(Adds comments, details on Adobe, Google)
Rancho Palos Verdes, California: Apple Inc chief executive Steve Jobs finds “troubling” a string of worker deaths at Foxconn, the contract manufacturer that assembles the company’s iPhones and iPads, but said its factory in China “is not a sweatshop”.
Jobs was making his first public comments about apparent employees’ suicides at a complex operated by the unit of Hon Hai Precision Industry, which also counts Hewlett-Packard and Dell among its clients.
At this year’s D8, an annual gathering of A-list technology and media executives in California, Jobs sniped at Adobe Systems Inc’s. “waning” Flash technology, vowed not to get into a search battle with Google, and waxed lyrical about the future of tablet PCs.
Jobs also talked about how he conceived of the iPad even before the iPhone. Apple released the iPad in April and it has quickly defined the tablet computer market, selling more than 2 million units in the first 60 days.
But a string of deaths at Foxconn’s base in southern China, which critics blame on stressful working conditions, threatens to cast a shadow over the device’s success.
“It’s a difficult situation,” Jobs, dressed in his customary black turtleneck and jeans, said on stage. “We’re trying to understand right now, before we go in and say we know the solution.”
The iPad’s momentum has helped drive share gains.
Apple last week overtook long-time nemesis Microsoft to become the world’s largest technology company by market value — an event unthinkable a decade ago — and Apple’s shares have spent much of 2010 hitting new highs.
Shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple rose 1.5% on Tuesday to end at $260.8 on the Nasdaq.
“For those of us that have been in the industry a long time, it’s surreal. But it doesn’t matter very much, it’s not what’s important,” Jobs said. “It’s not what makes you come to work every morning.”
Jobs has appeared at the D8 event in previous years, but not since 2007. Much has changed for Apple — and its helmsman — in that period. A pancreatic cancer survivor, the company’s founder underwent a liver transplant a year ago.
Since returning from medical leave, the Apple CEO has been everywhere: posing for magazine profiles, responding personally to emails from customers, and lobbing verbal hand grenades in a high-profile spat with software maker Adobe.
Jobs got in a few more swipes on Tuesday, saying Adobe had to get its technology up to speed before he will consider its “Flash” technology for iPhones or iPads. Flash-based video and games are found on many Internet sites.
Hostility between Apple and Adobe has been brewing for months. Apple has criticized Flash as a buggy battery hog, while Adobe has accused Apple of exerting tyrannical control over developers creating programs for the iPhone and iPad.
“We didn’t start off to have a war with Flash or anything else. We just made a technical decision,” he said.
Adobe’s Flash multimedia technology allows video and interactive media on the Web.
Apple’s iPhone is still the standard-bearer in the smartphone market, but it faces growing competition particularly from handsets running Google’s Android platform.
Apple is widely expected to unveil its newest iPhone next Monday, when Jobs delivers his keynote address at its developers conference in San Francisco.
But the company’s ascendance has invited scrutiny and criticism. The US Justice Department is making preliminary inquiries into whether Apple unfairly dominates the digital music market through its iTunes store, sources say.