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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 13:03 GMT
Apple Macs: Objects of devotion

By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs
Jobs: A religious leader offering an object of devotion?
It's tempting to think that Steve Jobs is some sort of religious leader rather than the chief executive of a rather successful computer company.

And you could be forgiven for thinking that his Apple products are objects of religious devotion rather than mere pieces of plastic enclosing silicon chips.

The Cult of Mac does have some rational basis.

There seems little doubt that the products are very good. Its strong attractions are usability and good looks (though not usually price until this week's announcement of a less expensive home computer).

Inspired behaviour

There is clearly, though, something more to it than mere mundane functionality.
Computer users try out the purchases queued for ahead of the opening of the Apple store in London
Apple users: the type who delights in going against the herd

Lots of companies make good products but they don't attract the kind of religious zeal that Mac inspires.

Take the case of John Charlton, for example, who, according to Wired magazine, travels the world with his Newton, the PDA which Apple discontinued in 1998, and has now created a gallery of pictures of the said gizmo in front of various global landmarks from Florida to Munich to Lisbon.

Or the people who cut their hair to show an Apple symbol or who get Mac tattoos or who dress up like Steve Jobs or who trek around the world to the opening of a new Apple Store.

Rebellious streak

It is a tribal thing - the Mac Tribe - and a sociological phenomenon, to do perhaps with a minority who believe they have seen a truth, much like the drivers of VW Beetles would wave to each other in the 60s, knowing utterly that their car was superior, but it was a secret unperceived by the rest.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs is the counter-image of a stuffy businessman

There may also be a type of person who delights in going against the herd.

Whatever is fashionable for the masses becomes unfashionable for the minority. Manchester City and the New York Mets both have their loyal followers who would rather die than head for Old Trafford or Yankee Stadium. And so it is with Microsoft and Apple.

While the big company dominates the market with its uncool product, Macs offer an alternative to those with a streak of bolshiness and perversity (both nouns are compliments).

Cool dudes?

None of which is to say that Apple and Mac offer style but no substance.

Clearly, the company is getting a lot right. Its devotees (disciples?) swear by their products as being effective and easy to use.

It's just that there's something more to it than that: the packaging and sales-pitch have succeeded brilliantly in conveying a whole life-style and image.

That style emanates from the top.

Steve Jobs is the counter-image of a stuffy businessman. He wears trainers, jeans and black sweaters.

Apple's attitude to the media is actually tight and highly controlled yet the image portrayed is of a cool and easy-going counter-culture.

Pure marketing

Let me declare an interest: I own a Microsoft driven personal computer. It serves me very well. I have no strong feelings about it. Mac may or may not be better; it's just that it's not the route I happened to take.

I get stalked, though, by colleagues who insist on telling me how much better their iPod is than my Dell Jukebox, even as the reviews say the battery life of an iPod isn't the best around. Or how I should throw my PC away and get a Mac.

They may be right.

It's just that some of the message is in the marketing.

We asked you, our readers, if you are Mac followers or loathe Macs, or indeed whether you are simply puzzled by this phenomenon? The feedback printed below reflects the wide range of views held. This message board is now closed. You can still read the messages posted.

I have not got a clue about this issue and I am a loser when it comes to technology.
Hassan Shah, Watford

Not to knock Jobs, but that iPod shuffle round his neck looks terribly unfashionable. Sort of like when you were back in school and you had that teacher with the big glasses and pen hanging round her neck. I for one won't get one until it is covered in zebra stripes and purrs everytime I do something right, like my girlfriend ;-)
John, London

Macs have always lead the way. They are simpler, more intuitive to use and now cost less! They are also better quality.
Jeff Lil, Hull UK

I must admit to being puzzled by the whole Apple cult. I too have had my ear bent by Mac nerds, but I've ignored them because I can't see the point of paying over the odds for an inferior product just because someone considers it to be stylish. Why buy a Mac when you can get a PC that will outperform it in every respect for half the price?
Anthony Jones, Leeds UK

Once again, disappointingly, a report on Apple rehashes the old myth, that Macs are more expensive than their equivalent PCs. Utter Tosh. TCO (total cost of ownership) studies show, time and again, with equivalent hardware and software, that Macs are actually cheaper. Lazy journalistic nonsense.
John, Forfar, Scotland

I like the idea of the Ipod shuffle and also the price but I can't help but feel that they are really taking advantage of new computer users with the mini Mac. They are taking advantage of Mac as a hip brand name to sell a product without a keyboard, mouse and monitor and are marketing it like they are doing the consumer a favour.

