The lovefest known as the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference starts Monday. As with any such event that involves Apple announcing new products, the global outpouring of love will be matched by a rising outpouring of hate.
Some people hate Apple. Other people hate people who hate Apple. Many of these haters have turned pro, leading to a lucrative “hater industrial complex.”
I know, because I’ve been the target of hate from both sides. I’m on the hate list of both the most extreme anti-Apple haters and pro-Apple haters.
Passion in technology, flame-wars, fanboyism and its discontents are nothing new. But in the past couple of years, something new has happened: The loudest, most insistent hate is now coming from the anti-Apple crowd, rather than the pro-Apple people.
I’ll tell you why below.
Also, it needs to be said: Haters are rare. The vast majority of users — and the vast majority of bona fide fans — don’t fall into the “hater” category. But haters appear to be everywhere because they’re active and vocal, and their rants memorable.
But first, let’s understand once and for all who hates, how they hate, and why.
There’s No Hater Like a Pro-Apple Hater
For decades, the most vocal, active and vicious haters were Apple fans. Apple fanboyism used to be about computers, and Apple systems have always been in the minority.
The main rival and object of Apple-fan derision, Microsoft, Windows and Windows users, had the luxury of remaining more aloof in the platform wars because Windows’ dominance was so absolute, or appeared to be.
To the Apple fan, there was so much to mock and deride about Windows and its apologists that a market, of sorts, emerged for anti-Windows rants. As a result of this demand, a career path was born: The professional fanboy troll hater. Reading these obsessive, detailed and often apoplectic attack pieces became a kind of entertainment for Apple fans.
Professional pro-Apple trolls make their living seeking out criticism of Apple and Apple products, and nit-picking every word to death. A typical counter-argument will literally post an article sentence-by-sentence, with long-winded argument leveled against every word.
The trolls make their living with blogs and even otherwise respectable publications by pushing the facts to an extreme, and combining personal attacks with mockery to excite emotion in the reader.
The reason this works economically is that the emotion and controversy is a win-win. When they attack you, a non-response is a win for the troll. They win the argument by forfeiture. Their readers see the attack, but not the rebuttal. They encounter the object of that attack exclusively through the context set up by the troll, so even the criticized article is presented in a way that routes around objective judgement.
But if you defend yourself or attack them back, that’s an even bigger win for the troll, because it drives traffic to their sites and posts and helps them build their “brand” and name recognition.
This is the same dynamic that has fueled the rise in obnoxious political talk radio and cable TV, and has ruined political discourse in the United States. Hate-filled, personal attack rants have a better “meme” quality than reasoned discourse. So the haters win.
Another curious anomaly in the pro-Apple hater racket is that they operate on a blacklist system. Once you’ve crossed Apple in any way ever, you’re on the blacklist and can never get off. (Not coincidentally, this is the case with Apple itself. Ask any journalist who can’t get an invitation to any Apple event.)
For example, I wrote two columns critical of Apple — one in 2006 and another in 2007 — and these columns are still used as evidence as to why I’m an evil shill worthy of painful torture with dental instruments. They still come up in professional pro-Apple troll articles. And they come up in the comments in this blog, as an automatic way to invalidate any opinion I might have about anything.
I write an average of four columns a week, which means I’ve written more than one thousand articles since then, more than 200 of these about Apple specifically. No matter. I’m on the blacklist. I’m an evil person. Bad. Rotten. Horrible. I once criticized Apple.
In just a few years, my entry on the professional pro-Apple troll hater blacklist will exceed the lifespan of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie.
Sometimes I write things that are so pro-Apple and heavily talked about that the professional pro-Apple trolls are forced to acknowledge the existence of these articles. But they often do so in the context of the blacklist, saying things like my having the correct opinion was a “fluke” or “accidental.” Or they say my objectivity is evidence of dishonesty.
Pro-Apple haters are really like no other in both scope, magnitude and longevity. And they used to corner the market. But no more.
Rise of the Anti-Apple hater
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the late nineties, and led the company’s absolutely brilliant program for the transformation of content consumption (iPod and, later, iOS products), changing market conditions began a shift in the relationship between Apple, it’s fans and the hater industrial complex.
