Friday, January 27, 2012

Apple Accused of Ignoring 'Human Cost' of Manufacturing

Apple has been accused of 'ignoring the human cost' of its product manufacturing chain in a new report published this week.
New York Times article, following up on the article published last weekend that explained why Apple chooses to manufacture its products outside the U.S., quotes former Apple staff and contractors who accuse the company of being complicit to worker abuse.

"Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost. "Workers' welfare has nothing to do with their interests," said Li Mingqi, a former employee of Foxconn Technology, who is suing Foxconn over his dismissal.
Li helped manage the Chengdu factory where an explosion occurred in May of last year. The explosion killed three workers and injured scores more. Another fire occured at a Foxconn plant in Yantai in September, then in September there was an explosion at a plant belonging to another of Apple's manufacturing partners, Pegatron, which injured 61 workers.
A former Apple executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the New York Times: "We've known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they're still going on. Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn't have another choice."
Though safety in plants owned by Apple suppliers (the article does point out that similar criticisms have been made about supply partners for Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, and Toshiba) is the main focus of the article, there are more general points raised about working conditions and the hours staff have to work.
"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. Underage 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," the article asserts.
Earlier this month Apple released its annual Supplier Responsibility report, in which the company claimed that it had found 'significantly fewer cases of underage labour' among its suppliers, which it also broke with tradition and named.
Apple said in the report that it broadened its age verification program, which aims to stop underage labour among its suppliers. As a result, the company reported improvements in supplier hiring practices, with cases of underage labour down significantly.
The report also disclosed a total of six active and 13 historical instances of underage labour at five facilities; Apple required those suppliers to improve labor recruitment practices and support underage workers going back to school. The audits found no cases of underage labor at the suppliers responsible for final assembly of Apple's products.
However, another Apple executive who was quoted anonymously said: "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. Right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China."
The New York Times report points to the fact that this issue has caused an "unresolved tension" in the company, with other executives uneasy about the working conditions, but unwilling to put relationships with suppliers such as Foxconn - which manufactures 40 percent of the world's electronic devices, it is reckoned - in jeopardy by making such demands.
However, the eyes of the world are firmly on the company after its record-breaking financial results for the fiscal 2012 first quarter, and there is likely to be plenty more flak heading in Apple's direction no matter what steps it takes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Apple's dirty little EULA publishing secret

This is ridiculous, even for Apple.
Takeaway: Jack Wallen investigates the Apple iBook EULA and explains why authors better beware of what they are agreeing to if they use the iBook publishing platform.
Imagine if Microsoft attempted to lay claim to anything you had written using MS Word. Or what if Adobe took you to court saying the images you created using Photoshop were their property? Companies have been hiding dirty little secrets in their End User License Agreements for years. They couch these nefarious deeds within the legalese, knowing full well that most users either (A) Don’t read EUlAs or (B) Wouldn’t understand the legalspeak to begin with.
Well that’s exactly what Apple is doing with their new iBook Author publishing platform. If you read the EULA you will first come across this little ditty (in bold at the top):
If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software … you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple.
Following that, in Section I, you’ll see:
B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.
This is new to me in that Apple is making the user know that they claim right to not only the software, but the output of the software, and of that output, Apple wants a cut. Now, for those that have actually tried this software out, you notice there is nowhere to accept or decline the license. Some authors are willing to take a chance with this and ignore the verbiage in the EULA. I’m not. Why? I am simply not willing to go up against a team of Apple lawyers. I’m told they eat their young. I am simply not willing to chance going to battle with one of the most powerful marketing machines on the planet.


Okay, I’m going to digress just a bit, to explain why this is fairly broad-reaching. I am an author directly affected by this. I sell books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, the iPad bookstore, the Sony bookstore, Kobo, and more. For both Amazon and B&N, I use their author portals for publication. For all others, I use a service called Smashwords. Smashwords serves as a distributor for all other ereader platforms and, although not perfect, by no means are they pulling stunts like this. End of digression.
Apple announced a while back they would be creating their own publishing platform. Of course everyone assumed this platform would:
  • Serve the public in similar fashion to that of the other platforms (in other words — be web-based).
  • Not restrict the user from publishing their work elsewhere.
Now, here’s the thing — what it SEEMS is that Apple is restricting the output of the program such that the user cannot take the created file and publish it elsewhere. That’s fine for most — IF that’s the case. But no one seems to really quite understand this bit of legalese because there is no precedent. And because there is no precedent, it will take the first lawsuit to figure this all out (unless Apple gets smart and rethinks this issue all together).

