This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.
The American technology industry was built on the white hot rage of underdogs.
When Apple was founded, it mocked IBM as a bully that made terrible computers. Pipsqueak Google made Microsoft its mortal enemy. The young Uber hated … everyone, basically. It’s energizing to be the scrappy upstart fighting a rich superpower or the big, bad system.
The technology companies still like to believe that they’re Davids — except many of them are now Goliaths. And the underdog tactics and fighting spirit that once served them well now make these companies look petty and mean.
Allow me to point you in the direction of lawsuits that Amazon has repeatedly filed against employees who leave its cloud-computing business for other jobs.
The most recent lawsuit said that a former marketing employee who was hired at Google possesses valuable Amazon secrets, in part because he wrote marketing speeches and made presentation slides. Look at this incredibly revealing Amazon secret, for example. (Amazon has said that it’s enforcing clauses in contracts that limit what its employees can do after they leave.)
Google is big enough that it can presumably wait this lawsuit out. But how many other Amazon employees or potential employers are willing to risk the stress and uncertainty of possible litigation?
Then there’s Apple, which continues to butt heads with app makers including Spotify and most recently the email service Hey. (The Hey drama continued Monday morning.) These feuds are over money. Apple — with some justification — wants a share of the revenue that app companies earn when they sell to you and me in Apple’s App Store. The app companies want to keep all of it.
Financial disagreements are common, but Apple can sound defensive and aggrieved in these cases. It created its rule book for app developers more than a decade ago, and Apple doesn’t get why these companies are complaining.
Apple and the app makers now live on different planets. In 2008, the year Apple started the iPhone app storefront, the company had nearly $33 billion in sales. Last year it had $260 billion. Apple mans the gate to hundreds of millions of iPhones. When you’re that big, every business disagreement is lopsided. (Kara Swisher, a contributing Opinion writer for The New York Times, made a similar point in her column last week.)
It seems as if everywhere you look, former tech upstarts are turning the tables on today’s youngsters. Facebook made obvious copies of Snap’s Bitmoji personalized cartoon characters. Facebook and Google are pitching hard their own alternatives to the suddenly popular Zoom video service. Copying smaller companies is not a great look.
None of these giants is necessarily doing anything wrong or unusual when they emulate, sue or pick fights with people and companies with less power.
It’s cool to be a rebel with a cause. It’s uncool (and unsympathetic) to be a rich and powerful giant. Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has repeatedly said that he still views Apple as a pretty small company. (Insert my booming laughter.)
Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook are Scrooge McDucks swimming in vaults of gold, but they like to act as if they’re still ragamuffins taking on The Man. They’re not. They are The Man.
Tip of the week
How to record a call with a smartphone
Brian X. Chen, our personal tech columnist, gives us advice on using our smartphone to record a phone call and writes this issue’s “Before we go” section.
Many people view recording phone calls as creepy and invasive — and in certain states, it is illegal unless all parties consent to being recorded.
But there are legitimate purposes, like keeping a record of important business conversations or documenting calls made to customer service representatives. I, for one, record phone interviews with important tech executives — only after getting permission from everyone involved.
Many iPhone apps offer the ability to record calls. Android users, unfortunately, will have a tougher time: Google added restrictions that made it difficult and impractical to record calls.
Here’s what you can do:
On iPhones, the free app Rev Call Recorder works well. First, you place a phone call to Rev’s recording service. Then you start another call with someone — or wait for a call to come in — and merge the calls to begin recording. After you hang up, the app stores a recording of the conversation on your device. There is also an option to pay for the recording to be transcribed.
(The privacy-conscious may want to avoid using the app to record and transcribe sensitive calls — the company says customer files are encrypted, but employees review the recordings when transcriptions are requested.)
Call recording is trickier for Androids. Google’s website has instructions on how to set up the Google Voice app to let you record incoming calls, but the feature doesn’t work for outgoing calls. There are third-party apps for call recording, but generally they don’t work well because of limits put in place by Google. Android users are not totally out of luck: Google appears to have a call recorder for its phone app in the works.
Before we go …
Farewell, Intel. In a virtual announcement on Monday, Apple is expected to outline its plan to replace the Intel microprocessors used in Mac computers with chips it designed itself. Starting next year, the company may ship Macs with chips based on Arm, the same semiconductor architecture used in iPhones and iPads. My colleagues explain why Apple is making this shift after 15 years of relying on Intel chips — and what this means for Intel.
Did Trump get pranked by teenagers? The Trump campaign was anticipating huge crowds to attend a rally in Tulsa, Okla., over the weekend, but the turnout was far from that. My colleagues investigated the possibility that TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music groups orchestrated an elaborate prank that involved inflating ticket registrations. The Trump campaign has blamed the disappointing turnout on protests and the coronavirus.
Snap is sorry (sort of) about Juneteenth. In observation of Juneteenth, Snapchat on Friday released a filter inviting users to “smile and break chains.” Smiling in front of the camera triggered an animation of chains to break in the background. Critics immediately panned the filter, calling it tone deaf, and Snap apologized for offending people. But The Verge reported that in an internal email, the company appeared to push back on accusations of cultural insensitivity, explaining that the creation of the filter was a collaboration between black and white employees.
We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at email@example.com.
Get this newsletter in your inbox every weekday; please sign up here.