Apple's culture is being challenged. Will it change the company's products and services?

The Verge’s Zoë Schiffer has been doing some stellar reporting on signals of change in Apple, giving us some insight into both how Apple works and how it changes (or resists change).

Here’s a podcast episode/transcript covering everything she’s reported on recently:

There’re a lot of complex issues here.

Apple’s decision to introduce Slack, Slack’s effects on the company, and the ways they’re now trying to govern it.

Apple’s disregard for their own employees’ privacy, or at least its dysfunction in IT management that leads to privacy problems.

Apple’s insistence against work-from-home (WFH), the cost of living in Cupertino/SF, and the fact that Apple seems to be alone in this stubbornness might lead to employees going elsewhere.

There’s clearly some ethical issues at play, too, and it’s interesting that some employees are countering the stories of those who have been vocal.

So much is going on!

My question for MPU: do you think these issues are a sign of change at Apple that will affect its products or services? Howso?

My take: in strategic foresight/futures thinking, we talk about signals, trends, and drivers. Signals indicate trends, trends are caused by drivers. These events are signals, and some of the underlying drivers are easy to see: easier mass communication; the visibility of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) issues, Apple’s cultural resistance to bottom-up change. I suspect that a resulting trend might be a loss of talent for Apple, which could influence products and services 5–10 years down the line.

Apologies in advance to the mods for creating a thread in which there may be strong opinions…


Of course Apple’s culture is being challenged, and is changing. As it has from the outset. Is this the culture of. :

  • Steve and Woz in a shed Apple
  • 1984 iconoclastic Apple
  • 1995 going under Apple
  • 2000s iDevice Apple
  • 2010 late Steve Apple
  • 2015 It’s now Tim Apple?

Obviously, no it isn’t. Writing an article to tell us Apple changing is simply stating the obvious. Implying that Apple used to be a monoculture in which everyone marched to the same drum, and that independent thought is new and therefore a threat to the business is lazy and shallow.

This seems to me nothing more than an attempt to find something else (after China, anti-trust, Covid, Tim’s not Steve etc etc etc) to say about the problematic future of Apple.

I’ve been lucky enough (in some cases, unlucky enough) to work in and with many different organisations. They all charged all the time (even the ones that didn’t want to changed transitioned from alive to dead - change of a sort). The best of them spent a lot of effort dealing with internal debate and dissent, but not always successfully. Differences of opinion are it just a symptom of big groups - they’re a reason for big groups.

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Ouch. Listen, only I get to think of myself as lazy and shallow!

I’d thought it was clear from the content of my OP, but I guess it wasn’t, so I’ll restate:
Apple’s culture of top-down secretive decision-making is being challenged by modern standards in communication and unconventionally-public campaigns from its staff.

Obviously all organizations are changing all the time. The above, however, seems to be something new for Apple. I was curious about what others thought about the impact of that on the company’s outputs.

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I’m sorry, my comments were aimed at the article, not your post.

You’re right, modern community comms are a major challenge to some existing management structures and cultures. As were others in the past.

Put more simply, my issue with the original article is treating this as unique to Apple, as opposed to something core to any sizeable organisation

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Ah, hah, sorry. I’m lazy, shallow, and sensitive!

More on topic: if you haven’t listened to the Decoder episode, I’d encourage it. Schiffer is brilliant and does a great job of illustrating why what’s happening right now might be different than the previous shifts you’ve mentioned. The latter half is particularly illuminating.

I’ve actually made the argument in the past that there are no “100 year old companies”. There are only multiple, successive sub-companies that have the same name - based on the owners (small biz) or CEOs (big biz). And your list illustrates this perfectly.

Some companies retain their original founding values, but that’s due to very specific, ongoing choices made by the current leadership - not due to some ontological reality of what the company “is”.

The single most glaring example that comes to mind (for me) is actually Apple. Did you know they used to ship circuit board schematics with the Apple II? Can you imagine modern Apple doing that? :smiley:

That’s not judgement from me - I like modern Apple reasonably well. But it’s interesting to be aware of.

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Good point - very good point

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I’ll listen - thanks

As to the epithets - you’re a better judge than me :joy:

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I subscribe to Decoder. I listened to the episode yesterday and thought the reporter had quite a good grasp of the facts and the implications. Nilay’s questions were good, too, as usual.