In a nutshell, Apple has evolved from “our” company to “everybody’s” company in the minds of Apple fanboys.
Yes, OS X systems are still a minority, with most computers in the world still running Windows. But focus has shifted from PCs to mobile, and in mobile, Apple is no underdog.
The iPhone in particular is a totally mainstream product. And the iPad invented and now dominates its category like no other product in the history of consumer electronics. So the edge has been taken off some of the pro-Apple hate. But it’s added something to the anti-Apple hate camp.
Why? Because if you believe (as the anti-Apple haters do) that Apple steals other people’s ideas, doesn’t invent anything, succeeds only through pretty hardware and manipulative marketing, then Apple’s success is undeserved — a wrong that must be set right.
Every news cycle brings with it more undeserved praise. Apple is the most valuable company in the world. Steve Jobs was the greatest CEO of the decade. iPhone makes more profit than all other phone makers combined. Judge sides with Apple in patent dispute.
These facts rankle anti-Apple haters like Windows’ success used to rankle Mac fans.
Three other reasons for the rise of anti-Apple hate start with “G” and end with “oogle.”
You would think that Google’s entry into the mobile platform business would drive more pro-Apple hate than anti-Apple hate, but you’d be wrong.
Android is in every way an alternative to iOS. First, Android phones and tablets are an alternative to iPhones and iPads at the point of purchase (unless you’re in an Apple store). Second, they’re theoretical opposites, with the iOS owned and controlled by the hardware maker, and Android an open system where hardware makers don’t even need to send Google an email before basing an entire product line around it.
Android has gathered some serious fans. No, not the I’m-familiar-with-it-and-therefore-it’s-good variety of fans that Windows engenders, but serious, passionate affinity of the kind that Apple motivates.
Needless to say, Android fans tend to really hate Apple and, by extension, Apple products, Apple users, Apple Stores, Apple ads, Apple everything.
Second, Apple is polarizing the community with its “thermonuclear war” against Google as a reaction against Android. Apple is dropping Google products one-by-one from shipping iOS devices. It’s working with Twitter and Facebook very closely to oppose Google+ and Google. Apple is suing every Google partner it can over mobile patents.
And, third, Google+, which isn’t even a year old yet, has emerged as a hotbed of Android love and iOS hate. If you can imagine the degree of Apple advocacy that would exist on an Apple-created alternative to Facebook, then you can imagine how the Google+ community talks about Android.
I post a lot of items on Google+ that praise or appear to praise Apple or Apple products in one way or another. As a result, I’ve been blocked, criticized, called a pathetic Apple fanboy. I’ve been accused of taking money from Apple for my opinions, and worse.
While many of my pro-Android posts go sailing straight to the Google+ “What’s Hot” list — essentially “voted up” by the community via Plus-ones, Shares and Comments — most of my pro-iOS posts tend to languish in obscurity, ignored or dismissed by the Google+ community.
Another contributor to the rise in anti-Apple hate is the decline and fall of Microsoft Windows. The operating system is still on top, theoretically. But two trends are hammering away at it. First, there’s a general shift from desktop computing, where Windows rules, to mobile computing, where iOS and Android rule.
Second, even on desktop and laptop computing, there’s a serious chipping away by Apple at Microsoft’s lead. Apple has been on the rise for years, and Microsoft on the decline.
This trend has freaked out some Windows fans, and cause them to step up their anti-Apple language online.
And finally, the Linux and open systems advocates have reason to attack Apple. With Apple’s rise and dominance of the mobile market, at least from a profits and revenue perspective if not from a market share one, the expected Open Systems Age of Aquarius that they believed in looks less and less likely every year. So they’re turning up the heat on Apple as well.
Why So Much Hate?
The thing to understand about the kind of hate Apple inspires, both in favor and against Apple, is that it’s not unique. The exact same phenomenon occurs in politics, religion and many other areas of human culture.
