A New, Unforeseen Threat to Apple Appears

5 minute read
| Particle Debris

Three very interesting articles converged this week to suggest a change in the currents of thought that flow through our Apple lives. The first is this survey from The Verge that reports on “How Americans really feel about Facebook, Apple, and more.

Apple Park, Apple's new San Jose headquarters, opens in April 2017

Apple’s spaceship building at Apple Park.

Backdrop: Recent political events, the evolution of social media and social influence and the rise of the industry’s tech giants into powerful forces threaded into our lives have resulted in sea change in attitudes about tech and the tech giants, according to these findings.

The Verge writes:

We wanted to know how you felt about these companies. So late last month, The Verge partnered with Reticle Research to conduct a wide-ranging survey on the public’s attitude toward some of the biggest names in tech.

The troubling results for Apple are surprising. Of course, people continue to stand in lines for Apple products, and few other companies can claim that. However, the insertion of a massive influx of opinion and high tech initiatives by Amazon, Facebook and Google have diluted the once simple memes of old: You were either a PC person or a Mac Person.

The very first chart from the survey reveals that Apple has no monopoly on consumer feelings about trust. This shouldn’t be, and the mind reels. But there it is. The rest of the charts tell additional, depressing stories about how people feel about Apple compared to the other tech giants.

Trust in the tech giants

Image credit: The Verge

The internet, iOT, AI and other advanced technologies have allowed the various tech giants to flood the market with all kinds of gadgets and services regardless of whether they are wise and helpful products. Like Amazon Key. In turn, the powerful social discourse about these products and services by users and tech writers has created a multitude of emotions and beliefs that are no longer evidence-based. That, in turn, has created feelings about Apple that professionals who truly understand Apple don’t experience..

In ironic, infinite regression, The Verge’s survey is a great example of the very kind of internet discourse that I’m describing.

The Apple Double Standard

Another good example of the social discourse that threatens Apple is explained in this week’s article by Neil Cybart at Above Avalon. Apple Is Facing a Double Standard.

However, a trend has developed where a number of tech companies are said to be outperforming Apple. Despite being cast as leaders, these companies aren’t judged by the same high standards as Apple. Microsoft, Samsung, and Google are said to be one-upping Apple in core competencies like hardware and design. Yet, these companies don’t face anywhere near the amount of criticism thrown at Apple.

Author Cybart goes on to explain in detail how many of the criticisms of Apple are done with a certain pseudo-authority of absolutism. Meanwhile, other companies, listed above, who aren’t doing all that well with their products compared to Apple, are cut huge slack and “graded on a curve.”

Left unabated, this constant barrage of emotional evaluation of Apple appears to be affecting the opinions of consumers, as described in the survey by The Verge with which I opened this article.

Dated Half-Truths

A final example of the confusion and shifting consumer attitudes is exemplified in this terrific analysis by John Gruber. “Face ID FUD.” There, author Gruber explains how misunderstood half-truths and dated information coming from Apple’s supply chain get turned into what appears to be authoritative criticism of imminent Apple problems and potential failures.

iPhone X Trade-In deal for T-Mobile.

Plagued! Doomed! How can it succeed? Oh, wait.

The Mac Press, if you can call it that, has dozens and dozens of experienced technical journalists who understand Apple. However, their competent voices, like their professional counterparts in political news coverage, are often drowned out in a barrage of social media reports told by amateurs full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.

We’ve endured the art of Apple bashing in its simplest forms before, but the sober minds of informed customers has always prevailed. However, just as scientists, with quiet, intelligent competence, are being drowned out by political partisanship and showmanship, Apple, I worry, may have increased difficulties with a coherent, widely recognized narrative about its offerings that resonates widely and profoundly with consumers.

Fortunately, the huge popularity, quality, and advanced technologies of the iPhone are holding the fort. Apple hardware speaks volumes about the character of the company amidst a rising cacophony from all others.

Next Page: The News Debris For The Week of October 23rd. New thinking about the future MacBook lineup.

19 Comments Add a comment

  1. geoduck

    There’s been a number of stories in the news about the perceived threat from big tech companies. Usually they’ve been in the form of inaccurate reporting and a failure to filter from Amazon, FaceBook, Twitter, Google and Apple. Apple? Apple makes computers. They aren’t a social platform or a place that published articles. It’s all just felt more than a bit weird.

    I’ve seen a lot of this Apple bashing online. One comment that I literally found funny was the guy that proclaimed that the iPhoneX was a complete flop. The display was crap, the notch was beyond annoying, and FaceID was awkward and unreliable, and because of that though they may sell a lot of them initially, most would be returned within a week. Really? You don’t even have one, what makes you think any of that is true?

    • pjs_boston

      It’s weird, the level of anti-Apple vitriol seems to coincide with the coarsening of public discourse and the rise of Trump.

      I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t something scary happening to society as a result of excessive use of social networks on mobile devices.

