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Millions of Strange Devotees and Fanatics

2014.10.11   prev     next

Sorry, Apple fanatics, but the new iPhones aren’t exceptional ... The weirdest thing to me about Apple, however, is this: To the company’s devotees, nothing I just wrote matters. At all. They know they’re paying a premium, they know there are other options, and they don’t care. ... I am once again on the outside looking in, feeling the way you feel deep down when you witness acts of devotion by adherents of another faith: you do your best to respect and find the beauty in it, but deep down, you just can’t escape the feeling that it’s all kind of strange. —Joel Silberman in The L.A. Times

SOME technology commentators, I have to suspect, suffer from an inability to reconcile what Apple was, with what it now is, and so they follow a tortured logic:

  1. In the 1980s and ’90s, Apple was a niche player in computing. The company was kept alive by a base of cult-like, not-particularly-rational, devoted fans.

  2. Today, Apple makes greater revenues and profits than any other tech company, by selling its products to tens of millions of customers every year.

  3. Therefore, today Apple must have tens of millions of irrational, cult-like fans.

In this line of thought, the irrationality of sticking with a niche computing platform year-after-year becomes a permanent characteristic of the company’s customer base, regardless of whether the original justification for identifying such irrationality still exists.

Now, could intelligent tech journalists really think this way? Very doubtful. More likely, it represents a form of wishful thinking, along the lines of, “If we can perpetuate Apple’s cult-like status from the ’80s and ’90s into the present and future, then maybe people will stop buying its products.” So the millions-of-cult-like-fans theory should be considered litmus-test indication that the speaker simply wants people to stop buying Apple’s products; i.e. that he has an ulterior dislike of the company. An anti-fan, if you will.

Here’s a small collection of examples from the past several years:

Matthew Lynn (2007): “To its many fans, Apple is more of a religious cult than a company. An iToaster that downloads music while toasting bread would probably get the same kind of worldwide attention.”

Jack Gold (2007): “So, will the iPhone succeed? At some level, yes, given the cachet that the Apple brand carries and the company’s base of loyal fans.”

Al Sacco (2008): “I can’t even walk down the street or ride the train without seeing an iPhone in the hands of some bubbly college girl or Apple fanboy. ... Enough is enough.”

Lucas Conley (2008): “No doubt this will incite the ire of the iCult, but once you’re done flooding the forums and flaming the messenger, let’s all just take a deep breath. ... The [Apple] brand’s true appeal comes from the fact that consumers are hooked on the hype.”

John Strand (2009): “How will psychologists describe the iPhone syndrome in the future? ... When we examine the iPhone users’ arguments defending the iPhone, it reminds us of the famous Stockholm Syndrome — a term that was invented by psychologists after a hostage drama in Stockholm. Here hostages reacted to the psychological pressure they were experiencing, by defending the people that had held them hostage for 6 days.”

Paul Thurrott (2010): “If [Apple’s] sales are down, just invent a ‘new product category.’ The lemmings will wait in line.”

Katherine Noyes (2010): “Apple may always have its share of fans among consumers who don’t mind living in its ‘walled garden,’ but there’s no way it can compete in the market as a whole with the diverse, compelling and powerful platform that is Android.”

Dennis Kneale (2010): “Apple’s legions of devotees should brace their hipster selves for an inevitable fall from grace.”

JR Raphael (2010): “Having spent some time using [mobile Flash] and seeing how it performs, I have to say: Stevie J. and his legions of followers couldn’t be more wrong.”

Katherine Noyes (2011): “Apple will always have a contingent of fanatics that support its every move. But with its current strategy, it can’t compete with the diverse and powerful platform that is Android.”

Paul Thurrott (2011): “There’s a long-running joke that Apple’s fans would buy anything the company sold, no matter the quality. But this past weekend, the joke became reality when the Cupertino consumer electronics giant sold 4 million units of a smartphone, the iPhone 4S, that even its most charitable supporters have described as an evolutionary update over its predecessor. ... Apple’s fans are more interested in spending money than they are with facts. ... That the lackluster iPhone 4S can sell so well in a market dominated by more capable Android handsets (not to mention Windows Phones) only bolsters that notion.”

Eric S. Raymond (2011): “It has been quite humorous watching the acolytes of the iPhone sink into deeper and deeper denial as Android blows through obstacles at ever-accelerating speed. It would require an epic poet, or perhaps a psychiatrist specializing in religious mania, to do full justice to this topic. ... Apple boosters assured us repeatedly that what consumers wanted was slick industrial design, iTunes, and the close, comforting embrace of the walled garden — not all that icky, chaotic openness and freedom and choice. [‘]They’ll pay extra to have Steve Jobs tell them what they really like!’ chorused the cultists.”