Generally I’d expect introduction of addictive side channels and immediate access to coworkers to cause products to suffer long-term in a company that meticulously solves design and hardware engineering problems that are intractable at other companies and conducts effective UX reviews in person. I don’t think that the conclusion of this press/legal cycle will attract as many brilliant new job candidates as it repulses. We’ll see!

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A weird follow-up to this thread: an #AppleToo organizer has been fired. Here’s an interview with her:

It doesn’t look great on Apple. On the other hand, the explicit reason she’s being fired—deleting stuff from a phone she was asked to hand in because she was being investigated as a potential source of leaks—is pretty clear-cut.

On a third hand, what an invasion of her privacy! “Please use your work devices for personal use. Oh, whatcha got on there?” The doublespeak is awful.

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I believe Microsoft required their employees to do the same thing. They had to use a Windows Phone for both work use and personal use.

Of course, the Windows Phone requirement has long since been dropped for obvious reasons.

It was very much a policy that came out of (the extremely bipolar) Steve Ballmer. If he hadn’t resigned as the CEO of Microsoft in early 2014, I can only imagine that the policy would still be in place.

I’ll grant the invasion of privacy, but consider…

I deleted apps with personal information, like Robinhood. Apple doesn’t need to know how much money I lost on GameStop. I work on political campaigns, and Democratic political campaign information has to be kept private.

Using a company-provided phone - that you know could be taken away from you at any time - for highly-confidential stuff? Organizing (from management’s perspective) against the company you work for? Political operations with a confidentiality requirement?

It absolutely sucks. Apple shouldn’t treat employees like this - if they want you to use it as your personal device, it should be your personal device.

But we’re also not talking about a random employee here - we’re talking about a leader of a movement to force management’s hand on a highly-contentious equality issue. And especially in the wake of an announcement that they’re going after leakers - even if you’re not one of the leakers - it would be prudent to consider that they’d be doing an investigation involving data on your company-issued devices.

Even though the optics of this suck, I’m also betting that Apple’s rights to do all of that were spelled out in an agreement somewhere.

I really think MasterClass should come out with a “Tradecraft 101” class, and these people should take it.

Before I changed careers I worked in H.R. for over 10 years. The key to good employee relations is communications. Keep your employees informed about everything you can. Make it easy for them to talk to you and really listen to what they are saying. Addressing problems early can save you a lot of trouble down the road. We averaged around 1000 employees and we had two managers in the department so we had to work at it every day. It was worth it.

If the story is accurate it appears Apple may need to make some changes.

On a separate note, if anyone is interested, the Land of the Giants podcast has been discussing Apple past and present for the last month.

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My first experience of leaving a job in tech was when I handed in a two-week notice, and was promptly escorted out of the building. At a different company, in a buyout process, we were informed by HR that they’d own all products & code we created whether on or off the clock, and were asked to disclaim - up front - any existing code that could be an exception to that rule. A few of us wrote an exemption so broad that it would include anything and everything we ever wrote in any context - and apparently they never even read it because we didn’t get any pushback. :slight_smile:

The thing that always makes me wonder though is when there are higher-level people at these companies that are surprised when a big company acts like a big company.

“You told me I was being investigated and asked me to turn in my company-issued device, so naturally the first thing I did was go through and wipe a bunch of data before I turned it in. Why do you think that looked suspicious?”

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I’m genuinely curious about how they could get away with this. On the clock makes sense. But what gives them the right to what you create on your own time?

Not sure where you are in the world, but here in the U.S. it’s not uncommon for something like that to be in your employment contract.

An article for reference:

Whether it’s enforceable is a whole separate question - but a company putting it in the employment contract that they make you sign puts one more hurdle in your way if you try to get out of it.

Also keep in mind that a contract doesn’t have to be legally enforceable to be practically enforceable. Any company legal team worth their salaries could run up your legal bills to the point where you’d give up in frustration.

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Usually this issue comes up for salaried employees where there is not a strict “on” the clock of “off” the clock.


Thanks! I’ll take a look at this article.

I’m in the U.S., but I’m in academia (faculty), where things work differently. With few exceptions, I own anything I create.

Of course, courses, academic articles, and academic books don’t exactly bring in big bucks.

Are you sure about that?

Do you own any patent on your inventions?

I’m in the humanities-adjacent end of the social sciences, so inventions don’t come into play. It’s probably different for my colleagues in the sciences.

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