This is my recently acquired Leica IIIB rangefinder, dating from 1939 (it currently has a Soviet Russian lens on it, a genuine Leica lens is on the way). I could only afford it because it’s in bad shape cosmetically (which I will fix) and I offset part of the price via various trades.
Today’s post is not about the camera though, but about the philosophy and world view behind it, compared to the Apple iPhone 4.
When the iPhone 4 was released, Steve Jobs compared it to a “Leica camera.” Now apart from the fact that the Leica did not need a rubber band around it to work (unlike the iPhone 4 which for at least some people needed what was basically a rubber band around it for proper 3G network connectivity), there are huge differences in the business practices of Apple, and Leitz, the maker of Leica cameras. In the article Hell is Cheap, China, Apple and the Economics of Horror, a damning account of Apple’s business practices are presented, and can be summed up by the following quote from the article:
“Companies like Apple don’t outsource to China because the workforce is better-educated or more highly motivated. They don’t even outsource just because the labor is cheaper there. They outsource because employers who defraud their workers can make products more cheaply, and those who ignore their safety can produce them more quickly.”
Now let’s compare Apple to Leitz, the company that made Leica cameras. According to a Wikipedia article, at Leitz, progressive measures such as “ Pensions, sick leave, health insurance — all were instituted early on at Leitz, which depended for its work force upon generations of skilled employees.” Further (as I just learned the other day), in the late 1930′s Leica started a project called the “Leica Freedom Train” in which Jewish employees, families, and even some friends of families were “assigned” to foreign countries, ostensibly to sell Leica cameras, but in reality to save them from the steadily increasing persecution which found its tragic culmination in the Holocaust. Leitz was taking enormous risks in doing this, but did it because it was the right thing to do, and because they cared about their employees.
Apple, the way in which you subcontract to arms-length companies to try to maintain plausible deniability regarding how workers are exploited proves to me you are no Leitz, and your products do not deserve the comparison. Shame on you.
I have a number of Apple products, and I feel guilt and conflict about benefiting from the suffering of others. I can take some small satisfaction knowing that all of my vintage film cameras (made mainly in Germany, Japan and the U.S.) were made by workers who we paid a living wage, and whose skill was respected and valued by their employers.