Apple, the social enterprise

Today’s Apple press conference had an unusual start. The company usually starts by releasing a few vanity numbers — iOS devices sold, apps in the App Store, iOS adoption rate, etc. But today was different. Apple spent around a third of the keynote talking about privacy, the environment, and ResearchKit and CareKit. The message is clear — Apple is the good guy.

In corporate social responsibility, social enterprises are for-profit companies that reinvest their profit to fulfill a mission that is tangentially related to the business world. Apple is far from a social enterprise, as it is making billions in profits every year.

And yet, Apple doesn’t have to reinvest a fraction of its profits in things like ResearchKit.

These three missions come at the right time for Apple. Many people don’t know if they should side with Apple or with the FBI in the iPhone unlocking case. It might be the reason why the company spent so much time on these issues instead of announcing new iPhones and iPads from the very beginning.

So, is it a marketing play or does Apple really believe in these missions? This question isn’t really important because Apple’s efforts could have a real effect on medical research, privacy and good recycling programs.

In the end, everyone is better off. I wish more companies would take these issues more seriously and openly talk about them. Sure, Apple is one of the biggest companies in the world. It’s easier to care about these problems if your business is doing well. But these issues could affect the bottom line of many companies, not just the most profitable ones.

I remember a time when Greenpeace criticized Apple for using hazardous materials and not communicating on its environmental strategy. In less than 10 years, Apple has become an open book when it comes to the environment and is now topping the charts of Greenpeace’s own environmental studies.

As for privacy, Apple has made tiny steps over the years. First, Apple designed FaceTime as an encrypted communication protocol. iMessage followed suite, and, before you knew it, all iPhones running iOS 8 or later were encrypted. In less than six years, Apple has become a leading example when it comes to privacy, and tech companies are now siding with Apple.

By comparison, ResearchKit is quite new. Introduced last year, the framework lets medical researchers create studies in very little time and take advantage of all the special sensors in the iPhone and Apple Watch. Imagine the impact ResearchKit could have in five or 10 years.

You can like Apple’s products or hate them, but it’s hard to attack Apple for these missions. Apple is setting a new standard when it comes to giving back, and I hope other companies are taking notes.