Lockdowns in Zhengzhou, Cupertino’s Freezing, and Stinking Synergy

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More details on the Zhengzhou lockdown and another report on Apple’s hiring pause. We also see a bit of a stink around Apple Services synergies.

AFP: A Look at the Zhengzhou Lockdown

From “closed loop” to “no loop?” Seems a possibility. A report from Agence France-Presse (AFP (via Manila Times)) makes it sound as if production at the Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, China has come to a complete halt. 

Nicknamed “iPhone City” by some, we’ve heard stories of growing unrest around the plant for the past couple of weeks. They started with word of workers being asked to dine in their dorms to fight a “small outbreak” of COVID-19. It then sped through Foxconn saying there was no problem, then not much of a problem, until reports surfaced that workers were jumping the fence and walking to their homes outside of Zhengzhou — actions they took after reports of a lack of food and proper medical care at the iPhone-making Foxconn facility. 

Earlier this week came word that Foxconn had significantly increased bonuses in an attempt to get workers to stay and keep working. We also heard that local authorities had put the area around the plant on lockdown. The AFP story seems to pick up where that report left off. According to that:

Central China’s Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone, where Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn runs a massive plant, entered seven days of “static management” on Wednesday, local officials said in a statement, using a euphemism for lockdown.

The piece goes on to say:

All people except Covid-prevention volunteers and essential workers “must not leave their residences except to receive Covid tests and emergency medical treatment,” the officials said Wednesday.

They added only medical vehicles and those delivering essentials would be allowed on the streets.

A piece from Taiwan News on the lockdown says that could “throttle production at the Foxconn iPhone facility.” Whether those workers are considered essential is unclear, though even if they are allowed to keep working, production will almost definitely be hampered. Earlier this week, TF International analyst Ming-Chi Kuo indicated that production under “closed loop” mode is not as efficient as regular working conditions. As it stands now, the lockdown is expected to end next Wednesday 9 November. 

Bloomberg: Secret Sources Say Apple in Virtual Hiring Freeze

If hiring isn’t frozen for Apple at the corporate level, it seems to be pretty close to it. I told you yesterday of a report from Business Insider (via Apple News+) that had three secret peeps saying new hiring for Apple on the office side had pretty much ground to a halt. Now, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman is hitting that story with a big, old’ “affirmative.” 

Gurman’s report (via Yahoo! Finance) says Apple has “paused hiring for many jobs outside of research and development…” He refers to that as “an escalation of an existing plan to reduce budgets heading into next year…” 

Secret people once again, of course. The official word from Apple is the same as we heard earlier this week and on recent earnings calls. They are still hiring, “but given the current economic environment” the company is “taking a very deliberate approach in some parts of the business.” Expressing confidence in the company’s future, Gurman has Apple saying it wants “to be thoughtful and make smart decisions that enable [it] to continue fueling innovation for the long term…” 

Gurman’s secret-so-and-sos say that translates to continued hiring for “future devices and long-term initiatives,” with fewer new hires for “some corporate functions and standard hardware and software engineering roles…”

Unionized Maryland Apple Store Files Complaint with NLRB Over Missed Benefits

Apple’s first unionized store in the U.S. has filed a labor complaint against the Cupertino-company. A couple of reports, one from The Mac Observer and another from Bloomberg, highlight what’s happening. 

Back in October, says the TMO piece, Apple introduced “new health and educational benefits to its retail store workers” in the U.S. Excluded from that was the Apple Towson Town Center location in Towson, Maryland — the first unionized Apple Store in the States. Indications had Apple saying that that location would need its union to negotiate any benefits “as part of the collective bargaining process.” 

Now, the reports say the Towson employees have filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Hiccups aplenty in the goings on. According to Bloomberg: 

Federal labor law generally prohibits companies from altering job terms without bargaining, but the NLRB may consider it unlawful discrimination to exclude union workers from benefit changes provided to other employees.

At the same time, the Bloomberg piece makes it sound as if the health benefits would not be available to the Maryland workers anyway. While they note the withholding of those benefits, Bloomberg says “that new perk is only available in certain states, including Connecticut, New York, Georgia, Washington and New Jersey.”

Where’s the Union During This Mess?

If you’re wondering where the union is in all of this — well, it sounds more like they’re a union-in-waiting. TMO says the Towson employees don’t have a contract yet. As the site understands it:

…contract talks have begun, but a first collective bargaining agreement can take upwards of a year to be agreed upon and then ratified by the union members.

Legal or not, Towson union leadership sees underhandedness in Apple’s actions. They say the Cupertino-company is using “coercive tactics to attempt to prevent more employees from joining together and [bargaining].” 

