what seemed like an eternity watching Jesus Diaz peg Apple for hits, TMA welcomes him into the hallowed halls of Douchebag’s Row, where Luddites and petulant children are embraced with equal warmth. Perhaps some day, during one of his SEO tantrums, Diaz will hold his breath long enough that we’ll all be free from his mangled, amateur, straw-man prose.

Feb 222012


No one? Well, as a mindless fanboy, it’s my duty to throw out some irrelevant facts in an attempt to obfuscate the reality of Apple’s horrible labor practices in China.

One of the arguments upon which the current toxicity of anti-Apple venom is based is that Apple releases products that are so utterly compelling (yet not really, but we’ve all been duped into main-lining whatever the company produces) at such a breakneck pace that we can’t help but toss our old kit in favor of the One More Thing. If that’s a strike against Apple, it’s a game’s worth of outs against their competitors. In 2011, Apple released the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2. Apple’s competitors were a little more aggressive: both HTC and Motorola released 5 shartphones; Samsung released 12.  HTC released the Flyer tablet, Motorola introduced 2 versions of their XYBoard tablet, while Samsung put out 3 major versions of the Galaxy Tab.

2011 also marked major operating system releases for Android and iOS. iOS 5, released in October, will run just fine on a 2009 iPhone 3GS. Google also released its v4 of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, when it announced its third “Google phone”, the Galaxy Nexus in October. Adoption of the Android 4.0 has somewhat lagged  behind its iPhone counterparts: 40% of all iPhones run iOS 5; around 1% of all Android phones run Android 4.0. But all the manufacturers and carriers have plans to upgrade…most…of their phones, so that’ll totally change any day now.

So on the one hand we have a manufacturer that releases one version of its smartphone and tablet offerings per year and offers OS upgrades instantly to phones they made over 2 years ago. On the other hand, we have manufacturers that vomit multiple versions of their shartphones and tablets into the market every year. The vast majority of these phones and tablets ship with out-of-date operating systems and the total adoption of their most current version is a rounding error.

I guess you don’t get to be a focus of scrutiny if your shit doesn’t sell, never mind all the models you fling at the wall in an attempt to get them to stick. But maybe all the criticism is directed at Apple because all of these other manufacturers do such a good job monitoring their supply chains. Let’s take a look at Apple’s chief competitor, Samsung.

Forging through Samsung’s “About Us” pages to find anything about supply chain reporting – the kind with actual numbers – was kind of an adventure. To Samsung’s credit, the pictures are much prettier than the ones you’ll find in their financial reporting. They have an “ethics charter”.

It comes with its own emblem, which should be standard for all Ethics Charters, IMO:

Samsung Sells Shartphones Assembled by the Seashore

What it doesn’t present is a lot of data about its third-party suppliers. One document  that does look promising is its comprehensive Sustainability Report (pdf), especially the part about “Major Questions” that lists the categories of queries made of the company from stakeholders.

 Looks like we’re getting to the heart of the tough issues Samsung has to address on a regular basis. Let’s see…where’s page 28?

So…how about Foxconn? China? Guess that’s not really a focus of the report – at all.  Of course, this only reflects one reading of the 88-page report. It could be in there somewhere. There’s also no mention of a partnership with the Fair Labor Association. Guess we’ll have to trust that Samsung makes sure its partners do the right thing, despite there not being any quantitative evidence supporting it. But hey: if pretty pictures and socially responsible corp-speak do it for you, Samsung totally nailed it.

It’s also rather telling that in an industry that seizes upon any strategic advantage it can get against Apple (the XOOM offers the FULL INTERNET with FLASH!), the other companies using Foxconn have been strangely silent regarding Apple’s labor practices. Wouldn’t you want to milk that black mark for everything you could? Well, I guess you would if you wanted people to start asking – in ways that can’t be answered with colorful charts and mission statements – about your commitment to supply chain ethics.

As is the case with a lot of issues – from user privacy to responsible management of the supply chain – Apple’s success makes it the subject of an inordinate amount of scrutiny. One of these days, maybe there will be some room under the microscope for other companies that use human capital in China to face more of the breathless accusations that seem to be reseved exclusively for Apple.

But I doubt it.

