Apple Zealots: Fact or Fiction?

by Chris Seibold Nov 08, 2006

When the days begin to shorten and the clock is arbitrarily manipulated you can be sre that the most popular thing in East Tennessee is Volunteer Football. Sports Talk show ratings fly through the roof and the orange found on trees entering winter’s sleep is solidly shouted down by a mass of orange shirts and hats. It comes as no surprise that along with the support comes a fair amount of zealotry. There are fans convinced that there has never been a football game played by the Vols where the refs weren’t actively and consciously helping the opposition win. Other fans are simply never satisfied, the national championship season was a disappointment because there were too many close games.

In football fanaticism is expected, even encouraged, fans buy shirts and tickets after all. In the world of computers, zealotry seems a bit out of place. Computers are not athletes who make public utterances one can empathize with. Computers don’t travel the state talking to large groups of fans in an attempt to build support for next year’s donation goals. Indeed, computers are just a conglomeration of silicon, screens and electrical components that a corporation will put together and sell you for a fee. It is the classic business model.

While the rabid evangelizing might seem out of place when waxing poetic on an inanimate, the reality is that Mac zealotry is alive and well. A cursory examination makes one wonder why there is such a large number of vocal pro Mac people. Apple is more than a little responsible for this mindset, during the dark years the company felt the need to counter what it saw as a coordinated campaign to scare people away from Macs. To fight mass media misconceptions Apple rehired Guy Kawasaki. Guy turned out to be the computer world’s version of James Carville and stayed on top of every FUD eruption and offhand statement that could possibly be interpreted in a negative manner.

The dire straits Apple was in when the Evangelist was being published has now turned into lush green fields where the major crop is the iPod and people crowd around the privacy fence trying to a glimpse of what new varieties Apple is attempting to cultivate. But the iPod isn’t the only thing growing for Apple, the fields devoted to the once lowly Mac have suddenly sprung forth with renewed productivity. Looking at the Apple landscape today one is hard pressed to come up with a legitimate reason Apple needs evangelists to spread the message, Apple seems to be getting the message out fine on its own.

Still, Apple zealots persist and one is forced to wonder what effect they are having. The easiest conclusion to reach is that the exhortations of the faithful can’t hurt, that they are like a cherry on a chocolate sundae, not strictly necessary but far from a bad thing. Just because something seems readily apparent doesn’t mean it is reflective of reality. Some argue, often persuasively, that fervent Mac community is actually hurting Apple.

Commonly this argument arises when individuals feel put off by what they regard as unchecked fanaticism and smugness in Mac fans certainty about the inherent superiority of their choice in computing. For example, if one were to opine that maybe, just maybe a bare bones Windows based machine is substantially cheaper than a Mac and well suited for the average user, they will subsequently be bombarded by arguments that the Mac is actually a better value. Sure, you’ll have to factor in what you get for the money and that will be followed up with reasoning that indicates that even for the most mundane of tasks the Mac is still superior. Were the person to allow that the computer was only going to be used as a doorstop they’d get an earful about how the Mac was still superior because of aesthetic considerations. Those kind of “Mac is always better is every situation no matter what” contentions do get annoying after a time so it is likely the case that few users are out off by the zealous among us. Still, it is equally likely that the net effect on sales is still positive.

On the other hand if powerful industry types are put off by Mac fanaticism, that is a more dangerous thing indeed. Which brings us to Adobe. Recently Mac fans have been castigating Adobe for perceived slowness in bringing native versions of Photoshop et al to market.* An Adobe manager responded with:

Maybe I should, but as a die-hard Mac user I feel like someone has to speak a little truth to the Mac community–or rather, to that vocal little group of zealots and forum trolls. So here’s my message for those folks: You’re hurting the Mac platform. You’re hurting the Mac community. You need to crush a little aluminum foil against those antennae of yours, because you’re hurting everyone concerned. You’re making it harder (and less appealing) for people of goodwill to make the effort to support the Mac.