Kyle Smith (2011): “[Steve Jobs] was a spooky, weird control freak who cultivated not so much fans as thought-slaves.”

Karl Denninger (2012): “Apple formed its business case on single-source iron-fisted control over operating margin by having ‘the one’ that it stirred up an iFanboi brigade to support, using that to drive bargains that were good for Apple but terrible for everyone else.”

Eric S. Raymond (2012): “People who make excuses for or actively advocate closed-source OSs and network software (and yes, Apple/iOS fanboys, I’m looking at you) are not merely harmlessly misguided cultists. They are enemies of liberty — enablers and accomplices before the fact in vendor schemes to spy on you, control you, and imprison you. Treat them, and the vendors they worship, accordingly.”

Rick Aristotle Munarriz (2012): “What Were 15.4 Million Apple Fans Thinking? ... would it have hurt these 15.4 million new iPad 2 owners to wait a couple of months for either a better price on their own gadget or at the very least a chance to spend the same amount on something better? I’m not asking iPad buyers to ‘think different’ as much as ‘think,’ period.”

Paul Sagawa (2013): “By January, many of the Apple fanboys will already have their iPhone 5Ss and iPad Airs, and demand will hinge on new customers with less invested in the Apple brand and minds open to the raft of new Android powered products likely to hit the shelves.”

Zach Epstein (2013): “How far can fanboys carry Apple?”

Karl Denninger (2013): “To The iSheeple: Now You’re REALLY Stupid”

John Naughton (2013): “Poor Steve has gone to the great computer lab in the sky, but the church he founded endures.”

Yukari Kane (2014): “[Apple is] a cult built around a dead man.”

Dan Lyons (2014): “The Apple faithful ... have a cultlike devotion to the Apple brand and are notoriously averse to change.”

John Benjamin (2014): “The Apple mystique that drives people to spend their money on a newer, almost identical model, is beginning to make the consumers look irrational.”

Leonid Bershidsky (2014): “[Apple’s] products are cult objects made in heaven as far as its fans are concerned. ... to them, anything the company touches is sanctified ... Its devotees will believe anything ... The Apple cultists know they’re paying premium prices, and they love it. ... The brand’s loyalists want Apple to reap its rewards and enjoy profit leadership: Somewhat illogically, it reinforces their belief that they’re doing the right thing by overpaying.”

Rob Frankel (2014): “[Apple] can boast legions of rabid evangelists lining up at their retail stores to blindly purchase the latest versions of pointless technology.”

John Naughton (2014): “On Tuesday, the church of Apple held its annual convention in San Francisco. Legions of the faithful, carefully vetted, were assembled in a darkened auditorium. ... The entire event was recorded in the highest definition so that the faithful could catch some of the buzz from any corner of the globe ...”


Ongoing updates:

Marlow Stern (2014): “[T]he Tim Cook era ... has thus far been marked by middling products designed to pad the company’s bottom line while gouging their loyal — and dependent — fanbase.”

John C. Dvorak (2014): “I’m often wrong when it comes to Apple because I underestimate the blind admiration a large number of people have for the company.”

Dan Lyons (2015): “Apple might sell a lot of watches to the faithful, and no doubt the bozos will line up outside stores again just because they love to stand outside in lines. Look at me! I’m so techie!

Ben Wood (2015): “Honestly, if [Apple Watch] only told the time, it would sell millions; that’s how desirable Apple products are. The challenge for Apple is how do you drive demand after the first wave of the Apple fanboys who will buy it at any cost.”

Charles King (2015): “Apple may be the only smartphone maker with a customer fan base that is dedicated to the point of looneyness.”

John Naughton (2015): “Who are these people? ... They are, of course, members of the church of Apple, and they have gathered together in orderly lines in order to transfer large piles of folding money from their wallets and bank accounts into the coffers of said institution. And the trigger for this ceremony? The church has announced the Coming of the Watch.”

Paul Thurrott (2015): “Apple Watch is superfluous, an unnecessary accessory that literally no one needs. ... most fans of the company simply don’t care or are essentially pushing their fingers into their ears and going ‘na-na-na-na’ so they can’t hear the logic of the argument against their buying decisions.”

Bill Robinson (2015): “[Tim] Cook ... attempts to use a confusing plethora of numbers and statistics to further lock-in and bolt-down clueless Apple iOS-bots. ... Cook tells a bevy of wriggling whoppers to a laughing audience of Apple zombies about how much Android sucks.”

