I love Apple products. But something has been troubling me…
People have been calling me and my kind Apple Fanboys for many years. Before that term was trendy they called us Apple fanatics. I used to resist these labels since from my point of view I was just reporting the obviousness between Macs and PCs. It wasn’t my fault Apple products were superior.
Anyway this isn’t about who’s better or who’s right . That’s old news. Apple is kicking butt these days and most of the anti-Apple people I’ve known have finally let go of their irrational embrace of a Windows PC-only paradigm, bought iPhones, iPods, iPads and iMacs and we can finally move on.
And my story starts there.
Because as any true Apple Fanboy will tell you, it feels oddly disorienting to see Apple kicking butt . Yeah, it’s what we fought for over the last quarter century, and yet now that we have arrived, the universe is out of balance, only perhaps not in the way you might expect…
The other day I was ordering a bound photo album I made in iPhoto. The fastest shipping option I saw was still going to take too long, so I went in search of a more expensive overnight shipping option. I didn’t find mention of such an option, so I called the Apple Web Store Support line – since they would know about shipping Apple’s products. The first sales person I talked to naturally sounded cool – like a “Mac”. When I asked if I could overnight the shipping of my iPhoto Album, after it was printed, the line went dead. I was on my iPhone so figured AT&T’s connection dropped. I called back on a landline and this time got another cool-sounding “Mac”. Once again I asked about paying more money for an overnight shipping option, and this time I think the “Mac” mumbled: “Oh we ble…” he trailed off unintelligibly and the line went dead again. This time it was clear – he hung up. In my ear. Mid-mumbled-sentance.
And that’s how I learned, or intuited rather, that buying Apple products online through iPhoto is unrelated to say, buying iPhoto itself.
Thus started my troubling, mulling and stewing. Obviously, I shouldn’t have taken being hung up on twice by Apple representatives personally. There is obviously a rational explanation. And yet I did take it personally.
“Made in California”
An important part of Apple’s brand is it’s personality, embodied by a slightly cooler than you, slightly smug, rather naturally stylish Californian called “Mac” (and this was true decades before any commercials featuring Justin Long were deployed). And if you’re Apple, you’d recognize it would undermine your brand personality if US consumers dialed the Apple Store and were directed to random, heavily-accented operators in India who sounded like they had been hired by the floor-full, to save a few bucks. No, you would hire considerably more expensive, self-entitled, young Californian-sounding American College Students and you would save the money back by issuing a punishable edict that directed all “Macs” (operators) to move through those calls as ungodly fast as possible – even if it meant outright hanging up in the ear of some dumb customer who didn’t figure out that the information vacuum surrounding Overnight Shipping for iPhoto Products meant Apple doesn’t do that. Click – “Sorry, application ‘telephone call’ unexpectedly quit”.
Apple has always had a little dog attitude. You know- the way a Jack Russell will act all self-important, and snarl and snap like he’s all that. He has to do that because he’s so small and powerless. Otherwise he would be eaten. That was Apple for it’s first 20 years. But like me, maybe you have wondered what you would do if your Jack Russell Freaky Friday’ed into the body of a Great Dane or a Rottweiler. There is no room in our civilization for such a vicious K9, and Animal Control would probably put it down.
Well Apple has grown. And by grown I mean it has inserted itself into the body of a Microsoft, a gigantic swath of the population with iPhones, iPods and now trailing, Mac computers. Apple is enjoying more users than ever before in its history. You might argue that in areas, Apple has become a big dog. The problem, and the reason I currently think I would prefer Google own the digital universe despite their utter lack of aesthetic sensibility, is that Apple still carries itself like a small dog. Utterly arrogant, overly aggressive; a little dictator.
It was cute when the company had no power, it was necessary, endearing even. But now that so many lives are intertwined with that personality, now that a virtual ecosystem has begun to build itself around the company and its behavior, Apple’s personality needs an adjustment; the arrogance, once an asset, has turned destructive.
Knights of the Apple Table
If you spend any time in the Apple Discussion boards you have come across a recurring comment convention. Some aspect of Apple’s service or products pisses a customer off and by way of expressing the injustice, the customer will start by listing, in detail, all the Apple products he has owned over so many years; a precious few can even assert that they owned the first Macintosh Computer in 1984. As if such credentials should entitle them to some premier frequent flier status.
I used to laugh at those people – how lame, I thought, this is a company – you just buy their products or you don’t. Apple doesn’t owe you any more than that. The number of products you willfully purchased is a meaningless datapoint with regard to the little issue you are upset about now.
…and yet… I have begun to understand why they felt that way. Why some of them intuitively felt that Apple owed them a little bit more, perhaps more than all these new, fair-weather, iPod-gateway, converts. Why being shuttled through the same long cues and dismissiveness, as everyone else felt unjust. And why, after some real soul-searching – I now sincerely feel that way too.
Apple does owe us. Some of us. For we are the loyal minority. The long-timers. The knights of the Apple table. They owe us because we were the kids who fought off the countless bullies on Apple’s behalf at a time that Apple was weakest. We were Apple’s first line of defense. The ones who tucked our precious Mac OS under our arms and carried it away from threat of disaster. We protected it.
We defended Apple’s honor against an inescapable and humiliating tidal wave of proof that Apple was the weakling of the personal computing party.
We fought these countless adversaries with the most valuable weapon of all:
Our own credibility. Because Apple carried so precious little then.
