As the world grinds to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, the impact on businesses large and small is palpable. Stores are shuttered around the country, movies are missing out on lucrative theater runs, and millions are suddenly finding themselves without a paycheck for the foreseeable future.
Apple, of course, is among the most heavily impacted. Back in February, it was one of the first companies to revise its guidance for the first quarter due to “a slower return to normal conditions.” While manufacturing has since improved, the effect on the second-quarter results remains to be seen and it’s likely to be ugly. Even though a new iPad Pro and MacBook Air are here, Apple’s popular retail stores remain closed around the world and likely will be for weeks to come.
That hasn’t stopped Apple from stepping up to help others affected by COVID-19. That starts with its own employees. While Apple has closed more than 300 stores worldwide and implanted a work-from-home policy, it is still paying all hourly workers “in alignment with business as usual operations.” Additionally, the company has extended its sick leave policy to accommodate personal or family health ailments related to COVID-19, including mandatory quarantines and childcare challenges due to school closures.
Tim Cook also announced that Apple has committed $15 million to help with the worldwide COVID-19 recovery efforts, as well as “a substantial donation including medical supplies to Protezione Civile in Italy, to help the heroic first responders, medical personnel & volunteers.” Additionally, Apple will match COVID-19-related employee donations two-to-one. And earlier this week, Vice President Mike Pence announced that Apple will be donating nine million face masks to healthcare workers across the country, which Tim Cook later upped to 10 million.
Those are certainly noble efforts. Apple has been a clear and consistent leader in the corporate response to the coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak and will undoubtedly continue as long as the crisis lasts. While sales will certainly take a significant hit, its brand image is as strong as it’s ever been, and it’s well-suited to navigate the uncertainty.
Free play for the Arcade
While a large part of its strength is due to its diverse product line, its $200 billion-plus cash on hand doesn’t hurt. While that’s down from its high of $245 billion in January 2019, it’s still a sizable chunk of change that most companies would die for. Cook and CFO Luca Maestri have done an admirable job of keeping investors, employees, and customers happy, while still building a sizable war chest.
But for all Apple has done for its employees, healthcare workers, and communities impacted by the coronavirus, its customers haven’t gotten any relief (though to be fair, Apple did update the keyboard on the new lower-priced MacBook Air). While companies such as Google, Microsoft, Peloton, the NBA, and even wireless carriers are extending trial periods or offering services for a reduced cost, Apple has yet to discount any of its services during the quarantine.
While it does offer a free year of Apple TV+ to anyone who buys a new Apple device, it would be a nice offering to extend a few free months to non-Apple users. Or maybe open up Apple Music for three months to anyone who wants to listen. Or heck, what about upping iCloud storage from 5GB to 50GB for people working from home?
But the best thing Apple could do for families struggling to juggle working and child care is six months of free Apple Arcade. Yes, I know it’s only $5 a month, but it’s because it’s only five bucks a month that makes it such a perfect candidate. Apple can easily absorb the costs, and families would get another outlet for keeping their kids entertained without needing to add another subscription. Apple Arcade is filled with games for all ages, and opening it up for free would be a boon to everyone—parents, kids, and developers alike.
Cut back on the cut
Speaking of developers, Apple could be doing more to help them too. Many of them are one- and two-person shops, so even if they’re not necessarily in danger of losing their jobs, they’re certainly feeling the effects of the coronavirus. And with more people than ever streaming and downloading apps and games while at home, the stress and exhaustion levels are likely at all-time highs.
And I think it’s a great time for Apple to show developers just how valuable they are. Cook loves to brag about how much money Apple has paid out to app makers, but every number comes with a caveat: Apple’s cut. In January, Apple announced that App Store sales led to has paid $155 billion to developers since 2008, which is certainly a sizable sum, but it also means Apple made some $15 billion as well.
I certainly don’t begrudge Apple for charging a fee for every App Store sale, especially when you factor in marketing, delivery, and hosting. But if there was ever a time for Apple to suspend its cut, it’s now. Paying an extra 30 percent to developers would be both a show of faith and gratitude to a group of workers that Apple depends on, many of whom are as dedicated as Apple’s own employees.
And let’s face it, Apple would receive a torrent of positive press. There are extremely difficult times for everyone, and Apple has certainly done its part to help. And it will surely do a lot more before this is all over. Here’s hoping its next moves show how big its heart really is.
Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.