Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is Apple the Evil Empire?

Is Apple Really Evil?
As an old Apple person - I mean old as in covering Apple from way back in the now dead-and-gone Apple trade publications like MacWEEK, I can answer this very simply. They are not a technology company, they are a religion. They are giving us "cool people's technology" and they charge a tithe - about a 10% premium over non-Apple products - where they compete - and much, much more - where they don't. They expect followers to pay in blood sacrifice to be the first in line and rarely apologize when they abuse them for doing so. Likewise, their followers never really complain.

Some people say Apple is a cult - and they certainly are. That is why no one can really compete with them because they don't understand what it means to be a cult: You have to be very good, very important - you have to die in public - and then come back to life. That describes Steve Jobs and with him, Apple. No one in their right mind asks for this role but if it is foist upon you and you thrive - ordinary mortals cannot compete against you.

Apple is just competing against ordinary, grubby mortals: number-crunching tech execs, power-mad entertainment execs, government flunkies and shabby lawyers. Apple almost always wins - or at least wins in the public relations arena.

However Apple is more than a cult because they are just as passionately loved by ordinary users as they are by the geeky priest class. That makes them a religion. Because of that, Apple could survive the passing of Jobs.

So if you think religion is evil, then Apple pretty much is evil. You want technology heaven? You follow their path. That's how religions work. At least Apple delivered us from the temptation of illegal downloading, the darkness of Crackberry, the demon of Vista and so on. Then they made a deal with the devil - AT&T. This is like the cool early Christians, some gnostic - most not - teaming up with the Roman Emperor, Constantine. He made them bigger, established and formidable but something got sacrificed with that.

What got sacrificed is just what people like Mahalo's Jason Calacanis is complaining about. The cool open web is now a closed garden. It is the formal church. Just as Constantine threw out the heretics who would not hew to the canon - you can't just do what you bloody well want on an iPhone. No Google Voice, says Jason. No porn. No unapproved apps. No holy spirit other than AT&T. In return, you pay your dues, confess at the genius bar over sins against machine and pray for the high holy days of new product releases.

That's the deal we make with regular belief systems and Apple will not change any more than your favorite religion will. At least not fundamentally. So if you are talking about competing with Apple then you'll need some religion of your own because you can't seriously do this by numbers, or by the book.

Look at Microsoft - they were never better than Apple - but they got richer because they were anointed by a higher Power a/k/a IBM which gave them the exclusivity of owning their operating system. (Watch out AT&T!)

So all those Google/Android/Palm Pre iPhone wannabes take heed. You can do OK against Apple by offering better features, better mobile carriers, lower prices and blah blah blah. But you can't win unless you're willing to be great, die and come back to life - in public. Or get a higher power to anoint you. Become the official phone of the Obama White House with one free call to the man. Or put yourself at the heartbeat of youth culture - say, by buying up every major record label and film company. Or better than that, finance their talent directly..... Or pay for every kid's online college education.....

Then maybe.
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