Apple CEO Tim Cook has staked out Apple’s values clearly and strongly. Aside from its pursuit of great technology, Apple has value statements on Accessibility, Education, the Environment, Inclusion and Diversity, Privacy, and Supplier Responsibility. But what happens when Apple’s strategies conflict with those values?
It doesn’t happen often, but MacRumors reported just such a conflict Friday. Apple earlier this year acquired a company called Faceshift, which develops facial-recognition technologies.
Apple makes this sort of acquisition many times a year, and its usual practice is to shut or wind down whatever standalone products or services that company offered. It would then incorporate people and technology from the acquisition into existing Apple products and services.
This strategy has served Apple phenomenally well, but in this case that strategy is running up against Apple’s values on enhancing accessibility. It turns out Faceshift was licensing its technology to another firm called Xcessity.
Xcessity makes a product called KinesicMouse, which is really cool. It allows people with degenerative conditions (for instance, Parkinson’s disease) to control a mouse using only facial expressions. For its customers, this is huge, and it can make the difference between using a computer and not.
But Faceshift ended its licensing agreement with Xcessity—something that’s standard operating procedure Apple acquisitions. Most of the time, few care, but in this case a significant accessibility product faces its demise. Xcessity announced (via MacRumors) it would have to pull KinesicMouse from the market because it doesn’t have the resources to develop a replacement for Faceshift’s technology.
Is this Apple’s fault? Yes. Is it something Apple should feel responsible for? No. Apple’s a corporation beholden to its shareholders, etc. Apple’s commitment to accessibility is a commitment to Apple’s customers. It’s a commitment to Apple products being accessible, not a commitment to increase accessibility outside of Apple.
But this is one of those rare situations where something Apple did is actually decreasing accessibility. While third party products aren’t their responsibility, this has got to bother the folks at Apple. Tim Cook and his executive team truly care about accessibility, and these unintended consequences are bound to trouble to them*.
The question is what could Apple do about it even if it were so inclined? Apple didn’t return requests for comment as of this writing, but continuing to license Faceshift’s technology is well outside Apple’s wheelhouse. From support to further development, Apple is not set up to do this sort of thing.
Sitting in the comfort of TMO Towers West, the best I could come up with would be to extend Xcessity’s license without further development. That would allow Xcessity to provide KinesicMouse while it looks for alternate technologies.
Mind you, I have no idea of what’s truly involved, and such easy solutions might be far from feasible. It’s a conundrum that makes me happy my job is to comment on Apple’s doings rather than being responsible for the decisions. But I would be surprised if Apple didn’t budge on this topic.
*I could certainly be wrong, but I happen to believe the best about Apple’s executives.