Erica Robles-Anderson (2015): “[Apple’s] a cult. Right? It’s so obviously a cult.”

Damon Beres (2015): “Apple’s updated batch of iPhones will hit shelves next week. They’re expected to sell like hotcakes, because they always do ... The tech giant ... could sell a potato coated in ‘rose gold’ if it wanted to ...”

Bryan Clark (2015): “What made Apple an iconic brand is gone. Steve Jobs is almost entirely responsible for Apple’s cult-like following. ... Apple culture became a cult of Jobs-worshipping consumers willing to buy anything with a lowercase ‘i’ in front of it.”

Matt Krantz (2015): “On its face, Apple’s news looks solid. Apple says it sold 13 million units of the new iPhone 6S to its faithful consumers ... Investors are realizing that Apple gets most of its profit from a product category — smartphones — that’s increasingly mature. Just about everyone who wants a smartphone has one — or two.”

Doug Criss (2015): “Apple’s debuted a battery case for the juice-sucking iPhone — an ungainly lumpy case the sheeple will happily shell out $99 for.”

Jason Perlow (2016): “What Apple has is its brand — and customer loyalty to that brand.”

Jason Perlow (2016): “The Chinese titans will battle it out, each one-upping each other until there are no margins to be had for the likes of Apple ... Apple will retain their extremely loyal customer base that will continue to buy their products because of the status it entails. But it won’t be able to expand its market, and eventually it will start to shrink. And that’s fine, because Apple always ends up moving on to do something else.”

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (2016): “Thanks to a friend who worships at the church of Apple, I’ve gotten my first look at Apple’s AirPods. They’re just as annoying as I’d expected. ... Apple wants to shear more money from its sheep.”

Vlad Savov (2016): “From a distance, today may look like any other early-September Apple event ... But look a little closer, and you’ll see some challenges that Apple hasn’t had to face before. They all relate to the fundamental issue of trust — something that Apple has enjoyed in unconditional form in the past, but will now have to justify and reinvigorate anew.”

Neil George (2017): “Apple’s fans and investors are like a cult, so enamored with the company that they don’t read behind the lines in the company’s earnings report.”

Shelly Palmer (2017): “On September 7, 2016, I stood on line for an hour to pick up my brand new iPhone 7 plus. ... I was still a blind faith follower of the cult of Apple. ... being one of the faithful means putting aside common sense.”

David Haigh (2017): “Apple has been living on borrowed time for several years by exploiting its accumulated brand equity. This underlines one of the many benefits of a strong brand, but Apple has finally taken it too far.”

Virginia Heffernan (2017): “Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone in January, 2007, before an adoring congregation, in his signature ‘Sermon on the Mount’ style. ... Ten years later, the phone has spread like Christianity.”

John Brandon (2017): “How much are we really willing to shell out for an iPhone? That’s the loyalty test Apple is expected to deliver during the iPhone 8 product launch ... Historically, we still shell out the big bucks. Apple says jump, and we jump.”

Jesus Diaz (2017): “iPhone X is just a shiny jar of candy, designed to be irresistible for fans that are hungry for the latest status symbol. ... Apple, like every other company, is here to make money. If that means [pointless new features] to get status-conscious superfans to line up at the Apple Store, who can blame Apple? Kudos to them.”

Alex Hudson (2017): “Thank you Apple for making it much easier to spot a*seholes ... there is a special type of a*sehole who forks out £160 for a pair of Air[P]ods. ... You have chosen to buy into the Apple culture not because the hardware or the software is better but because you’re making some sort of ‘statement’ about who you are. You’re an idiot and you have instantly identified yourself as a person who probably is not worth knowing and/or has some deep seated insecurity about being noticed. ... this makes you an a*sehole with too much money to waste on a terrible product just to look like you’re an Apple fanboy or fangirl. ... you’re desperate to tell everyone where you bought it from and for how much.”

Jay Kapoor (2017): “Undeterred by [Apple’s high] prices, like many of my fellow early adopters, I’m usually at the front of [the] line to receive communion at the Cathedral of Jobs, each and every year.”

Jason Perlow (2017): “Apple is a company that is known for its rabid, fiercely loyal customers. When it comes to computers and consumer electronics, they tend to buy nothing else. They are extremely vocal, and will not hesitate to tell anyone how much they love their products, and why you too should own them. ... Woe is the opinion editorial writer who either calls the company on its Reality Distortion Field (RDF) or criticizes the company about anything, even constructively. ... But I do completely understand unwavering loyalty to a brand. ... companies ... get particularly arrogant when they know their fans will accept just about anything they do and even defend their choices when everyone else is calling foul.”


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