The Macalope Weekly: Who to blame?

It’s simple, folks: Apple’s to blame for economic conditions in China, the Kindle Fire is to blame for the freaks of nature that are coming out from Samsung, and Siri is to blame for your grandmother dying alone.

Any questions?

Apple invented China 3000 years ago

You can’t get away from this simple and inconvenient truth, Apple fans: Apple is the only company that makes products in China.

Yes, while we were all destroying our livers at Macworld | iWorld, the “blame Apple for Chinese working conditions initiative” went into full effect. While we slept (for three hours, before having to get up and do/watch bleary-eyed panels fueled by caffeine, ibuprofen, and the fact that we were still drunk), the righteous indignation machine was working overtime.

For the Macalope’s money, Tom Krazit’s response to the finger-pointing is about as smart as you can find (tip o’ the antlers to The Loop):

The truth is pretty simple: the modern consumer electronics industry couldn’t exist without companies like Foxconn. And Apple can’t just take its ball and go home: there’s nowhere else in the world one can find an industrial system that could replace what China has built, and attempts at building an alternative might take decades.

The Macalope has found it rather amusing that it’s as if some people just discovered this issue and we haven’t been living with it for almost a generation. Most everyone tacitly agrees it’s not just Apple, but the plethora of articles that focus almost exclusively on Apple makes you wonder if people think all their other electronic devices are made by elves in a magical woodland kingdom where it rains sugarplums and every Wednesday is free taco night.

Read more…

The Macalope’s been to that kingdom, and he can tell you they have no appreciable exports other than pot-smoking half-elves. Not that the Macalope’s judging. Who do you think makes our flash mobs so successful?

But take, for example, CNet’s David Carnoy, who starts out by quoting the New York Times piece that kicked off this discussion:

“You can set all the rules you want, but they’re meaningless if you don’t give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well. If you squeeze margins, you’re forcing them to cut safety.”

It’s charmingly naive to assume that Chinese factories will simply use higher profits to improve working conditions, isn’t it? But Carnoy and others seem to believe it’s mostly about Apple squeezing its suppliers, as opposed to the economic and political conditions in a totalitarian state.

Alas, for a lot of folks it goes back to Apple’s corporate ethos. You don’t make $46.3 billion in a quarter by being terribly nice.

Actually, you make most of it by designing really good products and having an unparalleled user experience. Are Apple’s executives also good businessmen? Yes, of course. But what Carnoy seems to be mad at is not so much Apple as it is capitalism.

Yes, Apple holds grudges, and I’m sure I’m not winning any fans in Cupertino, Calif., with this. I haven’t been invited to an Apple event in years…

Or, well, maybe he’s mad at both.

…and I don’t really care if I get invited in the future. They’re getting boring anyway—it’s as if they’ve lost their creative spirit.

That one’s just for you, Apple fans! Smooches!

The Macalope has said it before, and he’ll say it again: Capitalism isn’t pretty. Apple currently does more than many other companies about workers’ conditions, and it would be great if it did even more. But goading Apple alone into doing something isn’t solving the problem. And you want to solve the problem, right, David? Or is it more about the goading?

It’s fine to use Apple as a lens to view this problem. It’s even fine to use the company as as the major example. It’s not fine to lay it all on Apple. Funny, but Samsung—which also uses Foxconn to assemble its devices—sold more smartphones than anyone in the third quarter of 2011. The Macalope doesn’t seem to remember hearing any outcry about Samsung taking advantage of Chinese workers; he just remembers a lot of back-slapping for the company having beaten Apple.

Alas, the problem for Apple this time is timing. You can’t sit on $98 billion in cash and $16 billion in profits for a quarter and not expect people to think that you’re heartless and have no soul when a negative article comes out about the human capital that goes into making your products.

So, because they have lousy management, other companies should get a free ride on the “abusing Chinese workers” train. The terrible thing about this train is it’s actually better than the train they were on before that, the “poverty and third-world conditions” train. You want to talk about a lousy train, that’s a lousy train.

Also, David, as much as we might treat corporations like individuals in this country, you know they don’t actually have souls, right?

There are real ways—which the Macalope fully supports—to try to improve working conditions in China and other countries. Using the situation to grind your personal axe against a company is not one of them.

I once bought a phone thiiis biiig!

You guys are simply not going to believe this. There is nothing the Macalope can do to prepare you for… THE ATTACK OF THE 5-INCH PHONE!