By now the message is clearer than an artic sunrise (which one assumes would be renowned for its clarity if only people lived at the North Pole): it is time for the zealots to crank their iPod Hi Fi to max volume and shut their collective pie holes. After all, if the zealotry is doing no good and actually angering key software developers, why waste the energy? A sound conclusion given the arguments presented but, as we are about to see, an erroneous one.

The argument is predicated on the fact, taken as a given without critical examination, that Apple zealotry is some how anomalous. The idea being that people don’t get bent out of shape and go all crazy about brands of hamburgers or soft drinks. That notion simply isn’t true. Whether it is an integral part of the human psyche or a symptom of capitalism isn’t clear but any product purchased that costs a substantial amount of money causes a non-trivial level of zealotry in individuals.

Nothing illustrates the notion of frivolous zealotry more aptly than the Honda Pilot/Toyota Highlander debate. To the uninitiated both vehicles seem like large station wagons or mini vans for guys who refuse to drive a minivan. Certainly nothing to get people foaming at the mouth, right? Wrong. The debate over which hunk of glass, plastic and metal is superior rages with a fury usually reserved for politics. If you read the forums for a few days (not recommended) you’ll begin wondering if everyone arguing is independently wealthy because all the seem to do is talk about a couple of overpriced, too large, station wagons.

With that in mind we turn our attention back to the Apple zealots. Why do they seem so prominent, why has everyone run across and Apple zealot while the Pilot/Highlander war to end all wars is relatively unnoticed? The answer is simple on a moments reflection. Those interested in tech are the ones most likely to have opinions, strong ones, about platform choice. In essence, by surfing to sites like Digg, Macitt and Apple Matters you are placing yourself in the area most likely to contain Apple zealots. If you’re an Adobe manager chances are a lot of the stuff you pay attention to is oriented towards graphic designers, a group which relies on the Mac in disproportionate numbers. In the end, it isn’t so much that Apple zealotry runs rampant it, is more a question of where on hangs out. The whole thing is akin to attending a NASCAR race and being surprised that the place has some people who really like Chevys.

* It must be noted that Adobe is being blamed in no small part because Apple completed the transition ahead of schedule. If there were still Macs waiting to go Intel no one would be whining.


  • (off-topic) Quote: “if only people lived at the North Pole”

    What about Santa Claus and his helpers?

    Why are you looking at me that way? What do you mean, there is something you need to tell me?

    planetmike had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 23
  • There is a difference between fandom and zealotry that is often confused here.

    If you get your Apple tattoo or shave logos into your hair, then there is a high probability that you are beyond fandom.

    However, around here, the brand of “zealot” seems to be hurled around like proverbial monkey feces.

    As in:

    You’re a satisified Apple customer? You must be a zealot!

    You like the Mighty Mouse?  You’re a zealot!

    You disagree with me?  You’re a zealot!

    Basically, you’re a zealot if you have anything positive to say about an Apple product, just because someone else disagrees with your assessment. Even when one has made statements here contrary to a “zealot” opinion (like disliking the Mighty Mouse, or desiring better video options on the MacMini or BTO iMac), one is *still* branded a zealot.

    As for the Adobe manager, well, clearly he’s frustrated that his team is getting a bunch of flack while they’re trying to get out a new version…

    But are the bitchy-whiners actually zealots? Wouldn’t a “zealot” be perfectly satisfied with Photoshop on Rosetta?  : )  I say this tongue in cheek, but I think there are a numerous different types of rabid people on the Internet, whether you’re talking about computers, cars or football.

    There are lots of malcontents who just like to bitch and moan or start flame wars on forums who may be fans, but aren’t exactly “evangelists”.

    I think there is a clear distinction between fans, malcontents, zealots and evangelists, but the lines are blurred by people who don’t recognize the difference between users who want more for their platform of choice versus the bitchy assholes.

    To lump everybody together as a “zealot” is a convenient out for journalists and bloggers…

    Same as saying the coastals states are Blue (Dems) and the interior is Red (GOP) when the reality is that the demographic breakdown in those states whether “Red” or “Blue” is often closer to 55%/45% or even 49%/51%... But that’s not as sensationalist as reporting a state (or region) as being fully Red/Blue.

