Apple's biggest problem is a marketing problem

Technically Incorrect: In its fight with the FBI, Apple has to persuade the public to care about something it's not shown much inclination to care about before.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Can he make us feel strongly about encryption?

James Martin/CNET

Caring is hard.

We go around claiming we do it. We even say we care about others on occasion.

Inside, though, there's often a little voice that tells us otherwise.

It focuses us on our immediate needs, as opposed to those that might affect us in the long-term future, or even in a few hours.

And as for caring about others, involving ourselves in their well-being -- well, we're good at pretending, especially those of us who live in the Bay Area.

Apple has long been the master of emotional involvement. It's got us to care about computers and phones when once they seemed like just utilitarian machines.

Now, however, it faces a far bigger task to get us to care. It wants us to care about encryption.

Tim Cook, the company's CEO, knew that a fight over privacy was coming. He knew that, at some point, an arm of government would demand that Apple get its best Home Depot engineering team together to build a backdoor into its products.

Last year, Cook already began to make pronouncements about Apple being the one company whose products were truly secure.

He insisted that Apple wasn't interested in your personal data at all.

He pointed fingers at the likes of Google and Facebook for being, in his view, more cavalier about your personal information.

The FBI decided, for its own reasons, to pick a fight with Apple over an iPhone 5C issued to one of the San Bernardino, California, terrorists by his government employer.

Apple fought a court order to hack the phone by creating a new version of iOS software that allowed the government thousands of chances to guess the phone's password.

The company claims that once the hack has been created, it could fall into the wrong hands. Moreover, the backdoor could be used for many other, non-terrorist cases.

Cook has one problem with his passionate stance: us.

We, the humans, aren't sure we care enough about all this. In surveys, not even half favor Cupertino in its battle. (Independent voters side more with Apple.)

But how many of these people care about it enough on a daily basis? There's no concrete evidence that people really care about security at all.

The proactive measures we take to keep our gadgets secure are often minimal.

We were only too happy when Google came along to allow it and other email providers to scan our every written word just so they could send us "better" ads.

We were only too reluctant to bother about privacy controls on Facebook. Even now, we think we know how they work -- when we remember to do something about them, that is.

All we seem interested in is something for nothing. That's the way we are.

Facebook and Google were only too happy to deal with us on this basis. They gave us easy, efficient platforms to connect with other people, sometimes even people we actually knew.

The something we gave up was any true semblance that the words we wrote on the gadgets we used would remain private.

All this coincided nicely with our yearning to "share" ever more about ourselves. How tempting it became to tell people about the music we were listening to, the vacations we were taking, the restaurants we were visiting and the escalopes we were eating.

Now Cook must find a way to get us all to care about the possibility that the government -- or others -- might creep into our most personal elements.

But we've lived with that fear for a while. And we've ignored it.

Our retailers get hacked and we only get annoyed if we're directly affected.

Our banks get hacked and we hope that our account still has our money in it.

When Apple became refuseniks, some freedom organizations went on the march. But the reaction of most people bordered on indifference.

Donald Trump incites mass protests. Encryption does not.

So Apple's greatest task now is to get the mass of humanity to care about the security of their phones.

This is, sadly, akin to getting people to care about insurance. We do something about it when our neighbors are involved in a car accident. The rest of the time, we resent how much it costs.

At heart, we think it's all a little too complicated. We don't like complicated. It's too difficult. After all, we like Apple's brand because it represents the ultimate in stylish simplicity.

So Apple, a company whose marketing has always been able to act upon consumers' emotions, now must find a way to get people to feel strongly about something that they've disregarded for many years.

That will take a lot of different thinking.

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