It turns out Apple has an answer to this question: 514,000 in the US. 304,000 of those are either jobs at Apple or at companies that supply them. Another 210,000 are iOS app economy jobs but let’s face it, those aren’t likely to be full time.
So what are we to make of this? The Wall Street Journal asked me and we had a good long conversation that apparently got distilled down to this:
Joshua Gans, a professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto, says the new job estimates are fairly meaningless because it is impossible to assign responsibility for service sector jobs to specific companies. “You have to take it all with a grain of salt,” he says.
Yes, I agree it is hard but I said quite a bit more . Specifically, analysis could give us a clue as to Apple’s impact.
Here is how I thought about it. Strictly speaking if Apple were wiped from history, most of those people would still have jobs but somewhere else and, by revealed preference, not as good jobs. So from that perspective, Apple are massively overstating their job creation. But this is because the definition of job creation is fairly meaningless.
But stepping back what Apple are claiming is that their innovations have generated new products that have created or supported those jobs. From that perspective, however, (especially with the qualifier of “support”), 514,000 is a massive understatement. Consider the iPhone. That has spurred new activity. For one, it forced AT&T to dramatically upgrade its network. That likely changed many people’s jobs. Then it caused competitors like Google, Microsoft and Motorola (focussing on the US) to increase investments in R&D and their own manufacturing in order to compete with Apple. One suspects that once you take that into account, then the US jobs that can be somewhat attributed to Apple innovation are much higher than what Apple have claimed.
[Update: Mark Thoma weighs in at CBS.com.]