Feb 172012

As much of a resource as Gizmodo is for the latest Lego news, it’s part of Gawker and, well I guess I can put a period after that. Because they make a lot of their money writing dick things about Apple, the company stopped inviting them to press events long ago. When Gizmodo bought a stolen prototype of the iPhone 4, they were dicks to Steve Jobs when he asked for it back. Their site went on to register millions of pageview from stories about Apple’s stolen phone. The editors involved escaped prosecution for the crime, apparently because they were under 18. The San Mateo County DA had this to say about their journalistic integrity:

“It was obvious they were angry with the company about not being invited to some press conference or some big Apple event…We expected to see a certain amount of professionalism-this is like 15-year-old children talking.”

Unsurprisingly, Gizmodo also reads like 15-year-old children writing. So why would the highly-esteemed Gray Lady share anything with populist hit-whores more interested in pageviews than actual journalism?  For acting like populist hit-whores more interested in selling copy than actual journalism. That’s right: it looks like the New York Times has been Gizmodoed, which can either mean having Apple bitch-slap you with your press card or having your trade show pranked. I’m sure there’s a bunch of other things it could mean, but I’m only halfway through my first cup.

The real victim here is Times tech guy David Pogue, who was locked out of the Mountain Lion preview given to dozens of his tech press peers, and – how do I say this kindly – some people that were not. He was reduced to pulling impressions from other writers before he could get his hands on the developer preview, which was made available to all the unwashed through Apple’s Developer Center yesterday ($99 annual membership to ADC required). The shame is that Pogue’s reviews do right by Apple and he had enjoyed a Mossbergian level of access prior to the hilariously unsourced singling-out of the company for its labor practices with Foxconn in China. He should check in with those Business Section guys and thank them for “breaking out the gimp” on his career.

Update: Gruber confirmed what commenter Spade mentioned: Pogue had the same level of access as the rest of the technorati. Apparently he was next in line for an interview with Schiller.

Feb 142012

Disclaimer: I love MG Siegler. I think he’s one of the best writers on the Apple beat today. He’s smart, has access, quotes popular movies to make his points and uses foul language. He’s the complete package. That said, I have a beef, which started taking shape a couple of weeks ago.

When the Times ran its hit-pieces on Apple’s China manufacturing, I was plenty pissed. I waited for other tech writers I respected to vent their speen, but the outcry from people I expected to go after the Times didn’t happen. Gruber’s response didn’t really shock me. He linked to some stuff by Krugman about how people who criticized Apple didn’t understand how global manufacturing worked. I guess for him to step out against a news source largely identified as “left-leaning” would have resulted in some kind of Directive 4 shutdown. I also looked to Siegler and got something, but it was not the profane, knife-twisting that would provide my point of view with vindication. It was decidedly weak tea. After some delay, I began banging out some screed, but I was largely disappointed that the big names covering Apple had apparently phoned it in.

Fast forward to the recent Path fiasco. Straight up: I don’t give a shit about Path’s purported jacking of my address book. There’s a lot more profitable companies with some pretty mediocre products jacking my personal information. I think the practice in general is shitty, but I’ve been conditioned to the point where unless the jacking is balls-to-the-nose obnoxious or done by an app that exchanges it for no value, my sentiment is anecdotal and mostly based on how well it’s executed. Path didn’t execute its jacking very well. It didn’t allow users to opt-in and it got outed by a geek Carrier IQ-style. Path double-clutched, people got mad, Path relented and did the right thing. Case closed, right?

That’s where things break down a little for Siegler. For context: MG moved from mostly-writing to sometimes-writing and mostly VCing, which is great for him. I thought his talents were largely wasted by pointing out the obvious to Apple naysayers.


Anyway, he now spends a lot of his time with Michael Arrington managing CrunchFund, which is a VC fund started when Arrington still headed TechCrunch, but is now autonomous. I thought the fact that TC created a vehicle funded by and sponsors of businesses in the sector about which TC writes was stinky cheese, but I threw my feelings in the big bucket labeled “Michael Arrington”, shrugged and moved on. Until Path, that is.

