How Tim Cook's Apple just became the accidental test case in a clash about capitalism
Hello readers, and welcome to this week's edition of Trending, the newsletter where we highlight BI Prime's biggest tech stories. I'm Alexei Oreskovic, Business Insider's West Coast bureau chief and global tech editor.
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This week: Apple is the first test case in a clash of philosophies about capitalism
The showdown between Tim Cook and the FBI has been framed as a fight between privacy and security. But it's also a battle between two competing philosophies about capitalism.
That became clear after Donald Trump lashed out at Apple on Tuesday, demanding that Apple "step up to the plate" to help unlock the iPhones used by the Pensacola, Florida shooter and reminding Cook that Apple had been spared some of the most painful tariffs. In other words, do what we ask of you, or your business will suffer.
In that sense, what's developing may be the first real test case of the universal stakeholder approach that is increasingly being talked up by companies (and is part of Elizabeth Warren's platform as well as that of other Democratic presidential candidates). Recall that Cook was among the 200 corporate chieftains who signed a commitment in August declaring that a corporation's purpose is not simply to maximize profits for the benefit of stockholders. Companies also have a responsibility to serve stakeholders that include employees, customers and society.
Given that Cook has declared that privacy is a "fundamental human right," this would seem to be an occasion where its commitment to a key stakeholder (society) is being challenged. But if Apple digs in and fights, the pain Trump can inflict - whether through tariffs in the still unresolved China trade war, despite today's Phase One signing, or in some other form - will undoubtedly hurt the company's bottom line, and by consequence, its stockholders.
So who does Cook choose to fight for?
It's not an unpredictable predicament for a company that takes an oath to serve different stakeholders, each with different interests. But I doubt Apple is thrilled to be taking the lead in settling this emerging debate. The last time Apple was under pressure to unlock a mass shooter's iPhone, in 2016, the standoff was resolved by a third-party company whose tech got the job done. Tim Cook may not get so lucky this time and his, and the Apple board's conduct, will say a lot about how serious these pledges of corporate responsibility really are.
Time to monetize some Zs
If the future of capitalism is too weighty a topic for you this early in the year, perhaps you'd prefer the comfort of a cozy business like mattresses. Lucky for you, Casper filed its paperwork to go public last week, and hinted at a variety of future products for its slumbering customers.
But as Troy Wolverton writes, all is not well in the sleep economy. It turns out that selling mattresses online has one big drawback: Customers don't know if they like the feel of the mattress until it arrives at their doorstep. And for something as personal as a mattress (as Casper helpfully points out in its S-1, people spend more time sleeping than any other single activity in their lives), an uncomfortable product is a deal breaker.
The situation is so serious that as of September Casper had a special reserve "cushion" of $11.6 million on hand for customer returns. For a company that only had $54.6 million of cash on its balance sheet at that point, that's not a trivial sum.
That's not to say Casper's business is in trouble. A lot of people, particularly millennials (and my parents), are big fans of the company's buzzy bedding. As we get closer to the IPO, we'll be digging deeper into Casper's efforts to monetize your Zs. In the meantime, enjoy this amazing chart from Casper's IPO prospectus:
Read the full story here:
Casper, the buzzy mattress seller adored by millennials, has a costly returns problem that could be a nightmare for its IPO
It's a no code world after all...
In case you needed any more evidence of the popularity of low-code/no-code tools, Google's acquisition of AppSheet this week should make it clear that this is one of the hottest areas in tech right now.
Appsheet is among the new class of tools that allow companies to create apps without having to keep an engineering department on the payroll. We highlighted another standout in this field last year when we included the founders of Airtable among BI's 100 People Transforming Business.
As Paayal Zaveri writes, the trend to no-code/low-code is being driven by an increasingly automated world and a shortage of developers. Some industry estimates predict the market will be worth $52 billion by 2024.
Microsoft is well positioned for this landscape, thanks to its little known Power Platform product line, Paayal writes. So too are public companies like SmartSheet, and a slew of specialized startups which may find themselves fielding a lot inbound acquisition interest this year.
Read the full story here:
A shortage of developers is going to lead to a boom in tools that help make simple apps without coding, and Microsoft stands to benefit, analyst says
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