A sign for the iPhone 4S at an Apple Store in New York. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

Apple salesroom workers are paid less than their Tiffany & Co. counterparts, even as they may offload as much as $750,000 in merchandise on behalf of the multibillion-dollar company.

Even in light of the disparity between what they make and what they sell is a sense among Apple employees that working for Apple is not so much a job with long hours, loud crowds and a less-than-stellar paycheck — it is a calling.

David Segal of the New York Times writes:

If there is a secret to Apple’s sauce, this is it: The company ennobles employees. It understands that a lot of people will forgo money if they have a sense of higher purpose.

The picture Segal paints of Apple’s storefront workforce, as ennobled as it may be, is a bleak one born of early exclusivity — a time when there were fewer Apple stores than could be counted on one hand even as the company’s products were rising quickly in popularity.

This is not the first time Apple has come under scrutiny for labor-related issues. However, earlier reports have focused on the production workforce in China, particularly the Foxconn factories. And focus on Apple’s “secret sauce” has rested mostly on how the company’s products are made, not on who sells them.

The news comes less than a week after Microsoft announced Surface, a Windows-powered tablet that stands to compete directly with the iPad. In the meantime, Microsoft storefronts look eerily similar to Apple’s. Perhaps the paychecks of its retail workers may be a way to further distinguish itself, building an Apple-esque fan-boy culture all its own.

What do you think is more the secret to Apple’s success: the company’s ability to pay its retail sales force less than its counterparts at Tiffany’s or the nature of the products themselves — or perhaps both?

The interior of a Microsoft retail store in San Diego. (MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS)

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