Apple is secretive; it’s success is not a secret

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A man who worked at an iPhone plant in China committed suicide last week. According to various media reports, the worker at Chinese manufacturer Foxconn committed suicide after a 4th-generation iPhone prototype for which he was responsible, went missing. Having reported the missing handset, his apartment was searched by Foxconn employees and he was, according to unsubstantiated allegations, detained and physically abused. Sad news. Two kinds of reports and blog reactions are emerging, both old hat.


Image Source: Wikimedia

One angle suggests that this is an example of how seriously manufacturers take the issue of confidentiality with respect to Apple. The insinuation being that Apple is so tough on them that for fear of losing the lucrative business from Apple, the vendors resort to ‘extreme measures’.

The other angle is about Apple’s obsession with secrecy. Steve Jobs’ health issues and his recent liver transplant have been the subjects of intense debate in US media. The critics may have a point about corporate governance, disclosing information to share holders etc. Doesn’t bother me much. But what riles me is the constant roasting Apple gets over being ‘secretive’. What is wrong with being secretive? A New York Times article (Daring Fireball thinks that this is a case of sour grapes), since WSJ broke the news of Jobs’ liver transplant and not NYT) says: ‘few companies, indeed, are more secretive than Apple, or as punitive to those who dare violate the company’s rules on keeping tight control over information’. Duh? If an employee violates rules and ethics by revealing sensitive information to competition or media, what do they expect in return? A gift in cash & kind? The article goes on to talk about Apple executives giving false information to media to mislead them.

Apple operates in segments where secrecy and surprise is paramount. Both are true of most business but more so here – because of Apple’s obsession with the product. They don’t have a ‘chalta hai‘ attitude towards what they put out. So why shouldn’t they obsess over secrecy? And not worry about handing over their product designs to competition on a platter? A touch screen on mobile phone is so common now. When it was first revealed on the iPhone, we all know the world’s reaction. Not protecting it’s design and intellectual property would have meant giving away the advantage in lead time to competition. And by the way, they sold 5.2 million iPhones last quarter.

Another common accusation against Apple is it’s total lack of ‘official participation’ in Social Media. You don’t see the active on Twitter, Facebook or Blogs. Good thing. There is enough chatter already, me thinks. On a serious note, companies like Google who are also secretive about their products are active on such media. Google’s official blog talks about new products – even the upcoming ones like Chrome OS. Apple chooses not to be so open – that’s their prerogative. It’s fans do all the talking on behalf of Apple, anyway. The fallout is that it is seen as a big, bad company in some quarters. Consumers don’t seem to mind, as is evident in the record Q3 earnings, announced this week. Apple has gone against a recessionary market and the Mac ‘has now outgrown the market a staggering 18 out of the last 19 quarters‘.

And oh, Newsweek has found Apple’s real secret weapon: it’s your mom.

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