Apple Evangelism: Enough Already!

by Chris Seibold Apr 10, 2008

Nathaniel was an undeniably sweet kid. At the age of three his teachers often opined that Nathaniel didn't have a mean bone in his body but also confided that they were worried that he wouldn't ever take up for himself. No one wants to see someone full of naivety and genuine goodwill picked on by other kids so Nathaniel's parents naturally worried. They supervised a lot of playtime and kept him away from kids they deemed to be mean or overly rambunctious.

One spring day the family attended a party. One of those work related affairs where the boss springs for an inflatable moonwalk play area to keep the children occupied while the spouses pretend to know each other and work related gossip flows more freely than the Bud Light from the coffin sized cooler. A moment of inattentiveness left Nathaniel unsupervised with a larger older boy in the moonwalk enclosure. What happened next is not entirely clear but the witnesses indicate that there was some unpleasantness and that the boys were "working it out." Realizing that everyone takes a beating eventually the still worried father stuck his head in the tent expecting to say: "Get off my kid." Instead, he was treated to the sight of his child, the meek kid, astride the back of the other child. The older kid was on his belly, his arm bent behind his back and trapped under Nathaniel's knee. In mixed martial arts this is known as the "Oh crap I better tap out position." Since most kids don't know what tapping out means, the back five-year-old's head was getting a continuous peppering of three year old fists. No one worried about Nathaniel after that.

The story about Nathaniel is broadly analogous to the story of Apple. For those that remember there was a time, roughly 15 years ago, where Apple was oscillating between bankruptcy and buyout on a daily basis. For true Apple fans these were the dark years. Evangelism was felt to be the solution, the reasoning being that if only people knew the truth things would get better.

Apple fans went on a crusade. If someone misspoke when referencing an Apple product the loyalists were there with corrections on the end of a sword. Correcting errors wasn't enough, should someone publicly note that maybe OS 8 or 9 might lack in certain areas the outrage machine ratcheted up a gear. And woe to anyone who averred that XP might actually be better than OS 9, statements like caused a world of grief. Anyone daring to say such a thing was obviously a Microsoft shill. A shill of a vile, monopoly abusing company that owed its very existence to the GUI it ripped off from Apple.

The arguments of Mac fans made sense at the time they were made. They may have been full of logic so twisted it would make the Bush administration blush but people were desperately trying to hold on to something they loved and, just as importantly, something they had invested a ton of cash in.

When Applites went ballistic in the old days the wider world saw the behavior as endearingly, if some times annoyingly, quirky. The angst ridden rants were understandable after all. Picking on Apple was like picking on Nathaniel. It was a sweet company incapable of actually hurting anyone. Why point out that burning a CD while trying to browse the web was an exercise in futility? Let the Apple users draw their pretty pictures and talk up their incredibly overpriced hardware, the company wasn't threatening anyone else after all.

Times change and, much like Nathaniel, Apple proved the company didn't need constant stewarding. Apple used the same method as Nathaniel, while the company was smaller than rivals it was faster. It attacked where companies didn't expect it to and won the battles it chose to compete in. Microsoft has tried every gimmick under the sun to get the iPod monkey off its back (plays for sure, its own music store, the Zune, the Zune nano or whatever the thing is called) and nothing is working. Dell has resorted to trying to make stylish computers and the list of iPhone knock offs grows everyday. More black rectangles, Oh Yeah!

Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery and looking at all the imitators around Apple should be very flattered. But in the business world imitation doesn't just mean product envy, it also means bottom line envy so every attempt to out Apple at being Apple doesn't just mean that the product is impressive, it also means that Apple is raking in dough where the imitators aren't.

Of course, every analogy fails at some point and this one is no different. When Nathaniel finally got around to fighting back his parents stopped worried about a bully taking advantage of him and started worrying where the mean streak came from. When Apple came back, and rest assured the company is back and more powerful than ever, Apple fans didn't stop dishing out the abuse to those who dared to disparage Apple.

Consider the case of Leander Kahney. Leander Kahney wrote How Apple Got Everything Right By Doing Everything Wrong and was subsequently savaged by the excellent John Gruber and later merely ravaged by the also excellent Hadley Stern. Leander's crime against Applemanity? He said Apple was evil. Well at least that was the take of Messrs Stern and Gruber. But a closer look at what Leander actually wrote is in order:

"It's ironic, then, that one of the Valley's most successful companies ignored all of these tenets. Google and Apple may have a friendly relationship - Google CEO Eric Schmidt sits on Apple's board, after all - but by Google's definition, Apple is irredeemably evil, behaving more like an old-fashioned industrial titan than a different-thinking business of the future."

That is quite a distance from actually saying Apple is the pure evil in the toaster at the end of Time Bandits. If you take Apple and evil out of the situation and put it more mundane terms the same statement suddenly doesn't seem so damning. An example might look like this:

Manute Bol considers anyone under 6' 10" short. By Manute's definition Michael Jordan is short.

So Leander wasn't actually calling Apple evil, it was more a remark on the current state as the "proper" way to run a company in silicon valley. It really isn't really any great slight, more of reinforcement of the notion that Apple does things differently and that companies can be successful with out following the obvious trends.

The discussion of Apple's model via Google's model and prospects for long term success is an interesting one but not a topic brought up by Hadley or John. They are long time Apple people so it isn't too surprising that they went with the literal reading and felt the need to excoriate Leander. Here it must be noted that Gruber's and Stern's reaction aren't isolated but rather indicative of the wider Apple community. The question is why? Apple is clearly able to fight its own battles but users still feel the need to defend the company as though it is some precious chick wondering blithely through a fox infested field.

