Apple’s myth of what’s cool
Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 21:09
This month, there were two major product launches from two of the biggest technology companies in the world. However, only one of them seemed to be on people’s radar. This was the launch of the new iPhone, of course, and it was the biggest tech event of the year so far. People go nuts over Apple. Devotees will do anything from standing in line for days for the newest releases to paying three times the competitor’s price for their products.
The iPhone was a groundbreaking achievement, but Steve Jobs’ masterpiece was turning Apple into one of the most high profile brands in the world, despite being dwarfed in scale by their competitors. Their products are instantly recognizable and synonymous with creativity, counter culture, exclusivity and quality. What put them so far above everyone else?
A good deal of it is Jobs himself. He was brilliant, fascinating and cool. Jobs was a strange blend of hippie and corporate ideas- a Zen Buddhist whose company will likely soon be the most valuable in the world, and a relentless workaholic and perfectionist who considered taking acid one of the defining experiences of his life. (He also worked at Pixar and is credited as an executive producer of Toy Story, one of the only things our generation loves as much as the iPhone). He dropped out of college and got fired from his own company in the late 80’s, but like everything else in his life, it only seems to have added to his prestige.
To be clear, I am not an Apple hater. I have an iPod and I owned a Mac for five years and liked both (I don’t own a smartphone). I’m not criticizing what they make- the company does make excellent products - I’m interested in how they’re perceived. The cult of Apple is somewhat grounded, but the hype surrounding them just isn’t justified by rounded corners and voice commands alone. Jobs managed to build an impenetrable wall of cool surrounding his company that no scandal, revelation or plain fact incongruous with that reputation seems to be able to break.
Despite being outperformed in many categories- Microsoft sells more computer operating systems, the android platform runs on more smartphones- Apple is still arguably the most well-known and trusted brand. Their unscrupulous business practices haven’t seemed to tarnish their image.
Scandals involving child laborers and terrible working conditions at their factories in China forced them to release their list of suppliers for the first time, something many other large American companies have done. Many of the same factories where Apple products come from also make hardware for HP, Toshiba, Dell, Acer and other lower end tech companies.
Since the early 90’s, Apple has been relentlessly cutting other companies out of their operation. They’ve limited the number of programming languages apps and other outside programs can be developed in. They eliminated all but three variations of the same language for app developers in 2010, but backlash was so strong they had to relax regulations.
This summer, Apple was convicted of price fixing eBooks. They conspired with five publishers to raise the prices. It hasn’t been decided what they’ll have to pay in damages, but they already settled a similar suit with the European Union and it will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars- only a fraction of their hundreds billions.
Of those billions, Apple has seen fit to give almost none of it away. Under Tim Cook, Apple made its first public donations, which were paltry in comparison to those given by other large American corporations. Jobs himself didn’t think using any of Apple’s money for charity was worth his time. One of his first actions as CEO was to eliminate all philanthropy programs.
By comparison, Bill Gates doesn’t seem to get as many cool points for pioneering the operating system that brought personal computers to the masses and pledging to give half of his wealth away in his lifetime. If there’s ever a movie about him, his character will probably look a lot more like Michael Cera than Ashton Kutcher. Somehow, Apple is the best.
Philanthropy, openness and fair business practices are all qualities that are “cool” for companies to pursue, and usually important to the people Apple is most popular with. They use traits in their ads, but not in their business. The right combination of good products and better marketing have made them huge. Apple has an aura of being the most modern and well intentioned of technology companies, and that’s exactly what their image is- a hazy undefined impression that somehow stuck around.