Apple trolls, you reap what you sow

Back in the mid-90s, Apple was in trouble. It was in a lot of trouble - some of us didn't realize how close the company was to the precipice until years later. We all know how the story turned out: Apple bought Next, Steve Jobs returned, phenomenal products were introduced, then the iPhone, and the iPad, and boom - most profitable tech company in the world. While Apple struggled, a fierce group of Apple loyalists became feared by pundits, analysts and journalists alike, because if you dared say anything critical about Apple, they'd come out with fangs bared and claws sharpened. It's not so bad now, but Apple sites are the ones to have become besieged by folks from other camps who exhibit some of the same behavior.

But before that happened, Apple users were besieged. Mac users in corporate environments got a lot of pressure from IT and management to get rid of their Macs and replace them with commodity PCs.

Macs were on their way out, we were told. You have to get used to Windows.

But we knew Macs were better. We knew it in our hearts. So we defended them. Fiercely.

Yes, I admit it. I was one of those people. I'm not. I haven't been in a very long time. But I was.

The rise of the faithful

For a while, Apple capitalized on that, and returned Guy Kawasaki, the company's first evangelist, back to the fold. They produced marketing materials to explain why the Mac was better; all you had to do was drop Guy a line by email and a week or two later you'd get a box filled with glossy fliers, Apple decals and other paraphernalia to properly arm yourself as a Mac fanatic.

Mac users were always fiercely protective of their turf, but Apple continued to slip into irrelevance - thanks mainly to the bumbling incompetence of its own senior management, which flooded the market with utterly forgettable beige boxes and did little to differentiate them or the Macintosh user experience.

Thus began the legend of the Apple Faithful. Mac users who would come running to the aid of Apple, unbidden or not, to fiercely protect the honor of their platform of choice. To educate, and to occasionally berate the unconverted for their ignorance.

Thank goodness, then, for the return of Steve Jobs. Jobs brought the company back from the brink, established a simple-to-understand four-product matrix - (iBook, iMac, PowerBook, Power Mac) and forged ahead with the transition from "Classic" Mac OS to OS X.

Things changed dramatically in 2007 when Apple extended itself from a computer company to a phone maker. The iPhone changed everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Within a very short period, the iPhone became a curiosity to Apple's chief moneymaker.

Nowadays, the Mac is a sideline business for Apple. Still incremental, and still an important line item that brings in a lot of capital, but it's not the star of the show - iPhone and iPad is. iOS products make up the vast bulk of Apple's quarterly revenue numbers.

Apple's business has changed radically over the years. While there's still a core cadre of people who would tell you that they "bleed Apple colors" when cut, the vast majority of people who buy Mac and iOS products are just regular consumers. They may like their Apple products a great deal - they may even recommend them to friends and family - but they're not evangelists for the Apple brand.

They're not the Apple Faithful.

And that's a good thing. Pundits are too quick to haul out the Apple Faithful dog whistle every chance they get. But at this point, it's a manipulation to draw hits from the true core of Apple enthusiasts that are instantly attracted to any controversy surrounding their favorite technology company.

But Apple doesn't need those people anymore. Apple's moved far beyond that core group of Apple enthusiasts to become a consumer electronics company with mainstream appeal.

And you still see some of the old flame wars pop up from time to time - check any PC game discussion forum when anyone asks about a Mac version. They'll be set upon like a Swedish skinny dipper in a pond laden with pacu.

Turnabout is fair play

An interesting thing has happened along the way, too: Android fans have suddenly replaced Mac users as the aggrieved party. It seems that wherever iPhone users congregate, you can be counted on for an Android user to appear, unbidden.

They laud Google's development efforts, then crow about the openness of the Android ecosystem, and compare favorably their phone's feature list and capabilities to the iPhone.

Then they'll excoriate Apple for a long list of perceived failures ranging from the factory conditions of its suppliers to battery life to screen size. Or they'll just philosophically argue the detriments of the "walled garden" approach to software publication that Apple's created for the App Store.

If Android were under siege, I could certainly understand their evangelism. But it isn't.

As any self-respecting Android fan is quick to tell you, Android phones outsell iPhones by a dramatic percentage (though as percentage of sales by any single vendor, Apple does very well, typically only outsold by Samsung). It's not like Google, Samsung or anyone else associated with the Android ecosystem is under siege from anyone.

It doesn't appear that Android enthusiasts are really active evangelists for their platform - their general demeanor is focused less on educating or proselytizing and more on provoking. Rattling the bars of the Apple monkey cage.

I know a lot of it is just how the Internet has evolved - we've become a culture of trolls. But in the back of my mind, I can't help that it's a bit of karmic payback for Apple fans being such jerks for so long.