Chalk it up to force of habit or failure to realize just how powerful Apple has become but these kind of rants defending Apple aren't really helping. In the dark days of Apple these kinds of vehement protest assured people that there were still Apple loyalists and hence a market for software and other peripherals. Now all the complaints do is make Apple fans look like voyeuristic violence aficionados who would just as soon see another company fail as Apple succeed. It is forgiveable to watch your kid or favorite company and try to protect it from threats when it's in a weakened position. But when loyalists keep taking up for Apple after the battle for legitimacy has been won it doesn't make Apple appear stronger, it makes people wonder what the outcry is all about.

On the one hand people are telling everyone how great Macs are but their actions are speaking much more loudly and telling the wider world that there is something they are secretly afraid of. Is the take away message that for all of the billions Apple has in the bank, all of the goodwill the company has built up over the years it is still teetering on the edge of oblivion waiting for a single magazine article to tip the company into the abyss? Because that is what comes across to the casual reader. That is obviously not the intention of the writers but that is the common perception. Perhaps the situation is best illustrated by an ancient Mac joke:

Q: What is the one thing Windows users can do that Mac users can't?
A: Shut the hell up.

Leander Kahney isn't the only one who has noted that Apple goes against the grain and wins in the end. This addled brained mouth breather reached the same general conclusion a few months earlier.




  • Absolutely awesome article, Chris!

    And right on the mark too. One look at the comments on digg stories relating to Apple (and sometimes even not) and you can clearly see the point you’re trying to make. It’s not the little Apple anymore and empathising with the company is not like defending David from Goliath, like it used to be.

    I wasn’t around when Apple was wallowing in the pits and on the brink of bankruptcy, so I don’t know what it was like at the time and what people’s perceptions were of the company and its followers. However, it’s easy to see that the rampant fanboyish attitude in the Mac community and their inability to “shut the hell up” is only harming the company (or, at least, the community itself).

    Aayush Arya had this to say on Apr 10, 2008 Posts: 36
  • Thanks Aayush! If you missed the “olden days” you missed some interesting times. Somewhere out there I suspect there are still people clinging to OS 9 as the last real mac ever!

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Apr 10, 2008 Posts: 354
  • Excellent article, Chris, and also well-said, Aayush.  The fact is that little Nathaniel is now a full-grown bully.  It’s one thing to evangelize an underdog, but the sight of the fanboys reveling in the iPod and iPhone’s dominance is just pathetic, like when the nerd grows up and finally gets a taste of revenge and then just turns mean.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 11, 2008 Posts: 2220
  • Very interesting, and insightful, article Chris. And while I don’t agree with Beeblebrox that Apple and little Nathaniel are now kicking sand in people’s faces in the sandbox, Apple does sometimes flex it’s muscle in surprisingly unpleasant ways. But compared to its so-called fan-boys, Apple Inc is tame. The blogosphere is filled with “vehement protest” (well phrased!) from the defenders of the faith. I love my Mac, and struggle to imagine switching back to Windows, but some of the comments I read (from both sides of the fan-boy fence) would be funny if they weren’t so earnest and, well, nasty. Sometimes they would indeed be better to shut up and let the Apple defend itself in the best way it can - making great products that other companies then strive to emulate.

    oz-nom had this to say on Apr 11, 2008 Posts: 13
  • Chris, it’s great to have you back. Your writing is better than ever.

    do agree with this article, of course; however, I do think the evangelistic crusade has lost many of its foot soldiers. Its generals, like Gruber, are finding less and less men standing behind them wanting to fight every little battle to to last breath.

    Proof of this lies in the response to this article. A couple of years ago there’d be a massive response, with most respondents also debating whether the author should be boiled or roasted.

    So, although the generals are still calling “charge!”, no one much seems to be charging with them.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Apr 11, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • Great to see your back to manual labor, err, Blogging again brah.

    Tanner Godarzi had this to say on Apr 11, 2008 Posts: 70
  • Q: What is the one thing Windows users can do that Mac users can’t?
    A: Squash Bugs…Daily.

    Hah! Good to have you back, CS! wink

    Robomac had this to say on Apr 12, 2008 Posts: 846
  • Thanks for all the comments, I appreciate them.
    I think you might be on to something Chris, perhaps the apple community isn’t as lock step as it used to be…

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Apr 12, 2008 Posts: 354
  • and I think that’s because it has been swamped by non-evangelists coming over for iPods and iPhones, and then picking up Macs.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Apr 12, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • You mean OS 9 isn’t the last real Mac ever?

    I miss the old days of plentiful and cheap software and everything was new.  OS 9?  Not so much.  I booted my old tower in it a few months back, (it runs X usually) poked around a few minutes, clicked on the wrong thing, and it crashed.  Like a Pavlovian bell, I remembered everything that came with 9.  (Was Windows really any worse or archaic in the infinite ad nauseam details we must remember to get things to work?)  What exactly was being “evangelized,” fewer flat tires than the other guy!

    Remember how much more time we had when we were less productive in OS 9?  The rat-race wins by making us wait or by making us hurry.  The best definition of a computer I ever heard is that is is a “mistake amplifier.”  It’s not the tool, it’s the hand that uses it that matters.

    Steve Consilvio had this to say on Apr 13, 2008 Posts: 47
  • So, I know it is a little late for this comment…. But I just want to point out that the people who react to negative Apple comment with hostility would probably fall more under the category of a fanboy or fanatic. An Apple evangelist wouldn’t really react that way.

    I would consider myself to be an Apple evangelist, because I have faith, belief, and love for the company. I will continue to support Apple and try my best to persuade people to buy Apple products. If someone has something negative to say about Apple, that is fine, they are entitled to their opinions.

    I can’t count how many times I have been told that me and my MacBook Pro are pretentious. I say they are just jealous!!!!

    rlm61985 had this to say on Sep 08, 2010 Posts: 1
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