To keep the company alive – in effort of defending the unacknowledged rightness of Apple’s mission, we put our very faces and reputations on the line in defense of an ideal that had not managed to manifest a meaningful footprint. Apple was weak, it faltered, it was shrinking to toy-like proportions, so as far as anyone knew at the time our assertive actions were reckless, self-destructive and ultimately doomed. But through it all – we fanned the Apple embers tirelessly.
These were the darkest years. Seriously, Gil Amelio? Really? It took a level of courage and self-confidence to be an Apple supporter then.
My minuscule part in this legend was as the creative head of a highly-awarded Interactive firm at that time, and there was not one technologist, IT executive, or engineer who thought we should have a Mac in the shop. Like vultures they circled, “Apple is about to fold, Photoshop runs on Windows now, we need to move to PCs now”; it was their repeated and logical assertion. It became an IT mantra. And yet we fought. My business partner and I, against the obviousness, we fought. So my company bought more ugly beige boxes from Gil because “Damnit,” I said, “the OS is BETTER. And I believe in their rightness. They’ll come back.” Obviously I had no clue Apple could come back – just a deeply wishful belief in the justice of it all.
And I wasn’t the only one. There were more of us. A well-documented, miniscule percentage of the personal computing population – we evangelized, consistently, passionately, angrily even – to the near-death of our professional relationships.
Frequent i-er Program
Apple’s Steve Jobs died and was reborn to rule once more.
Could this have been possible had the believers ceased believing? I don’t think so. When I recall the relative viscousness of our fight, no, I don’t think so.
So I stand before you today, Apple, with the scars, and sacrifice that you survived long enough to rise to new power upon, and I ask you to remember. Not to forget us.
Maybe… maybe you do owe those few something after all? Those few who stayed with you from the 80s onward? It wouldn’t take much.
You could acknowledge our greater-than-mere-consumerism sacrifice by instituting a literal premier customer status that it takes years to acquire. A good friend of mine, had a simple suggestion: Lifetime Applecare.
Or maybe we just need you to grow up. Go the extra distance and show us all how such a great company – who survived thanks to a relative few fighting proponents – can mature gracefully. Lose the little dog attitude, and for Christ sake – respect your evangelists. Find out who you’re talking to before you treat them like annoyances. I know you think “Hey – this is awesome, look at all the new customers we have now!” But look more closely and you won’t see any evangelism in that body of new users. You’ll just see users. Uninvested users who follow trends. And that’s great, so long as you remain the trend.
Similarly, when you lose your loyal soldiers, the lifers – you’ll have another problem. A population of trained, outspoken digerati who know your strengths and weaknesses intimately and who share a new mission. Look at this post. It’s the inevitable byproduct of such a scenario. And a pretty mild one at this point.
Now that you are strong, it wouldn’t take a lot to get me back. But I… we, are not like the rest of your new customers.
We had an income in 1984. We bought every OS you have ever released and more hardware than some companies do.
The people who call us ‘Fanboys’, who lump us in with this iPod generation of trenders, totally miss the point.
We are not Fanboys.
We are the proud Apple Freemasons, and membership has been closed for a long time.
Apple Freemason Medals of Service
I started with a Macintosh Computer in 1985. I bought half a dozen beige boxes with names like Performa, LC, and Quadra. I bought a Duo. I bought the first iMac (bondi blue). And the second iMac (blueberry). I bought three Powerbooks. I bought the Cube. I loved my Cube. I bought another iMac (AV graphite). I bought two G3 towers(beige and blue), and two G4 towers. I bought several tube Monitors, and on the day it was available bought a 20″ flat Cinema Screen and then the 23″ Cinema Screen. I bought the first iBook. Naturally I bought the first G5 Tower, and then another faster G5. I bought two MacBooks (one white, one black), and I bought the first 30″ cinema screen (with the necessary video card upgrade). I bought an iSight webcam. I bought the first iPod with mechanical spinning click-wheel and surrounding buttons, the iPod with four red glowy buttons, The first iPod Mini, the first Nano (still the best iPod design), and the clip-on Shuffle. I bought the first iPhone, the iPhone 3G, the 3GS, and now 4. I bought the first Airport Base Station. The first Airport Extreme. Numerous Airport Express bricks. The new Airport Extreme 802.11n. And I bought a coveted AppleTV. I recently bought a spanking new Nehalem MacPro Tower. I bought a new 15″ MacBook Pro and an iPad.
I bought every Mac OS ever released. Every version of iLife and iWork. I bought Final Cut. I bought all manner of Apple adapter and cable and battery and mouse and keyboard in multiples. Apple, you kind of made me buy those adapters.
I have spent untally-able dollars at the iTunes Store on music, movies, TV shows, apps and books, as well as photobooks and cards through iPhoto (minus overnight shipping). I have been a dual-account holder of mac.com since it was launched (boasting Virex!), and maintain two Apple developer accounts.
I didn’t buy the iPod Hi-Fi. Sorry, that was the stupidest product I have ever seen. For a while I tried to pretend like I never saw it. So I guess I saved $349 there.
By my rough estimation, I have personally purchased well in excess of $70,000 of Apple products.
I additionally was directly responsible for ensuring that Apple products remained the dominant tools in my company of 550 people for the worst decade of Apple’s lifespan to date.
And this is just what I remember.
During the same period, I purchased maybe 4 versions of Microsoft Office.
You too? Welcome to the Apple Freemasons.