As the hype machine for iPad availability revs up into overdrive (and, in some cases, tacks on afterburners), in a desperate effort to restore balance to the universe -- or, in some people's lives, what passes for a universe -- backlash against Apple increases to compensate. I'm thinking it's getting more than a little ridiculous to demonize a company because it's managed to succeed where others have failed.
I'm thinking it's time to stop the silliness.
Ever since Apple's return from the dead began about 13 years ago, it's become almost de rigeur to criticize it for being overly secretive, cultish, and obsessive. Apple-friendly consumers are dismissed as "fanboys" having drunk the Kool-Aid (a phrase Jerry Pournelle now probably wishes he'd never have coined). CEO Steve Jobs is accused of using his "Reality Distortion Field" to get customers to buy Apple products without asking so much as a single question.
Some opposition is well-deserved
I can appreciate where some of the opposition comes from. Apple is, after all, not the world's easiest company to deal with. It often seems to act in its own best interests and to the detriment of many of its stakeholders -- something iPhone developers appreciate all too well. Apple's behavior, as befits its position as the leading consumer electronics vendor of our time, isn't always as nice as it could be. Companies that choose to build their business models around Apple's platforms -- especially the iPhone/iPod touch/iPad -- must first come to terms with the cold reality that Apple may taketh away as quickly as it giveth. They know the risks going in, and they steel themselves for a rough ride as a result.
This is the price that stakeholders pay for being part of a vibrant market. If they want something a little warmer and fuzzier, I'm sure lesser islands of sanctuary like Nokia would be more than happy to coddle them a little. Unfortunately, all the coddling in the world won't ever make up for the fact that there's a lot more money to be made in Apple's App Store than Nokia's Ovi.
What I can't appreciate is the deep-rooted nastiness expressed by some who insist on remaining opposed to Apple's products or its way of doing business, on principle alone. To a certain degree, our complex allegiances to the tech companies that increasingly define the tools of our modern lives naturally lend themselves to polarized opinions and passionate clashes. In a simpler age, Chevy and Dodge aficionados would duke it out at the drag strip before declaring a victor, shaking hands, and going home. The tech industry, unfortunately, doesn't seem to shake hands much. More often than not, the high-spiritedness of the community tends to descend to mean-spiritedness almost as soon as the first article has been published.
Aside from being more than a little distasteful, the breakdown also clouds the core issues of whether or not a given product has value. We spend so much time flinging barbs back and forth that we forget that there may, perhaps, possibly, be something about the product that's worth appreciating.
It saddens me that a company can't succeed without being slammed for being successful. It saddens me that the industry as a whole can't seem to shake this knee-jerk, childlike behaviour. It saddens me that regular business folks, of the genus homo sapiens, observing us from behind the glass wall, conclude no one in the tech sector ever graduated beyond lame teenaged insults and put-downs. Sometimes I wish we could simply congratulate Apple for succeeding where others have failed, critique the company for its rough edges, and then move on.
The conspiracy to invent a conspiracy
So, to set the record straight, from where I sit, the media are not biased toward Apple. While there will always be those who lean one way or the other, there is no industry-wide conspiracy to paint Apple in a favorable light.
While I'm still on the conspiracy thing: No one has it in for wannabe-competitors, either. We'd all love to see countless worthy iPad competitors, and can't wait for other vendors to bring their offerings to market. The demand for something different has been obvious to us all since the very first tablet-like machines were demonstrated two decades ago. It's a category that's generated countless waves of unfulfilled hype since then, so forgive us all if we cut Apple some slack now that it has apparently cracked a very long-standing and stubborn nut. If it hadn't been Apple, the industry would still have gone a little giddy.
Detractors of all things Apple point to initial iPad sales figures as evidence that something is amiss. They claim supporters are manipulating the stats to depict Apple favorably. First off, no one cares about initial sales figures. They may fill editorial space on a slow news day, but they don't say much about a given device's long-term chances. Call me in three months and let me know how the thing is selling. Until then, trying to count a couple of days worth of sales is a patently useless exercise that proves nothing beyond the fact that some people have lots of free time on their hands.
Success makes you a target
In an age marked by endless waves of start-ups that are forgotten before anyone has a chance to remember them, the few companies that forge their own path to domination often become targets. In that regard, Apple is no different than IBM, Microsoft and, more recently, Google. If success is its own reward, it is also a prime motivator of the kind of mean-spiritedness that long ago might have been classified as sour grapes. It's high time we raised the level of discourse and rediscovered the basic principles every consumer values: Namely, does the product or service being discussed meet a given need at a given price at a given point in time? Does it do so more effectively than competing offerings? Will you buy it? Did you buy it?
Like it or not, Apple has taught itself well over the last 13 years. It reads consumers better than any other market competitor and, as a result, is able to generate levels of interest and buying activity that others can only dream about. It has learned to efficiently and effectively market itself, using processes that are rewriting the marketing zeitgeist. It succeeds where others have failed because it learns from the mistakes of others. Apple is the quintessential business success story, and we'd all do well to learn from its experience.
We'd all do well to learn from something, anyway.
Carmi Levy is a Canadian-based independent technology analyst and journalist still trying to live down his past life leading help desks and managing projects for large financial services organizations. He comments extensively in a wide range of media, and works closely with clients to help them leverage technology and social media tools and processes to drive their business.