You see, in the course of all the gang-stomping Path was bound to take, most of it warranted, Arrington called out the Times’s Nick Bilton for drawing out Path’s transgressions in all of the comically one-sided and selectively factual style that I’ve come to expect from them (minus the dozen anonymous sources leaned on in the Apple-Foxconn articles). The fact that CrunchFund is an investor in Path made it a little inappropriate. Then MG piled on, and in that bless-his-soul writing style I’ve come to know and love began a piece that ripped Bilton a new one, then proceeded to rip the tech writing practice in general a new one, in summary: “Most of what is written about the tech world — both in blog form and old school media form — is bullshit”. As someone similarly sick of the phenomenon, the words were directed straight at the choir, but in the context of his new role, belied an obvious conflict of interest. It got worse. He went after a Gawker’s Ryan Tate, something I’d normally celebrate naked, but did it in defense of Path. A perfect opportunity to char-broil the blog network guilty of the most legendary mishandling of user information in recent memory (which cost me money just last week –  #fuckyouNickDenton) was squandered. Meanwhile, the people who might take exception to Siegler’s screed – and that boy had compiled quite the list – now had a 50′ strawman to light up. While numerous writers nibbled around the juicy center, the writer who ended up wielding the torch was none other than Dan Lyons. He got ahold of the issue and – strike me dead for saying this – wrought a piece of damning firebrand that had me nodding my head with respect and self-loathing in equal parts. MG, who is the only person I’ve read who possibly hates Lyons more than I do, retaliated. Arrington tried to high-road him, which is just about as funny to actually read as it is to envision reading. To channel Siegler, this was about the time in Animal House when Belushi yells “Food fight!” and the cafeteria explodes into a cloud of flying lunchgoods.

To me, MG Siegler represented one side of Apple’s coverage: informed, aligned with reality, speaking truth to stupid. Lyons was firmly entrenched on the other side: almost always contrarian (where the establishment is represented by “logic” and “facts”) and one of the most articulate pure click-baiters in the blogosphere.  I’ll continue to read Siegler, but I’m a little disappointed that he’s letting his current involvement with Arrington and CrunchFund compromise his attempts to righteously crucify idiots like Lyons. By definition, he can never be right about Path. Every word used to take down those who want to pile on will be another squirt of gasoline on the fire, no matter how smart, astute or funny they are. The smartest thing he can do at this point is to stop writing about it. I hope it’s a lesson he carries with him in his future VC endeavors. Let Arrington wave his hand dismissively at those pointing out the inappropriateness of mixing self-interest and content – no one expects more from him. Let other hacks walk into punches like this.

And screw you for making me concede anything to Dan Lyons.

Feb 022012

There was a time when any paper worth its salt wouldn’t accept quotes from anonymous sources and considered it an insult to investigative journalism. But as newspapers became more competitive, the exceptions became more common. Their use peaked (for a while) in 1981 when the Washington Post’s Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer documenting the life of an 8 year old heroin addict whose identity was concealed for his protection. Unfortunately for the Post and the Pulitzer Prize Board, the child was a complete fabrication. The use of anonymous sources remains controversial, and some papers have banned the practice altogether. The founder of the most read newspaper in the country, USA Today, Allen H. Neuharth, didn’t allow them at all, saying “There’s not a place for anonymous sources…on balance, the negative impact is so great that we can’t overcome the lack of trust until or unless we ban them.” Today, among the country’s elite papers, it is still used sparingly.

That practice went out the window when the New York Times published two pieces documenting the emigration of manufacturing jobs to China and a follow-up piece detailing the failure of Apple to maintain a humane work environment for companies assembling i-Devices on its behalf. Of the eleven quotes attributed to current or former Apple employees in the article that ran on January 21, only two are named. The remaining Apple sources: “One former executive”,  “a current Apple executive”, “one former high-ranking Apple executive”, “a former Apple executive”, “another former high-ranking Apple executive”, “one Apple executive”, “a person close to Apple” and “a current Apple executive”. None of the Apple sources in the damning piece written on January 25 are named. This is from The Gray Lady, a paper that used to represent the high bar of journalism.

One could argue that Apple’s legendary secrecy would endanger the employment of the current employees, but former executives as well? Not one former Apple executive thought enough about the abhorrant human rights violations alleged by the Times to speak on the record. Although it allows a freedom that leads to sensational journalism, basing the entirety of you insider perspective on anonymous screed doesn’t reflect very well on respected news sources. Think Star Magazine or The National Enquirer. Here’s what I found to be the most hilarious example of this unattributable “Internet avatar journalism”:

For Mr. Cook, the focus on Asia “came down to two things,” said one former high-ranking Apple executive. Factories in Asia “can scale up and down faster” and “Asian supply chains have surpassed what’s in the U.S.” The result is that “we can’t compete at this point,” the executive said.

