Apple’s cultural values, fantasy vs reality

We live in a strange time where cultural values have replaced morals. Perhaps people are more comfortable with ‘values’ because they seem removed from any religious context. Yet morals are the timeless innate recognition of good vs bad from within, while values are expedient and change with the times, influenced by internal desires and the perceptions and pressures of outsiders, which is why the concept of value is associated with money and barter.

Apple promotes privacy, security and equality as their cultural values but revelations regarding Tim Cook’s five year agreement with China authorities throws cold water on this warm fuzzy ‘we stand by our users’ fantasy. Some users, like markets, are more important than others. In Tim Cook’s Apple, users and markets are just interchangeable cogs. John Gruber quotes the eye opening piece from The INFORMATION:

Sometime in 2014 or early 2015, China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping told members of the Apple Maps team to make the Diaoyu Islands, the objects of a long-running territorial dispute between China and Japan, appear large even when users zoomed out from them. Chinese regulators also threatened to withhold approval of the first Apple Watch, scheduled for release in 2015, if Apple didn’t comply with the unusual request, according to internal documents.

Some members of the team back at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., initially balked at the demand. But the Maps app had become a priority for Apple, so eventually the company complied. The Diaoyu Islands, when viewed in Apple Maps in mainland China, continue to appear on a larger scale than surrounding territories.


Note that The Information writer Wayne Ma never uses Senkaku Islands, the Japanese name for islands, only the Chinese Diaoyu name. I’ve already posted about Apple Maps removing the Sea of Japan name, both in English and Japanese. Let’s compare Apple Maps search results based on language names.

An Apple Maps search for ‘Sea of Japan’ in English and Japanese completely ignores geography, the result is business listings, but searching the Korean ‘East Sea’ shows the area and coordinates with no name. Searches for Senkaku and Diaoyu in respective languages both show area and coordinates with no name.

In an Apple world where some markets are more important than others, I guess the conclusion is that Korean trumps Japan because Apple needs Samsung more than they need Japanese suppliers. And of course China trumps everything else because Tim Cook’s Apple gambled everything on China, production-wise and market-wise. In this world Apple loves Taiwan for Taiwan Semiconductor, but not the Taiwanese flag Emoji which was silently dropped into the Apple memory hole, just like the Sea of Japan.

I don’t think many Japanese users care, simply because they use Google Maps or Yahoo Japan Maps that are much better products for Japan and show everything properly without fear or favor. Google doesn’t do business in China so they don’t have to cater to Chinese demands for doing business.

Nevertheless Apple doesn’t have a good image despite the popularity of iPhone in Japan. Among Japanese suppliers, working with Apple is known as the kiss of death because Apple has a nasty habit of switching suppliers, and taking the manufacturing expertise that they gained to Chinese suppliers. The Tim Cook supply chain model.

Apple likes to portray their cultural values as nurturing the next generation of software programers. Those purported values certainly don’t apply to nurturing the next generation of manufacturers. As Tim Cook’s China agreement shows, Apple cultural values are something to barter for something they value more.

Gruber and friends see all this as just ‘diplomacy’:

The whole situation is a fascinating study in diplomacy. As Heer observes, it’s wrong to look at it as a one-sided relationship — that China makes demands, and Apple acquiesces. Apple certainly gets a lot from China — they assemble the vast majority of their products there, and it’s their second biggest consumer market for selling those products. But China gets a lot from Apple. Apple is arguably the most prestigious corporation in the world, and inarguably one of the most prestigious. China benefits from that relationship on the world stage. As Ben Thompson wrote yesterday in a subscribers-only Stratechery update:

Apple remains the most visible and most impressive example of China’s manufacturing prowess. That is extremely valuable both in terms of China’s image and also its capabilities: Apple doesn’t just benefit from China’s capabilities, it also enhances them, in a virtuous cycle.

This isn’t diplomacy, it’s slimy corrupt ‘realpolitik’ that would make Henry Kissinger proud, but with corporations acting like nations. On one level any win-win ‘virtuous cycle’ analysis is arrogant big-time tech blogger fools fooling themselves. On a deeper level it’s deceitful geopolitical discussion. They refuse to acknowledge the ugly reality for what it is.