It’s not great PR. Just before Christmas, the BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast the results of an undercover investigation into alleged mistreatment of workers in Chinese factories making Apple products, and the illegal Indonesian tin mines where children scrabble to collect fragments that find their way into Apple’s supply chain. Just after Christmas, Apple reveals the largest quarterly profit made by any company, ever. Even the most hawkish advocate of the free market might raise an eyebrow.
But will the knowledge that they’re contributing to a cash pile of $178bn dent the enthusiasm of Apple devotees? Probably not. The appeal of Apple’s products seems to transcend this kind of consideration; for years, their owners have been mercilessly mocked for their willingness to pay over the odds for computer power. Component for component, detractors say, the iPhone, iMac and iPad are rip-offs.
Those who buy them have been brainwashed by the Cult Of Mac, and worse, they’re supporting anti-competitive, locked-in business models that preserve the supposed purity of the Apple experience.
Apple customers respond by shrugging and excitedly buying a load more stuff. The hordes of disconsolate people wandering around town centres, wailing about their overpriced iPhones are notable by their absence; Apple’s profits might represent a vicious indictment of capitalism if Apple customers hated Apple. But they don’t.
Gazprom, the Russian gas extractor which previously held the record for largest quarterly profit figures, didn’t earn that cash by forging an emotional connection with its customers. Apple has, and detractors would liken that emotional connection to an abusive relationship.
Several armchair economists have offered calculations that purport to demonstrate that Apple products are overpriced, but two facts remain. Firstly, computing is more than components, and it’s impossible to put a price on things like consistent experience or design.
Secondly, the price of something, according to the rules of economics, is what we’re willing to pay for it; if Apple was “overcharging” for its iOS devices, would it have sold a billion of them? After all, consumers have free will. Those consumers may be as misguided as those who buy sterling silver Tiffany tennis ball cans, but they’re happy, the company is happy, and there’s not a great deal anyone else can do about it.Reuse content