Can Apple be ‘User-Hostile’ and Care About Its Customers at the Same Time?

BY Evan Selleck

Published 3 Apr 2018

Before March wrapped up, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, sat down for an interview and talked about a wide variety of topics. Some of the topics included education, which makes sense because the company just announced a new 9.7-inch iPad, which supports the Apple Pencil, with an obvious bent on the education market. But of course it didn’t take long before Cook was pressed on some hot button issues, including Facebook, security, and privacy.

Facebook has been under the spotlight for a long while when it comes to user privacy. There’s simply no denying that the company is one of the “big ones” when it comes to how much data they have on its millions of users. Depending on the day, you might fight Facebook and Google going in and out of the lime light, especially when Apple’s name is getting tossed into the ring (as a counterpoint to both companies).

As such, Cook weighed in, and said some notable things.

Cook mentioned regulation, which a lot of other people have mentioned, too. Cook also stated that if Apple wanted to, it could basically make a boat load of money if it wanted to start monetizing its customer base. Instead, as we all know very well, Apple has systematically monetized its products — most of which are more expensive than competing products from competing companies.

(My favorite thing that Cook said, though, when asked what he’d do if Apple were in the same situation as Facebook, was that the company “wouldn’t be in this situation”. Which is pretty spot-on.)

Apple’s devices are expensive, but let’s not forget that the competition has raised its own prices over the last several years. Microsoft could have undercut Apple by a wide margin with its Surface lineup, and yet, in an effort to keep a premium outlook for its very premium products, it didn’t do that. Samsung’s Galaxy S9+ retails from between $915 and $950, depending on where you look — that’s not much of a price difference from the $999 starting price for the iPhone X.

That being said, yes, Apple’s products are expensive. Just the way it is. It also means that Apple absolutely monetized its products and didn’t monetize the customer, so Apple has a bigger focus on customer privacy and security. Some folks like that and others don’t, especially when the conversation starts to drift towards digital personal assistants, like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg had something to say about Cook’s comments, saying that he doesn’t want people to let themselves “be convinced” that “Apple actually cares” about its customers. He argues that Facebook was designed to be free so everyone could use it, which meant it had to be sustained by an ad-supported model. He doesn’t believe that means Facebook doesn’t care about its users, though.

He adds that he doesn’t want people to suffer from Stockholm syndrome because people might think the companies that “work hard to charge you more convince you that they actually care more about you”.

(This is not new for Zuck, either. He was preaching about Apple’s expensive products as far back as 2014.)

All of that got me thinking about the headphone jack. And the USB port. And the fact that you can’t connect an iPhone to a current generation MacBook without a dongle. And so on and so forth. There is a laundry list of things Apple has done over the years that have been deemed “user-hostile” at some point or another. The 3.5mm headphone jack and dropping all the USB ports other than USB Type-C from the MacBook lineup are the two newest examples.

Can a company be user-hostile and love its customers at the same time? It’s hard to argue that, objectively, if you think a company –whether that’s Apple, or Google, or Facebook, or whoever– is user-hostile then they can’t possibly care for their customer base at the same time. That wouldn’t be very user-hostile.

For me, personally, I think it comes down to that initial definition. As was mentioned last month, I think Apple is a company that jumps the gun a bit and tries to anticipate what its customer base will want in the future. Yes, Apple is actively shaping that narrative by forcing the change to happen, but it’s still the case. Other companies, like Samsung, focus on giving customers what they want well after the fact. Eventually, Samsung is going to ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack. So will LG and any other company still adopting the technology.

Apple wasn’t even the first to do it!

I didn’t mind the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack. I think it’s absurd that I can’t connect an iPhone X to my MacBook without a dongle, but I also haven’t connected to my phone to my computer in . . . years. I don’t need any other ports on my computer except the single USB Type-C. So for me, and me alone in this argument, I don’t think Apple is being very hostile to me. I might fit the mold they want, but that’s just the reality of it.

(I still emphatically empathize with people who have been burnt by these changes, though. I can absolutely understand where you’re coming from.)

Which is why I wanted to reach out to all of you and get your outlook on this. I saw a few comments out there, in light of Zuckerberg’s comments, that basically agreed with him, that Apple doesn’t care about its users, either. Whether that’s due to pricing, or removing features, or a combination of the two, those were generally the reasons for those feelings.

So, what do you think? Do you believe Apple cares about its customer base? You can look at it from any perspective: hardware, software, data, security, privacy, what have you. I’m just curious if you think Apple is a company that actually cares about its users in any capacity, or if it’s just another major entity that’s user-hostile to customers.