Slate contends that, sure, Amazon is a bully and a tax cheat, Facebook is a bad employer, and Google is a haven for sexual harassers and abusers. But Apple — Apple according to Slate — is one of the most egregious offenders and yet has been, curiously, forgiven for their evil. Apple has gotten away with it all!
What's worse than bullying and cheating and being bad to employees, and providing a haven for sexual harassers and abusers in Slates book? What crime does Slate think we've failed to hold Apple accountable for?
Why… purveying crystal prisons, of course.
But, let's back up a bit.
The cult of Apple
Slate starts off by retreading the most tired of cliches right in the title — the cult of Apple. Because Apple customers are a cult, Apple, unlike every other big tech company, just isn't held accountable for their evil.
So, sure, there are some people who have way too much brand affinity for Apple. People who'll keep their butterfly keyboards out of spite — wait, spit, because the e key doesn't work — and stick to iOS 13.0 forever just to prove it's not as buggy as they naysayers say.
But that's hardly unique to Apple. We have people who refuse to give back Galaxy Notes that were literally exploding and granola crunching hippies who'll defend Google's most proprietary, predatory software moves just because the stuff that doesn't make them money is free and open-sourced.
The cult of Apple is so twenty years ago. The problem now is the cult of everything. And it's a big problem. To our detriment do we mistake companies for our tribes or take criticisms against brands as an existential threat to our own identities.
Companies are just companies and we don't need to be loyal to them. They need to be loyal to us. And when they're not, we need to vote with our wallets until they are again.
Also, the idea that Apple isn't held to the absolute highest level of scrutiny in the industry is prima facia absurd. Every controversy involving Apple, real and imagined, is plastered across the internet on a daily basis. Even controversies not involving Apple find some way to cram Apple into the headline.
And the reason for that is simple — Apple gets clicks. Put Apple in a title, and it'll get exponentially more clicks. If there are 50 companies involved in a story you can bet your bottom bitcoin Apple will one of the few or only companies listed in the hed and the lede.
Which company did Ricky Gervais take a shot at just recently in the Golden Globes? Apple, of course. Because of course Apple.
The App Store of... Evil
Slate's first direct charge is that Apple is evil because they use the App Store to control what software can and can't run on your devices, based on capricious and political grounds.
In terms of control, that's certainly true on iOS but not true on macOS, at least not yet. You can still choose to install apps from anywhere on the Mac, if you want. Including the naked web.
On iOS, capriciousness is absolutely a problem and a critical one in my opinon, that Apple has just never successfully addressed.
Not because of politics or some types of apps are never approved, like porn.
Very few people would argue that there shouldn't be any line at all, ever. But, many people will argue where exactly that line should be. And that's an important argument to have. Continuously.
No, the capriciousness that I think is a problem is more a lack of consistency built into the process. Where an innocuous to acclaimed app can be approved 9 times and then rejected the 10th. That's what creates learned helplessness. That's what creates a chilling effect. And, ultimately, what brings negative attention to the entire process.
An argument could be made that Apple controlling the App Store makes the iPhone and iPad safer, which increases customer trust, especially for families and children, which increases value for developers, and prevents litigation and preserves reputation — and profits — for Apple.
A counter-argument could also be made that implementing the same system as the Mac, App Store only by default, but GateKeeper for signed apps, even a Konami Code to enable side-loading from any source, would cost some security but would enable way more flexibility.
Both are totally legitimate arguments to make and lead to an important debate we should be having. But evil plays no part in it.
Evil Agency Model
Slate then says the reason for Apple's App Store control is, of course, money. To get 30% of every app sold. And, to gin up the feels, they say that cost gets passed on to us. As if Apple suddenly invented the concept of gross vs. net profits.
Now, Apple did, I believe, actually pioneered the agency model, which is the term for that 30/70 split here.
Before that, a plethora of the app-selling fiefdoms on the web typically took a lot more. Hell, the classic wholesale split for boxed software on a shelf was 55%.
That's why, when Apple announced the agency model, traditional developers were ecstatic about it. Apple providing an on-device store and only taking 30%. Yes, please. It was revolutionary. It led to the pop app explosion.
Google takes 30% for Play as well. Google even takes 30% of membership fees and contributions on YouTube.
And, sure, technically you can use alternate stores on Android. But, as we've seen from the recent ban on Huawei in the U.S., trying to sell an Android phone without access to Google Play is a showstopper in many major markets.
Also, free apps are still free. Apple takes no cut on those, even those that are just front ends to billion-dollar services companies.
Again, there's an argument to be made that that was then and this is now. That, back in 2008, App Stores needed unification and needed to build customer trust. And 30% was a fair and fine cut to take to provide it.
Also, that no store can support multiple levels of aggregation. Spotify aggregates a bunch of music and takes a cut. Apple aggregates a bunch of apps and takes a cut. There's just not enough of a cut for both Apple and Spotify to take at the same time, so each expects and argues the other should give up or add on their cut. It's… complicated.