    It’s easy to get a reaction writing an article about “Mac Zealotry” when the reality is that real, unthinking zealotry is actually pretty rare, even amongst Apple fans—they just happen to get the most press.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 243
  • However, around here, the brand of “zealot” seems to be hurled around like proverbial monkey feces.

    I agree with this absolutely.

    Also, in my experience most of the interaction between PC and Mac users on sites like Digg takes the form of zealotry from both sides. Example, the comment from 20 Useful OS X Tips by MacsR4Newbs:

    Thanks for this article.
    Now I can see how crappy and limited the Mac OS is.

    It’s a very rare thing on the internet to encounter *anyone at all* who has a genuine, rational interest in the other side. It seems the people who do have these genuine interests, for instance the windows users considering switching to Mac we all probably know lots of, just don’t use the internet to inform their discussion. And very wise they are.

    In fact, when you compare what Mac users say about Macs with what Windows users say about Macs, I think Windows users are often more irrational about them, because they are less informed. I’d even go do far as to say that they’re more irrational about this than most Mac users are about Windows.

    Benji had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 927
  • I’m clearly a “zealot” for saying so, though.

    Benji had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 927
  • Wow… Um, playing on all three fences at the same time I’ll say Macs are better if not the best computer and OS combo in the world at this time. That being said, I’ll convert anyone I can to the Mac platform in the easiest way I know how, let them use mine (at least one of them). I also run PC-BSD on my x86 non-Mac machines. These used to run Windows but after all the years of dealing with problems and getting tired of running IT on over 100 clients systems then to come home and do it again on my own??? Am I a Zealot? SURE! There’s an Apple sticker on the back of my SUV. My kid’s first word was Apple (the fruit however but it was on an iMac).

    You’ll find the same issues with anything people have passion for. Goto a sports bar on Sunday afternoon and yell Steelers Suck… Prepare to be bounced out of the bar by someone or some group. Alot of people take there passions to the extreme and that makes life a little more interesting. It’s when Passion traverses to hatred of all other things not in the Passion that tends to hurt.

    Will I tell someone to buy a Mac because Windows sucks? No, at least not outright. But when they complain about all the problems there having and I know they won’t have them on the Mac then I suggest they look into it or just buy a used one and try it. With so many advantages to owning one and few against it.

    Anyone who’s lost valuable digital items like baby pictures, calls support and is told tough luck you should have backed it up and were sorry the update crashed your system… Well to them I say I’m with you, SWITCH!

    For a company to come out and say there products aren’t shipping as Universal because people have passion, well I don’t use Adobe now and if that really is what there saying I won’t in the future either. Will Ford come out at a Nascar event and say were not gonna build Fusions and Five-Hundres anymore because you people painted in Blue ovals yelling Chevy sucks are hurting us in someway we can’t rationally explain? Think about it. You never hear a sports team state they lost because of the fans, or because of fans were gonna sell the team… Whatever example suits you…

    Zealot out.

    xwiredtva had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 172
  • Points to xwiredtva for actually admitting he’s a zealot, while completely (and not surprisingly) missing the Adobe manager’s point.  But of course he missed it.  He’s a zealot.

    In my mind, what makes a zealot is not simply having a passion for Apple products.  I think we’re all fans of something - even sometimes unhealthily so.  It’s the unwavering brand-loyalty and the double-standards that irritate me the most.  Defending Apple’s monopoly and anti-competitive practices (or denying they exist) while attacking MS for same.  Defending Apple’s ripping off of third-party software/hardware (or denying that they ever have) while attacking EVERYONE else for ripping off Apple.  Changing one’s view on whether “more features” is a good thing or bad depending solely on whether or not an Apple product has more features than the competition.  Etcetera.

    And I think the idea that the so-called Windows zealots (as if there could be such a thing) are just as bad or worse is preposterous.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • I think Adobe would be more worried if there was silence or indifference to the release of a UB version of Photoshop

    I think his point, or at least one point, is that diehard Mac user loyalty begins and ends with the Mac.  A small but vocal group has argued or advocated for an Apple-branded alternative to Photoshop that they think exists or could be developed.