Knee jerk reaction to Amazon

There’s one other issue at hand, one that most people not directly involved in the publishing industry wouldn’t know. From what I have seen, this is a direct response to the Kindle Select Program. If you’re unsure — the Kindle Select Program allows authors to enroll their works in a program that requires ninety days exclusivity, but then gives that author some benefits (such as being part of the Amazon Prime machine and being a part of a fairly sizable pool of money to be distributed to all authors — based on sales and other factors). It’s that exclusivity that Apple doesn’t like.
Thing is — Apple book sales are a pittance compared to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Why? Because authors cannot directly publish with them — or couldn’t before the iBook Author program (and because the Kindle is, by far, a more popular ereader than the iPad). Now, authors with a Mac or iPad can publish directly to the Apple Bookstore — if you are willing to agree to the EULA.
I’m not. So Apple will be without my books. Or they would, had it not been for Smashwords.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Apple's iBooks 2 Flunks First Test

I give it a D-

It appears Apple's new digital textbooks platform -- unveiled to great fanfare Thursday in New York -- is off to a troubling start.

After fetching the free iBooks 2 upgrade that I was eager to try out on my own (original) iPad, I downloaded E.O. Wilson's Life on Earth, the first two chapters of which are being made available at no cost.

Once the biology textbook landed in my iBooks library, I tapped to open it. The book cover appeared for a moment, followed by a gray screen. Wilson's voice is heard narrating a brief introduction over that gray screen, and that's it. Wilson stops talking, and I can't make the gray screen disappear or advance in the book.

What's worse, I can't escape the book to return to my library so I could access all the other iBooks that I've previously collected. Closing and reopening the iBooks app failed to fix the problem. I hear Wilson's voice again briefly, see the gray screen, and still can't get to my other books.

Judging by the customer reviews in Apple's App Store, I'm not the only one experiencing snags. The cumulative rating for iBooks at the site (among 822 ratings) is a strong 4 out of 5 stars, but 129 people felt compelled to give the new iBooks app just a 1-star rating, and several reported problems similar to mine.

"Ouch, bugs!" wrote Michael McLinn, who nevertheless still gave iBooks a 3-star review.

"Great until the crash," wrote 1-star rater Tbudge who added, "Very excited about the possibilities but very disappointed when it crashed."

Here's how commenter Straight Street summed up his 1-star review: "It's obvious something isn't quite ready for Prime Time."

Indeed, Apple flunked my first test with iBooks 2 too. I've reached out to Apple for comment, and am going to try to remove the app and reinstall it to see if that helps.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Professional Production Moves Away From Apple

For years Apple has been the standard in professional video editing. Many of the practices and procedures developed in the industry were molded around the features engineered into Apple’s software. Six months after Apple’s newest editing software, Final Curt Pro X, was released, there has been a considerable amount of backlash and ship-jumping.
According to many in the industry, Apple seems to have shifted its focus from the professional to the amature market. Of particular contempt for many, is the removal of the “Edit Decision List (EDL)”. This feature has become a staple of the industry where it is common practice to hold footage for post production. The list held information about what to keep and what to cut.
Another set-back for Apple was the decision to remove the digital to tape feature on their software. By not allowing editors to output their finished work to tape, they cut-off a huge segment of the market that still needs this capability.
To make the software even less attractive, users who have owned earlier versions of the software will find they are not able to import that work to Final Cut Pro X. They are not compatible with one another. What was Apple thinking?
So what is the industries response to these changes? It has forced many to pursue other professional production solutions, like Avid. With any market, If the products aren’t offering the features consumers demand, no matter how innovative they are, they will fall out of favor. Their is always someone on the heels of the winner looking to be the next big thing, the new standard.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Beijing Apple store egged after new iPhone delayed