Samsung Galaxy Note: Does the World Really Need a 5-Inch Phone With a Stylus?

A 5-inch phone with a stylus?! GET OUT OF THE MACALOPE’S WAY.

(You ever see a stampede of Macalopes? It’s not pretty.)

Surely Apple will have to respond to the dire threat posed by this killer device. After all, we all know that consumers are literally rending their garments (yes, LITERALLY) and crying out for the sweet succor that only smartphones with gigantic screens can provide.

And how do we know that? Because Apple doesn’t make one, that’s how.

The transition to ever larger smartphone displays is a natural byproduct of humankind’s embrace of the mobile lifestyle, DisplaySearch analyst Richard Shim says. Now that more and more people depend on accessing information, videos and websites on the go, we’re discovering that larger screen sizes enhance that experience. Samsung is a leading member of this trend.

Eventually screens will get so large that the “mobile lifestyle” will turn back into a stationary lifestyle. People are kind of dumb that way.

A few weeks back the Macalope spent some time with a friend’s Galaxy S II and wondered if it came with a pair of relaxed-fit jeans. The Galaxy Note, on the other hand, should come with a bag of holding.

“Samsung and AT&T are betting on a market for super-sized smartphones. And they’re smart to market the Note as a phone rather than a tablet,” Forrester senior analyst Sarah Rotman Epps told Wired via email. “If they market it as a tablet, they’re competing directly with Amazon but at a higher price.”

Indeed, you can currently get a 7-inch tablet, the Amazon Kindle Fire, for $100 less than the Note. The Fire is also Wi-Fi only, so you don’t have the monthly costs associated with a 3G or 4G data plan.

You also don’t have a phone. And couldn’t the Galaxy Note be cheaper if Samsung took the phone bits out? (That’s what engineers call them: “The phone bits.”)

It’s kind of astounding to the Macalope how both Epps and Wired’s Christina Bonnington don’t get the real causality here. Competing with Amazon (or Apple) in tablets was never an option for Samsung. It has no way to push them when the carriers and retail stores like Best Buy are its storefront. The carriers want to push contracts, and no one wants a tablet with a contract. Best Buy, meanwhile, is too busy creating a horrible retail experience to push particular products. (“Next on the agenda: How can we flog our customers?”)

This is why you never see anyone with a Galaxy Tab, but you see lots of people with Samsung phones. Samsung’s solution to this is to make freaks of nature like the Galaxy Note. It can’t sell tablets, so it’s trying to sell tablet-sized phones instead.

Yeah, that’ll do the trick.

Saturday Special: She’s a witch! Burn her!

Sometimes the Macalope’s passionate but thoughtful readers get on him for picking the low-hanging fruit. Well, how about The Washington Post? That high enough fruit for you?

Because the Post’s Paul Farhi details “How Siri is ruining your cellphone service.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Brian Lowry.)

That’s fruity, all right.

Siri’s dirty little secret is that she’s a bandwidth guzzler, the digital equivalent of a 10-miles-per-gallon Hummer H1.

Really.

In Farhi’s imagination, Siri is like fat Lisa Simpson lazing around “watching her stories.”

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes already took the air out of the Arieso study that Farhi swallows whole. Long story short, there are lots of factors besides Siri that could make iPhone 4S owners big data users, and when you look at Siri’s data usage specifically, it really doesn’t add up to that much.

But go ahead and kick Siri, because it’s trendy.

As Kingsley-Hughes notes in a follow-up post, iPhone 4S users paid for this bandwidth. But Farhi apparently doesn’t want them to use it, because he’s worried that Proverbial Grandma will be lonely.

And in the meantime? Prepare to sit and wait. That call to Grandma might not get through until the congestion clears.

The Macalope supposes Farhi didn’t consider the fact that some of this data usage is actually exactly what he accuses Siri of thwarting: Making calls to Proverbial Grandma (Proverbial Grandma may be a cliché, but she loves you more than real grandma ever did), since Siri uses the data connection even just for voice control. Some of it might even be Proverbial Grandma using her iPhone 4S to FaceTime proverbial grandson to congratulate him on losing his first proverbial tooth.

Proverbial Grandma’s not dead yet, you know. Even if she does power off her iPhone after the call and put it back in its box so it “stays safe.”

[Editors’ Note: Each week the Macalope skewers the worst of the week’s coverage of Apple and other technology companies. In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.]

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