    Apple already chastened Adobe somewhat with FCP by pushing Premiere completely off the Mac platform, and to some extent with Aperture.  Mac users have shown that they will abandon third-party software in a second.

    What he’s suggesting is that by encouraging Apple to compete with third-party developers directly with their own brand of software, they are discouraging developers from creating great software for the Mac.  And that’s a legitimate concern.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • I stand and applaud Mr Seibold.

    It surprises me that anyone who’s a regular reader of Apple Matters could deny the existence of Mac Zealots.

    Have a look at the response to the top article on AM. So many flames for daring to suggest that OS X could take ideas from Windows.

    This is the life of a writer about Apple. Write all the nice stories you like, but dare question anything Apple does, or any of its products, and out they come, flaming away.

    Ironically, no matter what article I’ve written raising issues, I’ve also had Apple fans agree. Yet that doesn’t stop the zealots attacking.

    Looking at Apple’s built-in dictionary “A zealot exhibits not only extreme devotion but vehement activity in support of a cause or goal”, it’s clear why Mac Zealots are so called.

    And Beeb? Yeah he’s the biggest zealot I’ve met in my life! Obviously not for the Mac platform. His zealousy is for trying to get Mac Zealots to not be.

    Although, often I think he picks fights not with zealots (by the above definition) but just with folks who are a bit one-eyed, which then stirs them up making them sound like zealots.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • the idea that the so-called Windows zealots (as if there could be such a thing) are just as bad or worse

    No, the idea is that “so-called” Windows zealots are more irrational, i.e. less *informed of the platform they criticise*, when they talk about the Mac, than Mac zealots are when they talk about Windows. It stands to reason, because pretty much every Mac zealot has spent considerable time using Windows, and very few Windows zealots I’ve encountered have spent any time at all using OS X.

    The ones that have, I find, are generally of the view that OS X is impressive, but wish it could run it on generic hardware.


    Why Beeblebrox do you make windows zealots “so-called” and Mac zealots not? It makes it look as if you think there are no windows zealots at all.

    Perhaps what I’m calling windows zealots are actually anti-mac zealots. After all, as you seem to agree, it would be hard to be a windows zealot. Somewhat like trying to be friend with dog faeces. I kid.

    Benji had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 927
  • Why Beeblebrox do you make windows zealots “so-called” and Mac zealots not?

    You answered your own question, and it’s because Mac zealots argue simultaneously that no one could ever love Windows, and yet that there are Windows zealots.

    I think anti-Mac zealots is a more accurate description.  But while I agree that anti-Mac bigots argue from a place of ignorance, I’d say that anti-Windows bigots argue from a place of dishonesty.  And both are guilty of FUD.

    After all, as you seem to agree, it would be hard to be a windows zealot.

    I was being tongue-in-cheek in deference to this belief by Mac zealots.  Frankly, I find it hard to believe there are zealots for a consumer product of any kind.  It’s all kind of unhinged brainwashing by corporate propaganda.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • So are there no windows zealots at all?


    Benji had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 927
  • So your point of view in summary relies on the distinction between “windows zealots” and “anti-mac zealots” to maintain that mac zealots are uniquely pernicious.

    But no doubt you would not agree that “mac zealots” are in fact better described as “anti-windows zealots” as it would not suit your point of view to assert that technically there are no, or very few, mac zealots in existence.

    Please excuse the fact that I’m don’t give you the benefit of the doubt. Giving and getting and all that.

    Benji had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 927
  • NB: I reckon most zealotry is at least as motivated by the opposition as what’s being defended.

    Benji had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 927
  • So are there no windows zealots at all?

    I don’t know.  I must admit I’ve never met an unhinged PRO-Windows zealot, who would argue as vehemently as a Mac zealot that Windows is superior in every way, would defend the Windows monopoly as a result of a superior product instead of anti-competitive practices, and who would turn around and argue that the iPod monopoly is ill-gotten, that the Zune or PFS DRM is innocuous while the iPod DRM is intrusive, etc.

    Maybe they exist.  You tell me.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Macglee, amazingly enough, I pretty much agree with everything you say in #13.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 2220
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