I have been writing recently about the overall philosophy of Apple and how it has a purpose in making its products that other tech companies don’t have. While most of the feedback to these articles has been overwhelmingly positive, a few people have trotted out the perpetual “Apple fanboy” argument. The argument, in its most basic form, is that anyone that praises Apple is merely a “fanboy,” an unthinking automaton that parrots Apple’s talking points and mindlessly defends every single thing it does. This argument has been around for decades, going all the way back to the Apple v. IBM days of the 1980s.
The perniciousness of the argument is the fact is contains a tinge of truth. People that have invested their time (and money) into Apple products are of course going to have some type of bias, even if it’s subconscious. Humans are, by our very nature, biased in most areas of our lives. We instinctively defend our various factions, from political parties to sports teams to the technology companies we support. Yet, while there is a level of bias in the Apple community at large, I think the critics greatly overstate the degree of that bias.
The fact is, the Apple community is usually the first to point out when Apple makes a mistake. Just read some of the criticism from loyal Apple users over the inadequacies of iCloud, or Apple Maps, or iOS 7. When Apple fails at its mission of making great products, the people who care the most are the Apple users. They don’t blindly accept anything Apple throws its logo on, despite what critics may think. Instead, they are the ones pushing Apple to continue its high level of excellence and get upset when Apple fails at that mission.1
This is where I think many people have a major misconception about Apple. When I wrote that Apple has a singular focus on making revolutionary great products that delight people, that doesn’t mean I think every Apple product lives up to that standard. Always striving for greatness is not the same as always achieving greatness. Apple is still only a corporation made up of people – not an omnipotent God. A thousand different things can get in the way of it reaching its ultimate goals and living up to its philosophy of excellence. However, the goal is still there, and Apple is always striving for that goal, even if sometimes other factors get in the way.
I’ll be the first to point out when Apple missteps and veers away from its ultimate philosophy, and I think most so-called “fanboys” are the same way. We’re not lemmings, following Apple over the cliff on every product and holding our tongue. While we may give Apple the benefit of the doubt on certain things, we still expect that it lives up to the standard it has set over the years.
However, if Apple is being unfairly criticized for a bogus reason, the fanboys will of course go on the defense. You see this all the time when there are articles saying that Apple is doomed because it is only making 6.9 billion dollars in profits or that Windows tablets will destroy the iPad market. The Apple community will tear into these articles because they are usually based on bad facts or assumptions and many times are simply trying to be provocative to get page views. These are valid areas in which to defend Apple, as opposed to mindlessly defending it in all circumstances.
In some ways I think people in the Apple community should embrace the “fanboy” term, but try to change its connotations.2 Right now it connotes an unthinking follower who will defend Apple no matter what, even when it makes major mistakes. However, to me, an Apple fanboy is someone who follows Apple and promotes its philosophy of making revolutionary great products that delight. While they will defend Apple against unfounded criticism, they will also be first in line to criticize Apple when it doesn’t live up to its philosophy.
That is a true Apple fanboy.
1. The prime example of a pundit who obviously loves Apple, yet will still give biting criticism whenever it fails to achieve greatness is John Siracusa. His former podcast Hypercritical described itself as, “A weekly talk show ruminating on exactly what is wrong in the world of Apple and related technologies and businesses. Nothing is so perfect that it can’t be complained about.” ↩
2. Jim Dalrymple attempted to redefine the term Apple fanboy a few years ago as “[s]omeone who is tired of technology being difficult and knows there is something better; someone that loves to get the job done instead of working on their machine; a person that isn’t afraid of breaking the status quo; someone that appreciates quality design and workmanship; a person that realizes cheapest isn’t always best.”↩