The Dark Side of Apple
Apple. It’s one of the biggest companies on Earth, period. The iPhone is one of the world’s most popular smartphones, and you probably know at least one person who’s a little too excited about Apple’s next event. But even though its popularity is through the roof, many of Apple’s core business practices are questionable at best.
A closer look at Apple reveals more than a few uncomfortable truths about the company we thought we knew and loved.
Apple Doesn’t Want You to Fix Your Stuff
It’s no secret that Apple has been in a long-term battle with repair shops. If it were up to Apple, you would only get your iPhone fixed at an Apple Store or an Apple-authorized repair shop.
Unlike the car industry, where most manufacturers sell parts to third-party repair shops, the world of tech can be more of a walled garden. Apple refuses to sell genuine iPhone parts to most repair shops. MacRumors even investigated where the replacement parts for your iPhone might be coming from if you don’t take it to an Apple-approved repair center. (Hint: definitely not from Apple.)
So, if you want a guarantee your cracked iPhone’s screen isn’t getting replaced with a knock-off, you’ll be forced to head to the Apple Store or an Apple-authorized repair shop.
However, laws like New York’s right to repair bill are changing electronics. In 2021 Apple started selling repair kits and parts directly to consumers. But even if you do want to take a swing at fixing your iPhone yourself, there are still quite a few hoops to jump through before you can get started.
Sweatshop Factories and Worker Deaths
Many major brands, from Nike to H&M, have been accused of using sweatshop labor in the past. For a company that claims to be as socially conscious as Apple, the reality of working in one of its factories is an even more stark contrast to its whitewashed PR image.
In 2017, Tech Insider shared the story of Dejian Zeng, a college student who went undercover in a Shanghai iPhone factory. Posing as an assembly line worker, he endured 12-hour shifts for six days a week, and received a monthly salary of just 3,100 Yuan, or about $450.
During his time there, he also exposed the crowded and cramped living conditions at the factory, with eight people often sharing a bedroom, and over 200 people sharing a bathroom. He also documented seeing nets in stairways and barred windows designed to prevent worker suicides.
In 2010, The Guardian reported on a series of suicides at a plant in Shenzhen, China, where iPhones were being manufactured.
Although Apple isn’t the only company that has gotten its hands dirty with sweatshop manufacturing and worker abuse, it’s a sad reminder that many of Apple’s “progressive” policies only go skin deep.
Does Apple Really Care About the Environment?
Apple made headlines in 2020 when it controversially decided to start shipping all iPhones without a charger included. In response to consumer outrage, Apple cited that most iPhone customers already own several chargers and that this policy would help reduce e-waste.
However, since the iPhone 12’s release, all new iPhones have shipped with a USB-C to Lightning cable instead of the older USB-A to Lightning cable. Although this new cable offers faster charging speeds, it isn’t compatible with the 2 billion iPhone chargers already on the market, meaning many users had to buy a new charger anyway. This led many to question whether Apple’s decision was really about saving the environment, or if it was just another way to increase profit margins.
Even though Apple wants to appear to the public as an environmentally conscious company, the majority of devices Apple makes can’t be upgraded and are often difficult to repair. That means users are encouraged to get rid of old devices away and replace them more often, rather than repairing what they have. Again, this is a contributing factor to the global e-waste problem.
Some have even accused Apple of greenwashing—making itself appear environmentally friendly, but not actually making any meaningful changes.
A History of Anti-Consumer Practices
Apple has been criticized in the past for prioritizing profits over customers. You might not know that Apple takes a 30% cut from most purchases on the App Store. This means about a third of the money you spend won’t go to the app developer, but instead goes directly into Apple’s pockets. It’s a much higher percentage than other digital storefronts take.
Fortnite is one of the biggest games on the planet, it’s got millions of fans around the world, and artists like Travis Scott and Marshmello have had their own in-game events. Although Fortnite seems like it’s taken over the world for the last few years, one place you won’t find it is on the App Store. That’s because in 2020 Epic Games, Fortnite’s publisher, added an in-game payment option which bypassed the App Store’s fees. In response to this, Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store, and it hasn’t returned since.
Apple has a long history of limiting what options its customers can and can’t buy. Microsoft and Google still haven’t been able to bring their cloud gaming platforms to the App Store because of Apple’s strict rules around App Store purchases. Although sometimes it feels like Apple might be starting to listen to what users want, it’s still a long way behind the competition.
Apple’s Ecosystem Is Designed to Lock You In
There are a lot of reasons to love the Apple ecosystem, but it seems like there are just as many reasons not to love it.
SensorTower reports that US iPhone users spent an average of $138 on apps in 2020, 38% more than the year before. So if you’ve been an iPhone user long term, you’ve probably built up a library of paid apps and content. But if you decide to make the switch to Android or another platform, it means leaving all of that behind.
Even Apple’s professional grade software is designed to lock you into Apple’s ecosystem. Apple sells programs like Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X at a discount to the competition, but because they’re only compatible with Macs, you’ll only have access to them as long as you stay an Apple user.
At the end of the day, technology and our devices are getting more connected, not less. So if you’ve got a house full of Apple-powered devices and loads of premium apps and content, breaking up with Apple could end up being much harder than expected.
Is Apple Really a Great Place to Work?
Although he’s been hailed as a genius businessman and innovator, Steve Jobs was also known for being an extremely demanding manager with an intense personality. Even though Jobs passed away in 2011, much of the company culture he created may continue to live on at Apple.
Across the US, many Apple Store employees have pushed for more representation and a bigger voice within the company. But those goals have often been at odds with Apple’s leadership. In 2022, Vice reported on a leaked internal memo sent to Apple Store managers. The letter included talking points meant to discourage union activity among employees. Despite years-long unionization efforts, as of 2022, only a single US Apple Store has successfully unionized.
Even Apple’s corporate employees haven’t been exempt from unpopular decisions coming from above. In April 2022, after a two-year-long remote work policy, Apple announced it would begin transitioning back to the office. That’s despite the fact that many tech companies were continuing or extending their remote work policies indefinitely.
There are many reasons why people love working from home, and Apple’s decision ended with high-level programmers and executives handing in their resignation letters. Making things more embarrassing for Apple, its return-to-office plans were later delayed due to rising COVID-19 cases within the United States.
The Uncomfortable Truth About Apple
Apple has legions of devoted fans across the world, and no one can deny that Apple’s products are sleek and well made. But Apple, like many of the brands we know and trust, has a dark side.
Innovations like the iPhone and iPod fueled Apple’s meteoric rise to success, but that success also came at the expense of others, directly or indirectly. Apple’s PR team does its best to paint the company as a socially conscious tech giant you can feel good about, but strip away that carefully manufactured image, and you’ll find a history of worker abuse and anti-consumer practices.
Underneath that shiny exterior, Apple might be rotten at its core.