      • geoduck

        Sadly yes, society has become quite scary. And I do put it up to Social Media giving a platform to the crazies. There was a story on CBC yesterday. Apparently people who were shot a month ago in Las Vegas are now getting online abuse, even death threats from idiots who are convinced that it was faked. In their mind Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, and all the rest of these shootings never happened. They believe that anyone who posts their experiences are “crisis actors” and are part of the conspiracy. While we always have had “that crazy guy on the edge of town” with social media these people can find each other and reinforce their delusions. It gives them a platform to preach their hate and a way to strike out at the real victims.

        I honestly don’t know what the answer is.

  2. CudaBoy

    As we are irrelevant to the market especially if you are over 50 and 60 – the kids are smarter and less prone to the BS that Apple and Microsoft flaunt, the news is ubiquitous – ALL tech has it’s share of problems – Apple releases bug fixes every day for security it seems, the Cloud services have all been hacked right? Yahoo, Gmail iCloud the Credit bureau – and Apple has destroyed a great computing OS because of their myopic iPhone fetish probably because kids don’t buy computers anymore I dunno. (can anybody find “delete messages from the server” pref in MAIL on Sierra?) Dropped the ball on home AI, AR, VR, cars, drones, bikes – nope Apple is lucky they nailed the Phone despite their typical sandbox baloney. Plus, they keep their Billions of Dollars overseas!!! Thankfully, like Tesla stock – the market is not based on reality today….. I’ll be dead by the time I have to worry about AAPL ever going back to my purchase price of $15 a share.

    • Jamie

      No, they aren’t. If anything, they are more susceptible. In my experience (and I have reasons to believe my experience is broad in this area, which I can’t elaborate on here) most young people will accept anything, they question nothing, and they have no desire to make the effort to questions anything. It is just the way they have been raised. This notion of the über- conscious 21st century youth genius is pure myth – seriously: forget the fact that 17 year-old kids don’t know how to tie off a balloon, and consider that their technological literacy is at about the same level. A phone is something you check SnapChat on and text your friends with, take selfies, that’s it. Apple’s recent ‘innovations’ do little to dispel that myth or discourage that behavior.

      Social media had so much potential to be truly egalitarian, but the opposite has happened, and the more we consider anyone’s ephemeral, in the moment responses to the world around them to be representative of anything whatsoever but their individual perception of their experience in that moment, the worse off we will be. Combined with mobile technology and people’s lack of restraint, it is the perfect storm for something truly ugly, which we all experience to varying degrees on a daily basis. The things that Apple is doing right (protecting user privacy, for example) are lost on the masses. This survey is indicative of a broader and much, much bigger problem with far-reaching implications, and by and large, no one wants to talk about it, because $$$. Good luck with that in the future when all productivity has effectively ground to a halt.

      • Lee Dronick

        Social media had so much potential to be truly egalitarian, but the opposite has happened,

        That reminds me of the opening sequence to movie Idiocracy where nature rewarded the most prolific breeders and not the brightest among us.

  3. pjs_boston

    Lately, the tone of reporting at The Verge has turned decidedly anti-Apple. Their recent Apple product reviews show a strong anti-Apple double standard and the tone of their Apple coverage in general is sneaky and dismissive.

    Simultaneously, The Verge ran a large number of exclusive ‘First Look’ articles about Google’s fall product offerings. These articles featured extensive behind-the-scenes interviews with Google staff and pre-launch access to the new products. It’s no surprise that these articles read more like long form advertisements than journalism.

    More troubling, The Verge’s recent coverage of Google’s post-launch problems reads quite a bit like FOX News coverage of Donald Trump. They seem to be bending over backwards to give Google the benefit of the doubt.

    As such, I am very skeptical about this survey from The Verge. Their reporting of late seems to have little journalistic integrity. I’d want to know more about the methodology of the survey before I’d give it any serious credence.

  4. jackadoodle

    Most of the tech elite billionaires are liberals. Look at how there is almost no diversity of political opinion among tech billionaires. All of these billionaires are fervent Hillary supporters:

    Bill Gates
    Tim Cook
    Jack Dorsey
    Sergei Brin
    Larry Page
    Elon Musk
    Mark Zuckerberg

    Peter Thiel demonstrates this. He’s a tech billionaire who didn’t support Hillary, and he became notable as the only one who didn’t.

    Hillary Clinton is synonymous with these billionaires. Instead of being politically neutral, these companies has made themselves a conceptual part of Hillary / DNC. That means they stupidly put themselves into a position where half the country hates them for political reasons.

    Apple has entered politics and loudly aligned itself Democrat politicians. Therefore, for many people, opposing and not trusting “Crooked Apple” is part of opposing Hillary.

      • jackadoodle

        And by the way geoduck you are a prolific commentor on here and I always appreciate reading your stuff up

      • jackadoodle

        I posted a reply to you but accidentally put it in the main thread

  5. jackadoodle

    The Democrats have a habit of taking over institutions like schools and newspapers. They turn them into compromised spam servers for liberal messaging. People continue to trust them because they still bear the same name as they did in the past.

    This was being expanded to businesses under the guise of “millennials trust companies that are activist.”. And activist stockholders were pushing for it.

