I know of a number my friends who might be inclined to take umbrage at a frank portrayal of my views on the Apple company and some of the people who patronize its products. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not at odds with these people over it. In fact I have friendships with a number of people who would probably call themselves “Apple people”. But on the whole there is a certain attitude embodied in the Apple persona – a certain air of superiority and snobbishness which I find almost insufferable.
Now you may well be thinking, “David, take it easy! It’s just a computer.” Well, yes, I suppose it is. But then, that’s just my point. It IS only a computer. So why is it such a source of immense self satisfaction among people who buy expensive coffee and are too hip to shop at Wal-Mart or eat at the Golden Arches? It seems that the Apple is the ubiquitous symbol of obnoxious affluence in technology.
And Apple is restrictive toward the customer. In fact they’ve been that way for a long time. And while they are now experiencing a period of ascendancy, they still hold far less market share than they once did as the foremost pioneer in the new field of graphical user interfaces and as harbinger to the novel idea of individually owned computers. It is primarily because of these restrictive and proprietary policies that Apple lost much of that market share to an upstart programmer named William (Bill) Gates. In point of fact, Gates copied heavily from Apple’s revolutionary idea of using “windows” to display programs in an easy to use format. Perhaps, if Apple hadn’t tried to leverage their dominance in the market by making their equipment incompatible with competitors, things might have turned out differently. But as it was, they were riding for a fall, “and the rest”, as they say, “is history”.
Now you’d think that Apple would have learned its lesson after that, but they didn’t. The company is proceeding in the same way that it always has, producing products with genuine brilliance and selling them to people willing to “drink the Cool-Aid”. Recently some of Apple’s biggest successes have been outside the realm of the traditional computer. The iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad have each generated entire genres that are re-shaping the face of consumer electronics. It was the iPod that started everything. At a time when the idea of an MP3 player was still fresh with wonder, Apple offered unprecedented capacity and called it the iPod. And it was beautiful… well, almost. Only trouble was, those pesky music pirates forced Apple to go to a proprietary music format that, wouldn’t you know it, couldn’t be played on non-apple devices. But that was okay because Apple was right there to sell music to the faithful over iTunes. Then too, there was the fact that one couldn’t transfer one’s own music off of an iPod. It doesn’t matter if you own the computer, the iPod, and the music, letting users move their tunes around was just too permissive for Apple’s taste. Of course after that there was the much anticipated iPhone. It was an instant hit with its great big touch screen and flashy apps. The popular iPad followed building on the same technology. And they were perfect… mostly. Except that their were a few rebellious souls who didn’t like being forced to use AT&T’s pedantic data network. These heretics subjected their phones to a process called “jail-breaking” whereby they gave themselves the dangerous freedom to choose other cell phone service providers besides the one that Steve Jobs, in his infinite wisdom, had chosen for them. Well, the customer may always be right, but enough is enough. So Apple got lawyers and pumped out a new software update that completely and permanently disabled the phones of the unbelievers. The latter has come to be known as “bricking” since it essentially turns an iPhone into an expensive brick. In response to complaints from customers who’s phones had been “bricked”, an Apple spokeswoman coolly suggested that they simply buy new iPhones. Since that time, Apple has bowed to public pressure and allowed other cellular providers to distribute the iPhone, but the rebellion continues. You see, un-hacked iPhones will only use software that comes from the Apple app store. Apple keeps a tight grip on the app store, vetting every single app before it can be sold to the end user. For this service, Apple requires a cut of every app sale whether they created the software or not. Some users got the idea into their heads that after they bought an iPhone it was theirs to do with as they pleased. And so the battle continues between Apple’s programmers and rebellious geeks of the online community. Along the same lines, Apple has been inflating the price of e-books for use on their iPads. It’s very simple. If publishers want to have their books on Apple products, (and they do), they’ll have to sell them at exorbitant prices, not just on Apple devices, but every place else they market them. (Last time I checked, somebody was bringing a long overdue legal action over this point.)
And yet, the Apple faithful remain to this day. If they mind being told how to use their products, they certainly haven’t showed it. And as surely as a new model of iGadget rolls out, they will make the pilgrimage to their local Apple store to drop staggering amounts of money for, shiny, stylish, and completely identical technological fashion statements.
Corporate attitude is every bit as bad. One can’t help but notice how immensely pleased with themselves the people of Apple are every time they make a new gadget. Banners herald that “this changes everything”. In fact “everything” has been changed so many times that I can’t keep track of it. So it’s possible that the fruity few from Cupertino could be overestimating their importance in relation to the cosmos. Each new iPhone or iPad is the best iPhone or iPad ever made. All of them are magical and so profoundly beautiful that the people in the advertisements seem to palpably grapple with the gravitas of what they’ve done as they struggle to find the words to express their awe at the device they have given to the world.
Disgusting as it may be, the Apple attitude isn’t going anywhere. It’s what makes Apple more than just expensive hardware in a shiny case, and it’s why I’ll probably never buy one.