At Apple care is everything, Cook confirms with US Mac manufacturing jobs promise

December 06, 2012 10:16 AM EST

There's only one Apple [AAPL] story worth reading today -- CEO, Tim Cook's wide-ranging and extraordinarily revealing interview with Bloomberg Businessweek and NBC. In the interview Cook confirms how the company listens to its critics and cited multiple instances in which it has made moves to address problems -- he even offered a new commitment to create jobs in the US.

[ABOVE: A May 2012 interview with Cook, "the juices are flowing," he said...]

Secretive, but listening

There've been several criticisms of Apple's actions in the last few years, among others these include: Third-party labor practices have been called into question; it has been criticized for not generating enough jobs in the US; there's the smartphone ligitation and then of course, there's the furor over Maps.

In the last 12-months, Apple has responded to each of these criticisms, and while in some cases (Maps) its response is ongoing, it's pretty clear from what the CEO is saying that the firm is committed to trying to do the right thing.

This extends to making a promise to increase the number of jobs it creates in the US, simply by beginning to manufacture Macs there. While Cook doesn't make it clear which Mac will be built in the US, recent iMacs have been seen with a "Made in the US" sticker aboard.

“Next year, we will do one of our existing Mac lines in the United States,” Cook said in an NBC interview to be broadcast tonight.

Apple will spend $100 million on American manufacturing next year, he promised. Cook also observed that many of the components used in its mobile devices are already US-made, and pointed to the company's own estimates that it has created (directly and indirectly) around 600,000 jobs in the country.

This won't of course silence those critics who will spout the need for the US firm to create US jobs, while purchasing devices from manufacturers who have no commitment to boosting employment in that country.

Manufacturing transparency

If you'd read the coverage across the past year you'd be forgiven for thinking it's only Apple's third party manufacturing lines that have suffered questionable labor practices. That's not the case -- it would be more truthful to say Apple's taken the fall for every other CE firm with Asia-Pacific manufacturing partners.

Apple's response wasn't to simply ignore  critics. Instead it took steps to improve the situation. It put investigators on the case. It published reports. It agreed to third-party oversight. It began its own internal review process. In other words, it has recognized that problems exist and taken public steps to fix them.

Certainly critics will argue that these steps are no more than marketing, PR spin, but that doesn't invalidate the moves that have been made. Apple now seems the most transparent company when it comes to what's happening in its manufacturing operations. It listened to the criticism, and has begun taking steps to address the problem.

The onus has to be on others -- including Samsung -- to move away from undercutting Apple on price, and begin to match it on how they treat direct and indirectly hired employees. It's no trival thing to turn a blind eye to exploitation, now it has been exposed.

Cook: "I think no one is looking at this as deeply as we are or going as deep in the supply chain. We’re back to the mines. We’re going all the way, not just at the first layer. And in addition to that, we’ve chosen to be incredibly transparent with it. I invite everyone to copy us."

"We decided being more transparent about some things is great -- not that we were not transparent at all before, but we’ve stepped it up in places where we think we can make a bigger difference, where we want people to copy us."

[ABOVE: Samsung's anti-Apple fan video is top of the viral pops.]

Litigation between Apple and Samsung

Cook once again stressed such litigation was a last resort once other avenues had failed. He repeated his earlier assertion that he "hates litigation", and stressed that the lawsuits don't mean the company isn't working with Samsung any more, but that it has introduced new layers of complexity into the relationship.

"I hope this works out over time," he added.

One observation: the litigation has certainly worked for Samsung. The prevalence in the UK market of cheap deals for its devices proves it is willing to reach deals with carriers to enable them to give its handsets away at rock bottom prices.

Samsung has ridden the lawsuits to carve itself the position of being the "anti-Apple". And its recently published ad in which it poked fun at Apple-holics has become the most popular viral video of 2012.

It's important to reflect that Apple tried to reach a compromise before the unpleasantness began. Unfortunately the two sides couldn't reach an arrangement.

For most people, including Cook, litigation is the move of last resort.

Maps: "We screwed up"

Apple makes mistakes sometimes -- humans, rather than robotic overlords with a dissociated comprehension of consumer behavior run the company, mistakes prove the firm's innate humanity.

Explaining that the move to introduce its own Maps solution within the iPhone was years in the planning, Cook stressed it wasn't driven by any corporate decision to cease working with "company X", and said:

"We set out to give the customer something to provide a better experience. And the truth is it didn’t live up to our expectations. We screwed up."

The subsequent departure of two leading executives proves that people at the company aren't immune to the consequences of error. Chatter from within the firm suggests the company is working hard to improve the service as quickly as it can.

In other words, Apple might be secretive, but it listens to the feedback and works to respond to its critics.

On Steve Jobs

Cook had lot's to say on Jobs, but one thing hit home:

"When you work with someone for that long, for me anyway, the relationship is really important. You know? I don’t want to work with people I don’t like. Life is too short. So you do become friends. Life has too few friends."

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.