Apple is currently one of the biggest companies in the world, with a line of popular products that have a major influence on industry trends. And yet there are some analysts and tech pundits who see the company as being only seconds away from bankruptcy… unless Tim Cook wises up and puts them in charge. I’ve been using Macs since 1989, and there has never been a shortage of professional writers who troll Apple in their stories. Why?
1. It’s their job. I don’t mean it’s their job to hate Apple (though some seem to have made a career of it). I mean it’s their job as writers to pull in readers. Article popularity isn’t measured in accuracy, it’s measured in page hits, and writing about a big company with popular products is going to be of interest to a lot of people. Which brings us to point two.
2. There are two audiences for Apple hate. If you write an article explaining why Apple has finally blown it, with underpowered hardware that users will hate, or has sold out its once-high ideals in the quest for market domination, you’re going to catch the attention of not one, but two built-in audiences: Apple fans and Apple haters.
Apple haters have been around since there’s been Apple. For whatever reason, the tech world is rife with this kind of tribalism or sports mentality. The idea that my system (Apple, Microsoft, Google) is at war with your system (iPhone, Android, Playstation) and that in the end, one superior system (mine) will crush the inferior one (yours). This was the song being sung when Microsoft was poised to wipe out Apple at any time in the ’90s (Apple was too expensive or underpowered) and now that they’re on top, only the words have changed (Android is more “Open,” developers will switch to Android-first in the “next six months”). Now, I’ll grant you that Apple products aren’t for everyone, and some people use Windows, Linux, or Android simply because they like the OS better or just plain don’t care about computer systems. But there’s also a group of people who hate Apple with a passion. And passionate people will not only click on a link, they’ll tell everyone they know about it.
Which means that on the other side, Apple fans will link to an article trashing the company to point out how stupid the writer is, especially after they’ve been proven wrong months or years later. But again, since the intention of the writer is not to be right, but to gather hits, this does not dissuade them from writing these articles. This just gives tech articles, which usually have a usefulness of about a week, a second life.
3. Apple is, well, Apple. Apple is unlike any other company. They came back from irrelevance to dominate an industry. Their products are revolutionary. They are obsessed with secrecy. They do not announce anything until it’s finished and available for purchase. They make harsh decisions about what software can and cannot work with their systems.
All of which brings us to the new word used to describe Apple: “arrogant” (when I was growing up, it was “beleaguered”). You cannot read about any decision that Apple has made without someone calling it an example of how arrogant Apple is, and how much disdain they have for their customers. If you want to see how much Apple hates their customers, go to a Best Buy to buy anything, then go to an Apple store. Tell me which experience was more pleasant. Apple regularly tops customer satisfaction surveys. These are not the attributes of a company that wants to put the screws to its users.
What Apple does hate, however, are rumors. They don’t want anyone to know about their products until they’re finished, and they get to unveil them in a manner of their choosing. This is the opposite of most companies, who are out flogging their latest prototype a year or more before they’re finished in hopes of drumming up interest among buyers and developers, because when you’re making hardware for Android or Windows, you’re also competing against every other hardware manufacturer doing the same thing.
Apple limits access to their products before release.
4. Nobody ever got fired for being wrong about Apple. There is no penalty for being wrong about Apple. Pundits do not get fired, people do not lose their job as market analysts, and apart from those “Ha ha, weren’t these people stupid” roundups, no one really cares if you got it wrong. People don’t go to a fortune teller to find out about the future, they go to be told what they want to hear.
Does anyone really care whether the iPhone 5 had NFC in it? Who is really affected if analysts predicted that Apple would sell 10 million iPhones the first weekend and it only sold 5? If you’re not a programmer, are you really affected by “open” software? Who’s weeping over the death of Mobile Flash?
All of these issues dominated tech headlines, but ultimately, who cares? Again, this gets into the sports mentality I mentioned earlier. Predictions about who will win the championship are debated with the importance of life-or-death decisions, but when the season is over one set of fans has bragging rights (briefly) and the other teams can start saying “this is our year.”
People who are into tech see our gadget choices as an extension of our personality. I bought an iPhone so I believe “X.” I would never buy an iPhone therefore I’m superior because “Y.” That these are minor variations on the same device that all have to interoperate to a large degree is lost in the shouting. And that’s the hook that pundits use to get us to click on an incendiary headline.
I’ve spent more than half my life using Apple products. I used them in the Bad Old Days when the company really was in trouble of going out of business, where the OS was great but the hardware was iffy and software was hard to come by. I believe that the company has prospered not because they’re arrogant but because they’ve learned not to be arrogant: to bite the bullet and make decisions that make the product better (switching to Intel processors, not supporting Mobile Flash) for consumers who don’t care about programming, but want an appliance that “just works.”
But I also recognize that the reason why any flavor of Windows is baffling to me is because I’ve been using Macs for so long that the Windows way of doing things is like a weird dialect of the same language. This becomes especially clear to me when I’m trying to walk a less tech-savvy friend through fixing something in OS X, and I realize just how many steps can be involved. It’s not that the language is clearer, it’s that I grew up learning the irregular verbs.
I also recognize that to a certain degree, I’m guilty of trolling other systems in the same way others do Apple. If Microsoft still won’t let anyone handle a Slate tablet, or announce the price, I’ll link to that. If there’s a flaw in certain Android phones that can cause them to be wiped simply by clicking on a hyperlink, I’ll tweet it. If Blackberry announces the number of tablets shipped as the number sold, I’ll point that out with glee. But I also like to think that if Apple screws up (usually something to do with App store approvals, which are still wonky as heck), I’ll bring that up too.
I’m not telling you to stop feeding the trolls by giving them what trolls always want, billy goats publicity, just keep in mind that like professional sports, it’s all meant in fun, and a couple of companies run by billionaires isn’t really a reflection of you.