You could also argue times change and maybe the market is so mature now that the whole agency and aggregation model needs to be reconsidered.
We've been arguing that about cable bundles for a while. But, now, we have a plethora of content streaming fiefdoms and we're complaining about the fragmented experience and costs again. But, so it goes.
All valid arguments and important debate. All zero evil involved.
Blight to Repair
Slate then talks about right to repair, which I've done a few videos on and I'll link to them in the description. Basically, that Apple has extended it's controlling software nature to hardware and now makes devices that refuse to work if they determine that Apple customers have had the temerity to use suppliers and service centers of their own choosing, rather than Apple's official service depots.
You can absolutely make an argument that Apple is trying to keep all repair business and profits to themselves. It's an argument a lot of companies that want to profit off repairs themselves, especially in bulk, make all the time.
You can also argue that Apple is less worried about losing repair money than they are losing lawsuits around faulty repairs where bad batteries cause fires and bad technicians steal private data.
Regardless, it's fairly clear that no amount of Apple Stores will be able to handle all the repairs on all the devices that are going to be active in the coming years, which is probably why Apple has begun creating third-party repair programs. And absolutely need to keep expanding them more and better.
Slate also misstates Apple warning to shareholders that future profits were seriously endangered by Apple customers electing to use their devices for longer.
What Apple actually did was inform shareholders that the deeply discounted battery replacements they were providing was going to impact profits that once.
But, before and after, Apple also announced several initiatives, hardware and software, precisely to make devices last longer for customers. From performance enhancements to processors with years of overhead, to updates for generations.
Which also happens to be good for Apple. The longer devices stay on the market, the more devices are on the market, the more people will eventually upgrade to new devices, and the more services and accessories Apple can sell to people with all those devices.
Forget evil, that's just good economics.
Slates also somehow blames Apple for John Deere licensing instead of selling tractors. Because, I guess, they somehow forgot to blame Apple for printer ink scams and Hollywood content licensing as well?
Slate does go after Apple's record in China, which totally fair enough, and I've also recently done a whole video on and I'll link that in the description as well.
The argument for Apple in China is that engagement is the only effective way to facilitate change. The argument against it is that engagement can often become appeasement, even support.
There's also an argument to be made that Apple has to follow local laws, but an argument that there will be laws that are absolutely immoral to follow, and there has to be a line made and never crossed.
Also, that it's easy to point to China, but that the U.S., Australia, France, and other countries are pressuring for access and data repatriation, and just because it's easier to point fingers at others doesn't mean we don't have to pay careful attention to ourselves as well.
You are the evil product
Slate dives back into the cliches with if you're not paying for the product, you are the product, but says that when it comes to Apple, even if you're paying for the product, you're still the product: sold to app programmers as a captive market, or gouged on parts and service by official Apple depots.
This isn't really backed up in any way, since I have Android phones and I still pay Netflix regardless of which platform or device I'm using. And I literally can't pay for things like Procreate or Pixelmator on non-Apple platforms because it turns out developers still get to choose which ones they prefer to support.
This is my problem with the entire article in general. It takes issues that can and should be the subject of serious debate and distorts and deforms them to the point where they're easily dismissed by anyone with even a passing familiarity with logic and basic understanding of media literacy.
Not today, Satan
The article ends by saying that Google isn't your friend, and neither is Facebook, nor Twitter, nor Airbnb. And neither is Apple.
And that part I totally agree with. As I said, we shouldn't be thoughtlessly supporting any companies. They should be thoughtfully supporting us.
As to whether or not Apple is evil. It's not the mustache-twirling, caped supervillain, devil-horned capital E evil that we should be worried about.
That's what this article is trying to do, sadly, and while it'll get a ton of attention, it'll get just as many eye rolls, be easily dismissed for its inaccuracies and its choice to put agenda over information. And, honestly, readers deserve much, much better. And we won't get it unless we hold coverage as accountable as we hold the subjects of the coverage.
Which brings me to the small E evil, the one that chips away at us, day by day, policy by policy, and the one that should scare the hell out of us.
For years and years now, I've been riffing on Arthur C. Clark who said any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
My contention is that any sufficiently large company is indistinguishable from evil.
That the bigger the company gets, the broader their customer base gets, the greater the chance something they do goes against the interests of some segment of those customers. Likewise suppliers. Likewise regulators. Likewise any stakeholder.
For example, Apple amping up security on macOS is good for their increasingly large mainstream user base, it's been super annoying, really an inconvenience for their traditional pro-market.
So, absolutely, treat Apple as lower-case evil. Scrutinize everything they do. Weigh your interests against collective interests. Listen to arguments for an against. Become informed. Then speak out about everything that concerns you. Constantly.
Which is another important discussion to have and a a level of nuance just utterly obliterated by articles like Slate's. Where all they seem to care about is the headline and cramming whatever narrative they can behind it.
That's how a lot of the internet works these days, based on manufacturing sensationalism and monetizing outrage.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.