People will buy them because Mac is the it thing to have but these will be home users wanting something to look good next to their lava lamps or something. If Mac just lowered the prices for their Macs anyway they would be able to compete with PC no problem in my opinion, I feel we are being slightly ripped off by this mini Mac.
Andrew Maddock, Harrow, London

I am indeed puzzled. The Mac Mini is lacklustre. The specification are so 2003. And yet people are willing to pay money for that. The iPod Shuffle is even worse.
March Suffot, London

I am always amazed with how intuitive Apple products are to use. Proof: they come with no manuals.
Bav, Brussels

I'm a user of Macs and PCs (and by the way, it's not just a matter of Apple versus Microsoft: Microsoft Office is very widely used on Macs, at any rate in corporates).

I don't have a strong preference as regards the working environment: as an IT professional, I've worked on and supported both platforms (and others). I suppose if I didn't need to maintain my skills on both platforms I'd be content enough with a Mac.

I think, objectively, the interface is generally better, not to mention friendlier for non-experts, and I've happily produced reams using one or other of my Macs. But then, I've done the same on PCs.

However, I do get irritated by the aggressive evangelism of many Mac (and Linux) users: perhaps Mac users really are smarter, cuddlier, safer and more creative than PC users (but I'd like to see some reliable, objective statistics!), but in my experience they're often rude and arrogant.

I suspect that this often shows a deep-seated defensiveness and insecurity. Apple do many things just right (and I'm not just talking marketing either), but they aren't perfect.

Furthermore, Mac users don't live in a vacuum: the Mac experience might be more productive and pleasant if the rest of the online world supported the platform better. The fact that they don't isn't the fault of Apple or the customers (well, sometimes it is: insularity is not an attractive trait), but it isn't an argument for putting all your eggs in the Mac basket, either.
David Harley CISSP, Headley Down, UK

I think that for most Mac users there are a range of factors that influence us. A distrust or dissatisfaction of Microsoft is one factor - in this sense Mac users are similar to people who choose Firefox over IE or Linux over Windows.

In many cases there are also very specific, practical reasons. I use a Mac at work because I have something like 10 years of resources created on Macs (some of which use software unique to the Mac).

I use a Mac to read email by preference to reduce my exposure to viruses (most of which can't damage the Mac OS or Mac files).

Finally, Mac products tend to have a longer shelf-life than Windows PC products and tend to be easier to use. This last point is no longer as true as used to be (Apple has adopted generic PC components in its machines and lowered quality slightly over the years), but I have never had a serious or expensive hardware fault with any Mac I've used at home or for work. This contrasts with the experience of many PC using colleagues at work over the years.
Thom Baguley, Loughborough

Your reporter sounds a bit defensive, insistent on portraying Mac users as "other" than normal computer users. Perhaps that makes him more comfortable with his Windows PC. If he focused on which computers are better for most users, his stubborn resistance to trying a Mac may give way. Oh, the horror!
Ted Rebarber, United States

I have used Macs for almost 20 years and a Windows PC on only a couple of occasions. I don't drive a Beetle (or Bug) but chuckled at the article, agreeing with it and identify with many aspects of it.

It's not a religious thing, just about finding what works best for you ... except you then want to evangelise about the 'great truth' you have discovered, which sort of makes it a quasi-religious thing!

PS. I have already placed my order for an iPod shuffle!
Lester Peters, High Wycombe, UK

Apple has an outstanding Marketing department that could sell rain coats in the desert. As for their products, its all down to hype and marketing. Many companies offer better products at far lower prices.

"Macs are really easy to use" they cry. Anyone who has ever sat down in front of a Mac for the first time will realise that a Mac is very easy to use - but only when you know how to use it!
Phil Templeton, Poole, Uk

As is usually the case with these things, those pursuing "anti-fashion" are the biggest fashion victims of them all. It reminds me of my teenage niece who wants to be "different" just like the rest of her friends.
Matt, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (ex. UK)

If this goes on, in few years time it'll be rebellious not to have a Mac product. So far, I'm doing well, I don't have any! ;-)
Konstantinos M, Athens/London

Everybody knows that Macs are better than PCs. But we all have to use PCs for compatibility, because everyone else does.
Adam, London, UK

Who cares?
Chris, Lincoln

Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Apple shares surge on big profits - 17 hrs ago
silicon.com iPods have sown the seed of Apple growth - 24 hrs ago
Guardian UnlimitedApple beats Wall St forecast - 28 hrs ago
Xinhua News Agency Apple Computer Inc.'s first-quarter profit enjoyed a quadruple soar as sales of iPod digital music players and - 35 hrs ago
Fresno Bee Apple profits quadruple as iPod sales soar - 37 hrs ago
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