    But this coincided with a sort of “great awakening” to fake news, and distrust of elitists. So now it was stopped mid-track.

    Similar to NFL, the compromising of the server was stopped half way. Apple surely didnt gain any customers. Like the NFL, in terms of business, there is only downside to alienating half your customers.

  6. wab95

    John:

    The issue regarding popular perception about Apple and how that is shaped through the interplay with social media is complex and not without relevance to Western partisan politics, particularly in the US. As troubling as some of the Verge’s poll findings might be for Apple, they should not be surprising, neither should they be seen as inherently bad prognostic indicators for Apple. Both Neil Cybart’s article on ‘Apple facing a double standard’ and John Gruber’s piece on ‘Face ID FUD’ provide excellent dissections of the many issues at work that help to both shape popular perception and fuel social media frenzy. The latter doesn’t just rapidly consume public opinion, but can dissipate as abruptly as it began.

    While all of this has immediate relevance to Apple, there is a more profound (as in the Latin for ‘deeper’) theme here, namely the relationship between a literate society and its applied use of knowledge, specifically a science literate society. By science literacy, in this context, is meant a society that has a general grasp of how things work, and which can appropriately attribute causality to everyday outcomes without invoking either magic or myth.

    Bear with me a moment, and we will circle back to Apple.

    Scientific literacy is important, not simply for its explanatory power, but for of two critical features. First, it offers a system of thought, an analytical framework for taking knowledge and effectively applying it to explain observations and solve problems. Second, perhaps even more important and relevant here, is its impact on our relationship to facts, and seeing these as a gateway to knowledge and ultimately truth. There is nothing more powerful in freeing an enslaved mind than truth, and its foundation, knowledge and fact. Knowledge is not only liberating, but empowering.

    There’s more. In science, one learns that there is both an individual and a collective process for finding the truth. Individually, one has to have a knowledge base independent of others. However much one individual may know or understand, that knowledge and understanding is limited, and by definition, imperfect. To extend and perfect that knowledge requires collective effort, which means not simply a sharing of ideas, opinions or facts, but challenging and discarding those that do not bear scrutiny or testing. The more we know, the more we realise that we do not know, that knowing more requires the help of others. One comes to welcome challenges to one’s understanding as harbingers to greater understanding and knowledge, and therefore, freedom and power.

    The implications of this are more than intellectually aesthetic. Facts and knowledge are a conduit from a fanciful or imaginary world to reality, with the key difference being that knowledge of the real world enables us to change that world, and in so doing, protect ourselves and extend our survival. This is real power. Idle fancy’s only power is the imprisonment of its devotee.

    What does this mean for Apple and perceptions about Apple? Two things. First, popular opinion fed by social media or otherwise is ephemeral and lacking in substance. It can affect us one if we choose to act on it, but it cannot alter reality. Second, no human or enterprise, including Apple, exists in isolation but rather in the context of dynamic relationships with a client base that define both. Those relationships are based on real experiences, can vary by product, are complex and ultimately are what sustain the company. These relationships create real data or observations. If Apple and/or their base want to take control of a narrative, it will ultimately rest on facts derived from these relationships, which can be investigated, scrutinised and even independently verified.

    For some, popular opinion is what matters because that is the fanciful world in which they live; for others empirical evidence and personal experience will take precedence. As powerful an engine as is social media, one major flaw that may weaken it over time is the knowledge of how susceptible it is to manipulation as a means to affect public opinion, particularly as its current user base matures.

    At the end of the day, the fortunes the company will rest on which of these is the principal driver of product uptake and a sustained user base. That equation, in turn, ultimately rests on the relative value that an emerging global client base assigns to both anonymous public opinion and evidence-tested knowledge. At least there is a trend of expanding global literacy and science.

    • pjs_boston

      Sadly, even if irrational group-think is transient by nature, it can last long enough to cause great damage. Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s comes immediately to mind.

  7. Ned

    There might be something of the game “King of the hill” and Americans’ love of the underdog in this. Could it be that there is a point where someone or something, a business, makes too much money? Or has too much control of a marketplace? – perceived or not.

    After reading this column, I went back and read E.A. Robinson’s “Richard Cory” (1897). Cory’s death doesn’t elicit any upset or remorse from the narrator, just a simple telling of fact. More than sadness, the poem seems a warning about envying the wealthy. Sometimes good enough is good enough.

    Americans have gone from the occasional visit to the dollar store to it being a regular activity. Everything is on sale, no average (formerly middle class) American pays retail if they can help it. Apple is no longer the underdog it used to be and its CEO is a CFO at heart. I count myself among those that think Tim Cook allegiance is to profit first, then Apple – he’s greedy, that’s my perception. The ranks of people with the same perception may be growing.

  8. wab95

    @pjs-boston:

    Agreed.

    It’s the greater and not the lesser arc of time, which has seen an overall expansion in human rights, women’s rights, child protection laws, education and access to health care over the past century that gives me hope and optimism about the future, episodic societal fevers of the mind and soul notwithstanding.

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