Silicon Insider: The Cult of Apple

It's amok time in Cupertino.

Last week I was asked to write an editorial for the Wall Street Journal about Apple Inc.'s -- that is, Steve Jobs' -- introduction of the new iPhone. It ran under the headline "iGenius," which you would think might please those millions of Apple Computer -- that is, Steve Jobs -- fans out there.

But you would be wrong, as anyone who has ever written about Apple -- that is, about Steve Jobs -- could have you. In fact, though I've been accused on occasion of having a pathological obsession and hatred of Jobs/Apple (when I'm not being accused of being an Apple shill), the truth is I absolutely hate writing about Apple and try to do as little of it as possible.

One reason is sheer exhaustion: I've been covering the company my entire professional life and dealing with it even longer than that. It is now the longest running soap opera in high tech, and I've seen just about every plot twist a half-dozen times. Only the products change -- a fact I celebrated in the Journal column.

A second reason is disgust. Writing a huge book about Apple ("Infinite Loop") a few years ago forced me to spend two years of my life reliving not only the triumphs, but also all of the betrayals, cruelties and stupidities of Apple's first quarter-century, most of them centering around the singular Mr. Jobs. So, unlike most of the post-adolescents covering Apple these days for trade magazines and in the blogosphere, I go into every Apple story dragging all of that historical baggage behind me.

But all of that would be tolerable, were it not for the inevitable backlash that goes hand-in-hand with writing about Apple.

Apple Fanatics Are Amusing, Slightly Scary

The biggest reason I try to avoid covering the company is the community of rabid Apple fanatics.

When you are in the mood for it, they can be fun -- in a nasty sort of way. It's sort of like bear-baiting: A dirty, little secret in the computer media is that if you want to goose your readership or spike the traffic to your Web site, just say something negative about Apple Computer.

Suggest that Larry Ellison is a serial killer or that Dell Computers sterilizes children, and you'll get a letter from their corporate PR people politely requesting that you run a correction in the next issue.

Intimate that a new Apple product is less than perfect or that Steve Jobs falls slightly short of being a paragon of humility and virtue, and 1,000 crazies come out of the woodwork, screaming obscenities at you in the blogosphere, calling for the death of your family (I'm exaggerating that one, but only slightly), and demanding that your editor fire you immediately.

I was on the receiving end of one of those Apple crazy swarms last week. It was both amusing and a bit disturbing: Apple fanaticism seems to have grown in both size and volume in last couple of years. And I must admit I knew it was coming the moment I borrowed a term for Apple loyalists I read in -- "Macsturbators" -- and put it in the story just to inflame the especially demented.

But it also got me thinking.

For one thing, where does all of this fanaticism come from? Twenty years ago, when only mavericks and renegades bought Macs in the face of overwhelming corporate adoption of the IBM standard, it was perhaps understandable for Apple users to be both smarmy and thin-skinned.

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