Service with a Shove

Users Disgruntled Over Changing Priorities in Apple TV 

Apple made a couple of changes Thursday that could boost its Services, though not without upsetting several users. We’ll start with the somewhat confusing story around Apple TV. It’s confusing because Apple doesn’t seem to have announced any changes, they just changed stuff. A piece from AppleInsider said the Cupertino-company had dropped the “Up Next” section from the Apple TV app on Apple TV 4K. It’s possible they caught the change mid-change. When I went to check my Apple TV 4K Thursday afternoon, “Up Next” was still there, though it had been dropped down under a new section called “What to Watch.”

For AppleInsider, those “What to Watch,” titles being suggested/pushed by Apple, seemed to have simply replaced “Up Next.” Along a similar line, a piece from iDownloadBlog said that the TV app in the latest beta of iOS 16.2 did what I’d seen on my TV — pushed the “Up Next” content below Apple’s “What to Watch” section. 

Does It Really Matter?

If you’re not an Apple TV or TV app user, this may sound like much ado about nothing. iDownloadBlog disagrees though, calling the new design “a usability regression,” with titles “from other apps recommended by the algorithm” taking precedent over content for which users have already shown an affinity.

Blowback was fast and loud. In addition to the displeasure expressed by AppleInsider and iDownloadBlog, Macworld’s Jason Snell was pretty quick to express disappointment. He took to Twitter to say:

Apple is far from the first company to do this sort of user-hostile behavior — “don’t watch what you want, watch what we want you to” — but I had hoped it would be a little better than the rest of the crowd.

Here’s the answer: nope, they aren’t.

Or — weren’t, maybe? Late Thursday night/Friday morning I went back to my Apple TV to see again what changes Apple had wrought. As of then, things were more user-friendly, with “Up Next” up top, followed by “What to Watch” below it.

Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe Apple responded to the hue and cry. Whatever the case, if you go now to see what everyone was so upset about, there’s a decent chance you won’t.

Sunny with a Chance of Synergy

What’s apparently happening in Apple’s Weather app is not the same as what may be happening in the TV app, though — to me at least, it has a similar feel. A piece from MacRumors says that app for iOS and iPadOS will incorporate stories from Apple News when they’re updated in version 16.2. “Located below the 10-day forecast on iPhone,” the piece says, “the ‌Apple News‌ module surfaces relevant regional news stories.” 

Examples given in the piece include a story about hurricanes in the Atlantic for cities in the mid-Atlantic region, and a story about fire season for users in San Diego. Not all cities have stories all the time, according to the report, and the news shouldn’t get in the way of the weather. According to MacRumors, “it appears that when there’s a weather alert at the top of the app, such as for rain or severe weather alerts, the news module is […] removed.”

There’s no reason Apple couldn’t roll this out now, though they seem to be holding back. The piece says the news module was added server side by Apple. Still, it’s only showing up on devices running the iOS/iPadOS 16.2 betas indicating that it’ll be a billed as a feature of the update.

Netflix “Basic with Ads” Plans Launches with Apple TV Support “Coming Soon”

If you’ve been considering the ad-supported tier from Netflix, you’ll need to consider a streaming device besides Apple TV for now. A piece from Engadget says the seven-dollars-a-month, “Basic with ads” tier has gone live, though not for Apple’s hockey puck. At least not yet. Speaking to Variety, the streaming juggernaut said, “Basic with ads plan support on tvOS is not available at launch but coming soon.” 

It’s probably not an intentional slight. The “Basic with ads” plan wasn’t supposed to go live until early 2023, though Netflix put a rush on that. According to Engadget, the streamer “wanted to get out of the gate before Disney+ launches its ad-supported plan in December.” 

Of course, regular Netflix plans still work on Apple TV units. As for when “Basic with ads” will work for Apple TV, no official date has been announced.

Apple TV+ ‘Gifts’ Two-Month Trial to Mark Selena Gomez Doc

And finally today, synergy is apparently in Apple’s DNA. The Mac Observer says the new documentary Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me hits Apple TV+ today. To mark the occasion, Apple and Gomez are promoting a two-month trial of the streaming service. 

The documentary actually had its world premier Thursday at the AFI Film Festival. After mentioning that on Twitter, the entertainer said, “I’m thrilled to share a special gift to my fans of a 2 month free trial of @AppleTVPlus.” That was followed by encouragement to stream the documentary today, as well as a link for the “free gift.” 

You know, I actually did have somebody gift me a subscription once that I ended up having to pay for. Didn’t feel like a gift at that point — but whatever. 

The documentary is up now on Apple TV+. Also hitting the Cupertino-streamer this weekend — the Jennifer Lawrence/Brian Tyree Henry drama Causeway. I know what I’ll be watching!


It’s “What to Watch.” 

Friday on The Mac Observer’s Daily Observations Podcast

TMO managing editor Jeff Butts and I went in-depth on the Towson Store union complaint and Apple’s sudden surges of synergistic suggestions… That’s all Friday on the Daily Observations Podcast from The Mac Observer.

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