The Anti-Fanboy Paradox

Business reporting shows a disturbing parallel with political reporting in its cults of personality and cults of entities, whether they might be corporations or parties.

One interesting case is Apple. Apple consciously manipulates the media as any corporation or politician does. Almost all of its success in the last 10 years have to do with intangibles added by its brand to what can probably often be reduced to a commodity product. Ironically, where this does not apply is to Apple’s actual Mac operating system which is objectively superior to its competitors on every level except the amount of software available to it. Mac OS is the bedrock of Apple’s brands, but it is relatively unpopular compared to the iPod and iPhone. Only approximately 5% of computers in use run Mac OS. (Despite that, Apple is one of the few profitable computer makers—on that level, Mac is a smashing succes.)

Apple’s success and the cult status of its CEO Steve Jobs have created a backlash in the tech press that is mostly driven by counter-propaganda from Apple’s competitors and their flacks. Yet it is this overtly biased coverage that makes Apple seem so powerful.

Today I read an article with an analyst claiming that the iPad’s launch was lukewarm. That analyst rewrote history saying that the iPhone’s initial introduction in 2007 was similarly seen as an initial failure. But compared to what? Compared to the astroturfing anti-fanboys, the iPhone would be an abortion. It was apparent that that was not the case in the first weekend of sales. Same with the iPad.

But the article’s tone is set by Apple “only” selling 300,000 iPads and “only” selling a million or so this quarter. Even by moving the goalposts this far, when Apple pulls it off or exceeds it, an Apple once again defies the skeptics, people will swoon even as Apple’s detractors will keep writing new attacks and putting their erroneous predictions of the past down the memory hole. All of this is largely because the moving goalposts are created by Apple’s competitors’ spin.

If they would shut up, or if the tech press would become less critical, Apple would not generate the buzz it does and they would probably get their wish as Apple goes through the corporate life cycle and becomes a staid massive iceberg that slowly bleeds to death, the way it started to before Steve Jobs’s return in 1996 and the way Microsoft is today.

One of the best current examples of this phenomenon is the meme that the iPhone doesn’t multitask. In reality, it does. Not only does it multitask in the technical sense of the term (the iPhone’s operating system is almost always running several processes), it multitasks in the debased sense of the term specifically invented to attack it: running multiple applications at once. You can talk on the phone and use any other application. You can use its iPod feature and use any other application. The reason the iPhone doesn’t “multitask” is that… it’s a phone. It does what it’s supposed to do and does a good enough job for millions of people. Allowing any program to run would create a potential for security problems, worse cellular issues that AT&T has already given it, and a battery drain. Just so that Apple can answer talking points generated by flacks and tech geeks who measure everything by who has the biggest…. stats.

The rumors are that the new iPhone OS will “multitask.” I doubt it. It may allow certain pre-approved third party apps to run in the background for a damn good reason. But I don’t think it will just anyone do that. This, complain the anti-fanboys, hinders developer creativity etc. and that’s why Google/Microsoft/Palm is better. Says you. People sure seem to like their iPhones.

This is a good example because it’s a lie and a distortion that the end user doesn’t give a shit about. It’s a geek thing. It’s meant to stir up developers who have already spent a lot of time learning how to program for other platforms and who want those other platforms to succeed. It’s also meant to justify the engineering decisions of other companies that only know how to make the biggest baddest fastest lastest spec machine even if the totality is shit. It’s why the Wii is so popular. It has shitty graphics. But it’s fun. It’s a game machine. It’s supposed to do more than look cool. It’s supposed to be fun.

Anyway, once the “multitasking” meme is rendered irrelevant, I imagine that we’ll see what’s next. They’d be smarter to just drop it and quit leaving people to wonder why Apple succeeds when all of the “in crowd” seems to think they should fail.

P.S. I have no intention of buying an iPad anytime soon.