What Happens when Apple’s Strategies Conflict with Apple Values?

| The Back Page

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?

Four commitments to accessibility on Apple's OS X accessibility page

Four commitments to accessibility on Apple’s OS X accessibility page

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.

KinesicMouse

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.

So What?

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.

6 Comments Add a comment

  1. They could buy Xcessity and keep the product going. That would save Apple from having to license their IP, something they are loath to do. It would give the product, now with Apples resources behind it, a more solid future.

  2. I disagree that there is no business imperative for Apple. Having recently spent more time around disability activists, I can promise that this will not go unnoticed. It is both a real and perceived slight to the disabled community–a community that is extremely loyal if for no other reason than that there are so few accessibility products from which to choose that switching often isn’t an option. Apple has purchased a company that drew at least some of its revenue from licensing an accessibility product. The bad PR alone is enough of an argument to continue doing so. Bad press affects stock price. Does the company really want 100 people in wheelchairs and using walkers camped out in front of its SF flagship store for network cameras to see? And I assure you that they will and the optics will not favor Apple.

    The second argument is that this is a potential revenue stream. Granted, it’s a small one, but it is obviously a viable one that doesn’t truly conflict with their product line. Re-brand the software as part of the Apple line and that now puts the name in front of PC users that may not have considered switching before. IOW, turn the now-Apple-branded accessibility software into a marketing tool from which its other products may gain a halo effect. This is much the way iPhone allowed people who were PC users to have the Apple experience and, thus, got them to consider switching. Apple executives have a responsibility to maximize stock price and stockholder security. Re-branding and then licensing the software would help in that process.

  3. How about this: Apple buys Xcessity. Keep the product line going and have Apple’s R&D resources behind it. Apple gets good press and possibly sacdess to some IP that Xcessity has.

    (BTW. I posted this last night, along with a number of other comments on other articles. None of them were on the site this morning.(

  4. CudaBoy

    Corporations have no values. Corporations strive to make shareholders money, period. That’s why nobody talks about the lack of values Corporations have when they employ thousands of foreign workers strictly because they are cheap labor and good for the bottom line – America’s jobs be damned, and why nobody calls Corporations to task when they take all their filthy lucre and set up tax dodges to avoid paying millions of dollars of taxes due to OUR economy.
    That’s why it’s a laugh to mention “values” when talking about a potentially hurting tiny subset of handicapped people when Apple is literally hurting tens of thousands of people by using cheap foreign labor and shirking their tax duties like only Corporations can do.

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