When using anonymous “sources”, shouldn’t one “make an attempt” to get “more than one sentence” in quotes? Could you really not get an unnamed source to put two coherent clauses together?

Utter lack of attributable quotes aside, the first piece isn’t very enlightening. Apple, like every other consumer electronics maker, assembles their products in China. It soon became apparent, however, that the first piece was a set-up for the punchline that was delivered January 25: Apple has negligently contributed to 2 industrial accidents in plants where iOS devices were assembled and has consistently turned a blind eye to the conditions that workers in these plants are forced to endure. Unfortunately for any standard bearing a resemblance to serious journalism, not a single source is named. Among the identity-free accusations from Apple:

“You can set all the rules you want, but they’re meaningless if you don’t give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well,” said one former Apple executive with firsthand knowledge of the supplier responsibility group. “If you squeeze margins, you’re forcing them to cut safety.”

“We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on,” said one former Apple executive who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements. “Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice…If half of iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?”

And the masterstroke that serves as the closing of the piece:

 “You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards,” said a current Apple executive.“And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”

Even a consultant hired to advise Apple on working conditions couldn’t name himself, but that didn’t prevent a damning allegation:

“We’ve spent years telling Apple there are serious problems and recommending changes,” said a consultant at BSR — also known as Business for Social Responsibility — which has been twice retained by Apple to provide advice on labor issues. “They don’t want to pre-empt problems, they just want to avoid embarrassments.”

“We could have saved lives, and we asked Apple to pressure Foxconn, but they wouldn’t do it,” said the BSR consultant, who asked not to be identified because of confidentiality agreements. “Companies like H.P. and Intel and Nike push their suppliers. But Apple wants to keep an arm’s length, and Foxconn is their most important manufacturer, so they refuse to push.”

Of course people at BSR who do go on record had a decidedly different outlook on working with Apple. From BSR’s President:

“My BSR colleagues and I view Apple as a company that is making a highly serious effort to ensure that labor conditions in its supply chain meet the expectations of applicable laws, the company’s standards and the expectations of consumers.”

I wonder how many off-the-record pussies it takes to make one Eileen Foster. Maybe someday the Times will produce one.

Feb 012012

I have a few problems with the New York Times pieces on Apple’s responsibility to its supply chain (which I’m still getting my thoughts around), but this passage from the January 25th piece really stuck with me:

Many major technology companies have worked with factories where conditions are troubling. However, independent monitors and suppliers say some act differently. Executives at multiple suppliers, in interviews, said that Hewlett-Packard and others allowed them slightly more profits and other allowances if they were used to improve worker conditions.
“Our suppliers are very open with us,” said Zoe McMahon, an executive in Hewlett-Packard’s supply chain social and environmental responsibility program. “They let us know when they are struggling to meet our expectations, and that influences our decisions.”

So HP lets suppliers slide on price if there’s some sense that gouging the supplier will compromise worker safety? This, above anything else in the article, is the thing that jumps off the page and slaps me in the face, as it should any intelligent person. Substantiate that statement, HP. I fucking dare you. Show me how suppliers are “allowed…slightly more profits and other allowances if they were used to improve worker conditions”. Show me where you spend more for the same components in the same quantity and show me how this leads to improved conditions. These cowardly open-ended statements are meant to imply that Apple, with its universally-known and way-too-big-by-some-Stewartian-standard margins, willfully doesn’t do the same thing. The New York Times is gleefully throwing excrement from one of Apple’s competitors using nebulous language such as “struggling”, “expectations” and “influences” to contrast HP’s un-corporate generosity to Apple’s willful neglect.

Show your work, HP, or go off the record like the rest of the spineless asshats in quotes.

Jan 112012

John Biggs from TechCrunch is telling us how Samsung “can have it all” :

“So you have two superlatives: biggest phone manufacturer and biggest TV manufacturer. Add in some tablets, some washing machines, and some acceptable software and you have a real and vibrant ecosystem. The next year will bring plenty of efforts to bring streaming media into the home, but the guy who is already there will win.”

So this is what it takes for a “real and vibrant ecosystem”? Someone should tell the other guys who were “already there” (Palm smartphones, Rio mp3 players, and a long list of etcs.) that the game is rigged and they should have won. Apple’s success has come on the backs of products that were not “already there”; it came from executing flawlessly – mostly in markets where they had no prior presence.

The only thing Samsung’s “already there” status tells me is that history is pretty decent indicator of future performance.

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