Has Apple Become Just One of the Crowd?

by Chris Howard May 30, 2007

Remember a time when every week generated exciting stories about matters Apple? This was in the days before Mighty Mouse, Intel, and Boot Camp. Life was tougher then, so every glimmer shone like a solar flare in an eclipse. It is funny how times have changed so quickly. Now, even articles about how Windows is better than OS X hardly raise a flicker of a flame.

But has Apple “jumped the shark?” Has it reached and passed its peak, when all news was positive? And now, has Apple become just one of the crowd?

The gloss has gone off Apple. It’s products are now no longer infallible. It’s possible Apple products never were infallible, but we just got told they were by all the Apple evangelists who greatly outnumbered run-of-the-mill Apple customers. The Apple market, having spread to MP3 players, is now less informed and less committed to the Apple cause. The Apple evangelist is now the one who has become greatly outnumbered among Apple customers.

Nowadays the shine quickly goes off new products. Remember the Apple TV? Leopard will come, get four to six weeks of press, and be forgotten.

Wizened folks have wondered for a few years whether Apple would lose its gloss once the masses came on board. And it seems they were right. The iPod has been, of course, the best thing that ever happened to Apple. But, as Microsoft, Dell, and others well know, success has its pitfalls. One of those is mass production.

It’s hard enough to keep a grasp on quality of a product as it rockets into the stratosphere of sales, but when all around you, quality is being forsaken, it must be hard not to lower the bar.

Speaking to fellow iPod users, I find a common theme. iPods aren’t particularly reliable. When I take a straw poll in my class—which is dominated by the iGeneration—the consensus is that iPods are crap. One user is onto her third, the other two having packed up. Interesting, as two of the three I’ve owned have given up the ghost in under two years. Everyone in that class seems to know someone who has had trouble with an iPod.

And yet, everyone says it’s hard not to buy iPods because when they work they work well and are easy to use. Maybe it’s the ubiquitousness of the iPod that keeps it as the market leader. Just like Windows.

Now, throw in a couple or a few lawsuits in the last few years, some over quality, such as scratched screens, and you can see that the gloss really has gone off Apple.

But this is Apple: good at distorting reality a little to ensure you return, as my classmate is drawn to do with iPods. Our esteemed Apple Matters colleague, Chris Seibold, summed it up perfectly the other day: “The question isn’t who is going to screw you over but who will leave you thinking they did it for your own good.”


It’s not always easy from inside the Apple fold. And I know when I get on PCs I am more often than not shocked at how unfriendly and unreliable they can be. And I cynically expect the non-iPod MP3 players are no more reliable than iPods.

However, Apple has become one of the crowd, and that has made Apple news less, well, newsworthy.

It does seem that most Apple commentators are treading water lately and hoping that the iPhone will be the lifeline they need to regenerate regular, new, and interesting stories about Apple. Already more has been theorized about the iPhone than the General Theory of Relativity has in the last 100 years. That in itself reflects how desperate the media is for some buzz. The iPhone will give us some buzz to write about. Among it all though, hopefully we won’t be writing about a lack of quality control.

Apple, with Intel inside, a two button mouse, Windows on Mac, massive mass production, and a decline in quality, has changed so much there’s nothing much left to differentiate it from the rest of the crowd.

Wonder how much mileage we can get out of the iPhone? smile


  • There are fewer flames when someone claims that Windows is better than OS X because Mac users longer need to be on the defensive. They can suffer the idiots, because the truth is more accessible to the general public. Mac users can, for the first time, lean back and let the idiots discredit themselves.

    Apple has always been fallible—remember the Apple III? Apple doesn’t catch as much flack for mistakes as before because anyone who has even just walked in and out of an Apple store knows its good points.

    Apple is now mainstream, Mac users are no longer perceived as on the fringe, and the huge number of new users are confident enough about their choices that they see no need to get defensive about them.

    Hugmup had this to say on May 30, 2007 Posts: 40
  • Agreed, Apple has always been fallable. The iPods have their share of issues, as have the laptops (to a much lesser extent), but I think Macs overall have improved over the years.

    I used to be a pro at troubleshooting the Classic OS since I regularly had to deal w/problems. I rarely have anything go wrong w/OS X. Nice and stable.