First and foremost, it’s about identity. Our computers, tablets and phones literally become part of us — our minds use them as peripheral memory, and we off-load processing to them from our brains. They see things, hear things and find things for us. They give us super-human powers of awareness, knowledge, communication and more.
Because we identify with these products, an attack on them can feel like an attack on us.
And as with politics or religion, one’s opinions are often inescapable within the context in which one views the world.
For example, there’s a strong correlation in politics between advocacy for gun control and whether one lives in an urban or rural area. To city slickers, guns represent criminality and violence. To country folks, they represent survival and protection. Not always, but usually. The point is that context determines and almost dictates your opinions about things.
Likewise, there are contexts for using consumer electronics. Some people view them as “computers,” boxes filled with technologies that function as all-purpose tool-boxes for the curious tinkerer. Others view them as “appliances” that are to be judged on the degree to which they “just work” without problems or glitches.
If your context for consumer electronics is the former, you’ll hate Apple. If the latter, you’ll love Apple. Not always, but usually.
The facts are so clear from within one’s context that anyone who denies them can only be 1) stupid; 2) evil; 3) corrupt; 4) gullible; or 5) all of the above.
These are categories for all pro-Apple and anti-Apple hater attacks. And they exist because combatants view consumer electronics in distinct contexts.
People tend to be blind to bad things they’re familiar with, but overly critical of bad things they’re less familiar with. This is the source of nationalism, for example.
Most people think their own country is better than others. Since all countries can’t be objectively “better” than all other countries, nationalism is only possible by the inflated importance of good things about your own country, and a diminished importance of the bad things.
As people explore their platforms of choice, over time they find themselves impressed and thrilled by this feature or that decision by the company that makes the product. When they encounter the opposite in a competing product, they feel compelled to lash out at the transgression. Meanwhile, people become accustomed to the frustrations and design flaws in the computing platforms they use every day. This creates bias.
There’s also a sense of injustice that drives hate.
Apple fans see injustice in competing products clearly copying the look and feel of Apple products, from phone interfaces to handset design to ultra-slim laptops to all-in-one PCs. They see injustice in the Windows monopoly. They see injustice in everyone copying the app store concept, and in Microsoft copying the Apple Store concept.
Apple haters see injustice in Apple’s runaway success. They see injustice in iPhones being more-or-less comparable with or inferior to many Android phones, yet Apple gets most of the mobile phone profits? They see injustice in Apple taking credit for introducing technologies that already existed in competitive products. And they see injustice in Apple being rewarded for what they see as a controlling model for apps.
Perceived injustice instills a sense of mission to right the wrongs. And this brings out the hate speech.
Another source of hatred on both sides is Apple’s history of powerful advertising, which polarizes.
One example: Apple’s “Think Different” campaign. (You know, “here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels”…) To Apple and Apple fans, the message of this campaign was “Apple products are designed for creativity, not just productivity.”
To people who had decided to use non-Apple system, the message was: “People who use Apple products are better and smarter people. People who don’t use Apple products are unsophisticated idiot goobers.” It felt like a personal attack.
Likewise with the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” campaign. Apple literally depicted what kind of person would use Windows, and what kind would use Mac. To pro-Apple fans, the ads highlighted in a funny way what they agreed were the flaws of Windows and PCs, and the benefits of Macs. But to non-Apple users, the message was clear: “Windows users are overweight, clueless, desperate, uncharismatic, unscrupulous, unattractive losers.” It made them wanna holler and they did, ergo: hate comments.
Stated another way, the history of Apple marketing has gone beyond a message that Apple products are better products. It conveyed that Apple people are better people.
Where’s the Love?
So where does the hate really come from? Ultimately, it comes from love.
Love and hate are not opposites. The opposite of love and hate is indifference.
You don’t see serious flame wars and hate around, say, the Symbian platform, or around companies like HP or Oracle. And that’s because nobody loves them. And if nobody loves them, nobody is going to hate them.
People love Apple products. People love Google products. And, yes, people even love Microsoft products. People also love Linux and open systems.
And all this love engenders passion. And passion drives hate. And that’s why Apple inspires so much hate.