There has never been a more valuable, or more profitable company than Apple is today. Much of that is owed to the iPhone, which might be the most important product any company has shipped in the last 50 years. It's hard to argue it hasn't been the most successful. Apple says there are now more than 1 billion iPhones active throughout the world.
The thing that is most surprising about Apple's most recent quarterly earnings isn't so much that it, once again, set a record, but that it did so at a time that the company faces the most intense internal and external pressure in its history. The contrast is actually quite informative, and it's a lesson for every business. Allow me to explain.
In some ways, you might think that success would insulate Apple from some of the criticism it faces. Its success has been good not only for Apple's shareholders, but for its users, employees, and developers as well.
Then again, success has a funny way of influencing perception. The more successful you are, the more attention you draw, and the less forgiving people are when they feel like you're behaving less than graciously. That's exactly how people feel about the company Tim Cook inherited from Apple's iconic founder, Steve Jobs.
To be clear, this isn't a criticism of Cook specifically. It's not even meant to be a criticism of Apple as much as it's a lesson for every business.
Apple's single most important brand asset is trust. That's actually true for any company. Apple, in particular, has built that trust over years of prioritizing the things that matter most to users, like quality products, a superior experience, and taking a stand on protecting their privacy--something that stands out in a tech industry so focused on monetizing your every interaction.
Right now, however, Apple is giving the impression that its primary goal isn't the customer experience, or even protecting privacy, but protecting the company's bottom line. That goes against what people love the most about Apple, and it's a real problem--even if the reality is far more nuanced. When it comes to trust, perception is everything.
For example, Apple has faced intense criticism--and even lawsuits--from developers regarding the company's control over the iOS App Store and its insistence on forcing apps to use Apple's In-App Payment (IAP) system. That's how Apple collects its 15 to 30 percent cut of every digital transaction, something many developers have started to complain is unfair.
It doesn't help that Apple has taken a hard-line approach with some developers, forbidding them from letting users know they can sign up outside of their app, and rejecting updates to their apps unless they implement IAP. That has started to erode the goodwill Apple earned by building a platform it says is responsible for more than $600 billion in economic activity in 2020.
I wrote before that I thought Apple did a great job of explaining the expectations it has for employees returning to work. The company said it would expect most employees to be back in the office at least three days a week this fall, beginning in September though it has since pushed that back as Covid-19 cases related to the highly contagious Delta variant are on the rise.
Still, employees aren't happy. Or, more specifically, some of them aren't. A relatively small group of employees sent a letter to the company expressing their frustration with the way Apple is approaching its return to work plan. They're asking the company to reconsider, according to The Verge, which reviewed the letter.
Without getting into whether Apple should allow employees to continue working remotely, the letter highlights a common problem--the disconnect between how executives think about company policies, and the way those policies affect employees. Even if you think Apple is entirely in the right, the fact that the issue has spilled over publicly is a sign that there's something wrong.
With the latest versions of iOS and macOS, the company has had to roll back changes based on feedback from users. Safari, in particular, has faced the majority of the backlash as Apple has made dramatic changes to the way you interact with the mobile browser. It's great that the company is making changes, but it's surprising that it seems to be so willing to fail in public when it comes to software design.
Congress has even gotten involved in the backlash, proposing bills that would prevent companies like Apple from including its own native apps on iPhones, and requiring the company to allow alternatives to installing apps on its devices. Apple has fought back by highlighting the security concerns associated with allowing users to download apps directly or through third-party app stores.
The problem is that it isn't a good look for a company that made $22 billion in profit in what is usually one of its slower quarters. Considering the relatively small amount of Apple's income that comes from collecting that 30 percent commission, it makes the company look greedy.
One of the challenges that comes with success is that you can easily lose perspective. It can distort the way you make decisions, and how you measure whether they're right or wrong. Success covers up a multitude of problems. The thing is, it doesn't eliminate them.
For a company like Apple, with so much success it's easy to overlook the problems. Make no mistake, however, they're still there lurking under the surface. Until now, that is.