Originally published in The Magazine, Issue 4.
I’ve noticed a very clear trend among tech sites I read: Android fans are unusually quick to fill the comment box with rage on articles that mention anything positive about Apple or its products. The reverse — Apple fans leaving angry comments on pro-Android articles — is almost completely absent from the sites I’ve seen, including sites like The Verge that have many readers in both camps.
Recently, I wrote about a mediocre experience at a Microsoft Store and my tepid impression of the Surface, and I saw the same effect coming from die-hard Microsoft fans responding via email and Twitter: not just counterarguments, but seemingly deep-seated anger.
The anger from Microsoft and Android fans at anything pro-Apple usually has undertones of disbelief and frustration, as if to say, “I can’t believe I have to say this again. Why don’t you get it? What’s wrong with you people?”
But I never see Microsoft fans attacking Android fans, or vice versa. And the rise of anti-Apple anger has risen dramatically as Apple has been so successful in recent years.
What is it about Apple and its success that makes people so angry?
The Apple attitude
Most people don’t care about technology choices as much as we do. Maybe they’re too busy to spend more than an hour choosing a phone. Maybe they just have other things they’d rather spend time thinking about.
They perform minimal research, they’re more swayed by prices and sales, and they’re more susceptible to being railroaded by retail salespeople. They get their gadget or computer home, start using it, and suffer mild to severe irritation with it for a few years until the cycle repeats.
Most of these people aren’t posting angry comments on The Verge.
Some of them once considered an Apple product. Some of them may have even asked around about it. And some of them might have asked one of us about, for instance, the iPhone.
And we told them, “It’s great! That phone you’re using now is a piece of crap. Go out right now and get an iPhone! It’s only $200.”
Some stopped at that point, quietly put off by the suggestion that they previously made a poor buying choice, and that they can and should casually drop a significant sum of money on a nonessential gadget that may require a more expensive monthly plan than their current phone.
Some actually went out and got an iPhone. It worked out well for most of them, but some hit snags. Maybe they wanted to play videos in a format that the iPhone doesn’t support. Maybe it didn’t interact properly with their corporate email or calendar server. Maybe their old phone had an important app or feature that isn’t available on the iPhone.
Apple’s products are opinionated. They say, “We know what’s best for you. Here it is. Oh, that thing you want to do? We won’t let you do that because it would suck. Trust us. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.”
“But I need that.”
“No, you don’t. Here, try this partial workaround or alternative solution instead. It Just Works!”
“I tried that. It didn’t work.”
“…It’ll probably be fixed in the next version. Maybe it’s because of iCloud. Oh, that’s weird. I’ve never seen that before. Try clearing everything out and starting over.”
Apple’s products say “no” a lot. No, you can’t have that hardware keyboard or removable battery. No, you can’t install that app. No, you can’t have that feature.
These are usually compromises to improve the products in other ways. But if that missing app or feature is important to you, it’s easy to be put off by Apple’s refusal to deliver it, especially since it’s done in such an opinionated manner, as if to say, “Not only do we not offer that, but nobody should need that.”
As Apple has grown, so has the number of people who have fallen on the wrong end of its opinionated product design. It leaves so many markets, features, and needs unaddressed that many users are effectively forced into alternatives.
And two alternatives offer to please everyone.
The wild Northwest
Android and Windows share a common selling point: they give users and manufacturers (and, for Android, cellular carriers) much more control over their platforms and devices than Apple would ever permit. When Apple’s choices or attitude show someone the door, a buyer usually ends up here.
Microsoft also has a huge advantage with Windows: a lot of people actually need the Windows versions of the Office suite, or other Windows-only applications, to do their jobs. Boot Camp, Parallels, and Fusion are clunky, complicated,1 and expensive2 solutions for people who need to run Windows apps. Those people should usually just buy Windows PCs.
And a good portion of geeks care strongly about areas in which Apple is less “open” than its competitors. Apple’s opinionated design restricts its customers, usually because Apple believes that the result of being more permissive would be worse overall, including increased risks of security exploits, malware, and manual system maintenance. Generally, Apple tries to protect users from complexity, side effects, and technical ugliness of their choices, but they’re also always looking out for Apple’s own interests first. It’s a benevolent dictatorship.
Where Apple says “You can’t do that because we think that would suck,” Microsoft and Android usually say, “You can do whatever you want, even if it sucks.” They give users more control with endless possibilities to create problems, and it’s up to the users to tolerate or fix any resulting problems themselves. Google and Microsoft are platform libertarians: you’re generally free to do much more, but you’re on your own when it breaks.
Our technology choices reflect our values. People willing to yield some control to Apple for their needs are more likely to enjoy the benefits that Apple’s products bring by exerting that control. But people who don’t like being told what to do — people who believe they know what’s best for them, want full control over everything, and are willing to accept the resulting responsibilities — will be more comfortable with the alternatives.
The philosophical differences between these approaches, and the frequent failure to understand both viewpoints, are the roots of anti-Apple anger.
As we see too often in politics, people fail to empathize with those with different needs or priorities than their own.
It’s much easier to get defensive and try to discredit the other side, which is at the root of “fanboy” accusations. Apple fans accuse Windows and Android users of being crass plebeians, and in turn are accused of being uncritical (“faithful”) sheep blinded by marketing and seeking status symbols.
The apparent asymmetry in angry comments is likely because the Apple-fan attitude of aloofness keeps most Apple fans away from dedicated Android and Windows sites and articles, whereas the anti-Apple attitude probably drives many people on that side to try to “rescue” or convince Apple fans that they’re blind or idiotic.
Apple’s recent success also exacerbates anti-Apple frustration. The computing industry clearly favored Windows’ libertarian-like policy for two decades as Apple languished and inexpensive Microsoft Windows PCs dominated the industry. But, in the last few years, the tides have shifted dramatically as PCs have lost some ground to Macs, and iOS and other “closed” smartphone and tablet platforms have succeeded. Nobody likes to think that their side is “losing,” especially after it was winning for so long.
But neither side is absolutely correct for everyone: just as there’s no universally correct political philosophy, users of every platform have good reasons to choose it.
The Windows and Android communities need to better understand why so many of us choose Apple, and the Apple community needs to better understand the large market of people who can’t or won’t.