Angry customers and gangs of scalpers threw eggs at Apple Inc.'s Beijing store Friday after the iPhone 4S launch there was canceled due to concerns over the crowd's size.
Apple reacted to the outburst by postponing iPhone 4S sales in its mainland China stores to protect customers and employees. The phone still will be sold online and through its local carrier.
The incident highlighted Apple's huge popularity in China and the role of middlemen who buy up limited supplies of iPhones and other products or smuggle them from abroad for resale to Chinese gadget fans at a big markup.
Hundreds of customers including migrant workers hired by scalpers in teams of 20 to 30 waited overnight in freezing weather at the Apple store in a shopping mall in Beijing's east side Sanlitun district.
The crowd erupted after the store failed to open on schedule at 7 a.m. Some threw eggs and shouted at employees through the windows.
A person with a megaphone announced the sale was canceled. Police ordered the crowd to leave and sealed off the area with yellow tape. Employees posted a sign saying the iPhone 4S was out of stock.
"We were unable to open our store at Sanlitun due to the large crowd, and to ensure the safety of our customers and employees, iPhone will not be available in our retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for the time being," said Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu.
The iPhone 4S quickly sold out at other Apple stores in China, Wu said. She said the phone still will be sold in China through Apple's online store, its local carrier China Unicom Ltd. and authorized resellers.
Wu declined to comment on what Apple might know about scalpers buying iPhones for resale.
China is Apple's fastest-growing market and "an area of enormous opportunity," CEO Tim Cook said in October. He said quarterly sales were up nearly four times over a year earlier and accounted for one-sixth of Apple's global sales.
Apple's China stores are routinely mobbed for the release of new products.
The company has its own stores only in Beijing and Shanghai, with a handful of authorized retailers in other cities, so middlemen who buy iPhones and resell them in other areas can make big profits, said Wang Ying, who follows the mobile phone market for Analysys International, a research firm in Beijing.
"Apple is making a lot of money, so it is not too concerned about the scalpers," Wang said.
Wang and other industry analysts said the size of the underground trade and price markups are unclear.
In Shanghai, stores limited iPhone 4S sales to two per customer. Several hundred people were waiting when the stores opened, bundled up against the cold. Some passed the time playing mahjong.
Buyers included 500 older people from neighboring Jiangsu province who were hired by the boss of a mobile phone market, the newspaper Oriental Morning Post said. They arrived aboard an 11-bus convoy and were paid 150 yuan ($15) each.
Online bulletin boards were filled with comments about Friday's buying frenzy, many complaining about or ridiculing the scalpers.
An Apple contractor manufactures iPhones in China, but new models are released in other countries first. That has fueled a thriving "gray market" in China for phones smuggled in from Hong Kong and other markets.
Last May, the Sanlitun store was closed for several hours after a scuffle between an employee and a customer during the release of the iPhone 4, the previous model in the series.
Customers began gathering Thursday afternoon outside the Sanlitun store. People in the crowd said the number grew to as many as 2,000 overnight but many left when word spread the store would not open. About 350 people remained when the protest erupted after 7 a.m.
"On the one hand there is poor organization and on the other there were just too many people," said a man outside the Sanlitun store Friday, who would give only his surname, Miao. "I don't think they prepared well enough."
Another man who refused to give his name said he was a migrant laborer who was paid 100 yuan ($15) to wait in line overnight.
Others in the crowd said scalpers had organized groups of 20 to 30 migrant workers to buy phones or hold places in line. Organizers held colored balloons aloft to identify themselves to their workers.
Others said they were waiting to buy the phone for themselves.
"I just like the 4S," said Zhu Xiaodong, a Beijing resident. He said he was upgrading from the previous iPhone 4 model.
Sales in China began three months after the iPhone 4S had its global debut Oct. 14 in the United States and six other countries.
The delay between the release of Apple products in the United States and in China has yet to affect its reputation with Chinese customers, said Ted Dean, managing director of BDA China Ltd., a research firm in Beijing.
For other products, such a delay "sort of gives the impression here that you're not giving the Chinese consumer a fair shake," Dean said. "But demand and that `cool factor' is so huge for Apple products that you don't hear that about them."
I guess deciding to not open wasn't the best idea.   Apple could have hired some extra security and called it a day.