    The components of Macs have improved over the years as well. Have you opened a PC lately? They look and feel thrown together using bargain chassis. Since the G5 chips were introduced, Macs have been quite the opposite.

    On the other hand, the Mac v.s. PC arguement is just tired. Mac is growing in acceptance. Apple is a highly recognized entity these days. Since they aren’t just a “computer company” anymore, they will be judged via their entire line product offernings.

    Hopefully, the iPhones are more solid than the iPods have been. If they are, then perhaps the future iPods will benefit as well. Time will tell.

    MacNuggets had this to say on May 30, 2007 Posts: 17
  • Until other companies push things forward in truly interesting ways the way Apple has, Apple will remain “glossy.”

    ricksbrain had this to say on May 30, 2007 Posts: 14
  • Windows crashed. It took me two days to rebuild Windows, my applications, and my data. I bought an iMac strictly as a backup computer. Windows crashed again. So I made my printers network printers. Then I became a Vista beta tester. Beta 3 wasn’t up to beta standards, I had to roll everything back to XP. So I set up an intricate data backup scheme. Then they sent me Vista RC1, which wasn’t an RC, because there were missing features. So I rolled back to XP. Then Microsoft gave me the real Vista, but most of my essential applications weren’t compatible, so I rolled back again. Then I put XP on Parallels on my MacBook Pro and put my Vista-incompatible applications there, and then installed Vista on my Dell.

    Meanwhile, without me noticing it, the Mac because my main computer, and I’m wondering, “What am I going to use the Dell for?”

    Oh, the irony. Without them intending to do it, and without me realizing what was happening, Microsoft made me into a Mac user!

    Hugmup had this to say on May 30, 2007 Posts: 40
  • Compliments to Chris Howard!  You have an excellent writing style.  You have a knack to convey your point and inject just the right amount of humour at the same time.  I’ll read more of your viewpoints in the future.

      “Already more has been theorized about the iPhone than the General Theory of Relativity has in the last 100 years. “.

      So true, and nicely put!  Thanks for brightening my day and making me laugh.

    SouthRoad had this to say on May 30, 2007 Posts: 1
  • The Apple market, having spread to MP3 players, is now less informed and less committed to the Apple cause.

    Thank Christ.  It’s not quite there yet but it’s getting there and not a minute too soon.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on May 30, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • As long as Steve Jobs is around Apple won’t be “one of the crowd”.  It also helps that Jonathan Ives is around or Jobs would go nuts.

    Mac sales are excellent simply because more and more people are looking at a Mac.  A huge part is due to the Apple Stores and another part is the iPod and its halo effect.

    I think that the question you should be asking is “is Steve Jobs still hungry and driven?”  The iPhone pretty well answers that question, as will the disclosure of the secret Leopard features at WWDC.

    As for the challenges of handling greater sales, a lot depends on the component suppliers and their ability to deliver parts that work properly.  Another critical side is continuing to grow customer support to match the growth.  As long as Apple keeps their support costs the same as percentage of sales as before they should be fine in this area.

    MacKen had this to say on May 30, 2007 Posts: 88
  • The question seems to be: is apple still meaningfully differentiated from the otherwise relatively homogenised commodity computer markets.

    The answer is yes.

    Benji had this to say on May 30, 2007 Posts: 927
  • MacKen says, “As long as Steve Jobs is around, Apple won’t be one of the crowd.”

    That’s true. But what happens when Steve Jobs isn’t around? Are Apple employees going to go around with plastic WWJD bracelets? (“What Would Jobs Do?”) Jobs is too essential to Apple.

    Jobs is a successful, charismatic character who will always be in charge and will always have a shower of accolades and honors as long as he is at 1 Infinite Loop and breathing. His next task is to groom the organization so that it can continue its present course indefinitely, so that his legacy will survive him.

    Hugmup had this to say on May 31, 2007 Posts: 40
  • Interesting, Hugmup. Especially in light of Bill’s comments today regards Apple in the years without Steve:

    “We worried that Apple wasn’t differentiating itself from the other platforms–Windows and DOS,” he added. “The product line just didn’t evolve the way it needed to. Certainly not the way it would have if Steve had been there.”

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 31, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • Thanks, SouthRoad. If you knew how much I labored to get this piece out, you’d knwo how much I appreciate that feedback. Thanks. smile

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 31, 2007 Posts: 1209
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