How Tribal Warfare Caused Apple’s Loss of Gloss

| Editorial

Tribal flames.

There has been a lot of negative coverage about Apple lately. Is it because Apple is executing poorly? Is it because the company is losing touch with customers? Is executive management overwhelmed? Or is it simply due to the rise of tribalism in the Apple community, tarnishing Apple’s gloss?

There certainly seems to be more negative coverage of Apple than ever before. Part of it seems to be pent up frustration related to Apple’s long lapses between product updates and its newfound inability to ship products when announced. However, a significant contribution to what could be called Apple’s Loss of Gloss comes from tribal warfare.

Tribal Warfare

Technical tribes in the Apple community (and elsewhere) are created and driven by social media. The bandwidth between individuals in the tribe is great and the decision cycle (to use a military term) is short. Bloggers can belong to tribes, and they have plentiful access to various media outlets to express their views. The result is that technical tribes have needs, they are very well informed, and the communication medium, by its nature, creates an echo chamber.

If new members present information contrary to the tribe’s interests and motivations, they are ostracized. Tribes self-enforce a focus of thought. Because internal dissent isn’t rampant, conflict tends to occur between tribes instead of individuals. That leads to poorly considered righteousness.

Apple’s Tribes

There are some notable Apple Tribes. To name just a few:

  • Audiophiles. iPhone audio ports, speaker quality, audio formats, AirPod delay fuss, Apple Music, podcast support.
  • Applications. Aperture fuss, iTunes, Mail, Time Machine issues, Automation.
  • Technical Professionals. Powerful headless Macs, displays, flexible, powerful storage & backup, graphics tools.

There are more one could name: Communications (Wi-Fi, routers). Operating Systems (PC wars, Linux alternative), etc.

Why Apple Dismisses the Tribes

For Apple, there are five key factors that lead to executive dismissal of the tribe agenda by virtue of how they inform Apple’s decisions.

  1. The legacy of Steve Jobs and the conviction that they are following in his hallowed footsteps.
  2. Product and roadmap secrecy allows executives to cast tribes as ill-informed and maniacal.
  3. Apple’s feedback mechanism in its various OSes provides important information about how Apple’s customers are using its products.
  4. Apple retail stores provide a direct link to customers in which the relationship is both controlled and better understood.
  5. Sales figures, which are sometimes kept secret for strategic reasons (Apple Watch) or not broken out by model (Macs) provide a canary in the coal mine to guide product development.

The Role of Tribes

Many of Apple’s customers only have the time to interact with Apple directly. They tend to be pleased with Apple as a whole and aren’t deeply involved with technical or political issues surrounding Apple. Thanks to the five key factors listed above and Apple’s legacy of great design, great UI/UX, build quality and customer service, the company has much favor and loyalty amongst customers.

However, for those customers who have a techical and/or professional legacy, interest and a tendency to embrace Apple at a deeper level, it’s natural to fall into many of the existing tribes. There is that pizzazz factor of being noticed and being heard.

Sometimes, tribes provide immediate and powerful feedback to Apple, and Apple deems it necessary to take action. However, in many cases, the vision and the will of the tribe falls on deaf ears. The more Apple ignores a tribe, the more infuriated it gets. It turns up the volume. The irritation can explode out into social media with a logic all its own that seems irrefutable.

On the other hand, tribes are also well connected to customers via social media. Apple can no longer control every aspect of its customer relationship, and so it cannot be dismissive, arrogant or appear out of touch with key tribes.

Analyzing Apple

In my experience, it’s always our job to understand Apple at such a deep level that sense can be made of both Apple’s decisions and the public assertions of various tribes, many of which are at war with each other. Joining a particular tribe for the sake of rocking the boat and garnering attention is an easy way out. Alternatively, lamely suggesting that The Great Apple Can Do No Wrong serves no useful purpose other than to, perhaps, curry favor. Apple has made and will continue to make mistakes. It’s a natural part of this business.

The thing to remember is that most of us buy Apple products to achieve something in a positive way: to communicate, to compute, to build, to create, to design, to write, to educate, to analyze, and so on. Apple’s tech web and community, when operating as warring tribes can’t really achieve much. It’s far better to work together as a cohesive group, coaching each other, learning, and being productive for some good end.

Finally, I recall the words of Steve Jobs in reference to iPhoto and family memories. Here we see a passion to create, build and to serve.

“This is why we do what we do.”

_____________________

Teaser flames via Shutterstock.

5 Comments Add a comment

  1. Good point. There is an echo chamber effect that amplifies gripes. Then add Bloggers getting paid by the click so they feel pressure to write the most incendiary pieces. On top of this Apple is evolving in new directions, new fields, with new products, leaving some loyal customers feeling a bit nervous as to whether their favorite legacy line is getting enough attention. Thiss all adds to the shrillness of the commentary.

    That’s not to say that Apple isn’t dropping the ball occasionally. Remember “you’re holding it wrong”. Remember “PuckMouse”. These were notable places Apple blew it. I don’t know if you can say today’s Apple is missing the boat as much, or more, or less, than they did a decade ago. But there sure is a lot more rending of clothing and gnashing of teeth.

    Thanks for the sanity check.

  2. You forget one of the loudest tribes: the tribe consisting of Apple-focused bloggers, pundits and posters (not all, but a mentally lazy subset thereof) who need to be constantly entertained with new, revolutionary Apple products because without that steady stream of novelty, they can’t think of anything interesting to write about.

  3. “There certainly seems to be more negative coverage of Apple than ever before”

    Oh, God. You’re NEW.

    Page back a bit; before the iPhone, Apple was under constant attack from the “beleaguered Apple” Press.

    ‘Softies attacked with propaganda and misinformation routinely.

    Those voices faded once Apple became a runaway success. But they never really went away.

    The chance to attack Apple and score “points” with the Windows crowd is still highly coveted.

  4. MarcusNewton

    I saw the headline “Loss of Gloss” and mistakingly thought this article would be about matte versus glossy displays; of course I am just goofy like that. (For the record, I still think Apple’s displays are too glossy.)

    There seems to be a never ending stream of anti-Apple trolls and shills who will claim a 5-alarm fire over the slightest thing, and will also pile onto any legitimate issues as well.

    What has surprised me is that since the “hello, again” event, the bulk of complaints are coming from Mac loyalists in a way I have not seen before. The trolls are then amplifying everything as they always do, but there is genuinely an underlying current of dissatisfaction beneath the surface.

    Since the trolls are amplifying everything to absurd levels, I am concerned that Apple is flat-out dismissing everything as fake outrage and not understanding actual complaints. To borrow from Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise, the trolls are the noise and the legitimate issues of users is the signal, and I just hope that Apple can tell the difference.

  5. I would go so far as to say that EVERY negative opinion about anything gets amplified ad nauseum on today’s web. I blame the misuse of social media for the most part – most of that peanut gallery has no clue what running a large business actually entails. I’ve had plenty of my own gripes, but I can’t deny that considering the herculean task that must be running Apple, they have handled most things relatively smoothly, with panache, even.

    Also, William: John is hardly ‘new’. He even worked for Apple once upon a time. Honestly, I think most of us around here are a little crusty, Apple-wise. 😉

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