'Apple users are a cult' is a tired argument that obscures real problems

iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max side-by-side
iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max side-by-side (Image credit: iMore)

In his recent article, 'Against the Cult of Apple,' writer and digital rights advocate Cory Doctorow laid out a case for Apple's inclusion on 'The Evil List,' Slate's list of the 30 worst companies in tech. In the piece, Doctorow details Apple's history of fighting 'right to repair' legislation, its locking down of the iOS app ecosystem, its, to put it generously, muddled history with China, and more. These are all excellent points (though I do have a number of issues with how Doctorow chooses to characterize some of them).

But his overall point is a sound one: Apple is not your friend. This is true. But it seems that Doctorow thinks that Apple is getting a pass that other companies don't because it has its customers enthralled, cult-like, at the altar of the latest shiny iPhone. From 'Against the Cult of Apple':

This overall exemption from scrutiny—Slate's Evil List, in which the company ranks at No. 6, counts as the rare corrective to the conventional wisdom—is nothing new. Apple's unironic "Cult of Mac" has long been an off-the-balance-sheet major asset for the company, which has managed the seemingly impossible trick of getting its customers to feel like an oppressed minority over their decision to spend money on products made by one of the most profitable companies on Earth.

Honestly ... it's been a little bit since I've heard that one. A cult, I mean. Apple's sold well over a billion iPhones, so I'd argue it's more like a religion, but I get the point. The idea that Apple inspires unswerving loyalty in its customers has only ever been true for a small, if vocal, contingent of customers. Ditto for those who think they're some kind of 'oppressed minority.' Millions of people buy new Apple products every year, from iPhones to MacBooks and, at least from everything I've witnessed, they're not doing it because it makes them feel like they're in a special club or because they're distracted by a shiny object. They're doing it for a much simpler reason: they think Apple products are good.

Apple may have stumbled in recent years when it comes to the quality of some of its software releases, but for so many people, Apple products still 'just work.' What's more, these products are familiar: an iPhone is an iPhone is an iPhone. Whatever new bells and whistles they have, every new iPhone basically behaves the same as an old one, just faster and with a few more tricks. This can't always be said for each new Android device or Windows laptop. There's a certain consistency to Apple's products that people find comforting. And while people still experience problems with their iPhones or MacBooks, for many, a few pain points are worth it for the overall quality of the experience.

It's certainly fair to criticize Apple. Billion-plus-dollar companies need no defense from me or anyone else. But to paint its customers as befuddled cultists is, and always has been, a lazy argument that does no one any good. It is, in fact, a way of writing people off, which also allows you to absolve them of responsibility for the choices they make.

And if you, like Doctorow (and me, frankly), have problems with, for instance, Apple's stance on right to repair, or its relationship with China, or the closed nature of the iOS software ecosystem, then you have to look at its customers, too. Because Apple's behavior is its own responsibility, yes, but it's also ours, the customers who enable Apple to make these choices.

A company is always going to act in its own interests and those of its shareholders — that's what companies do. That doesn't excuse bad behavior, but it should give you an idea of what to expect. So if we want Apple (or any company, really) to change for the better, we have to make it clear, as customers, that it's in the best interests of the company to change for the better.

It's probably easier to do with Apple than a lot of other companies. Apple is still one of the few major tech firms to publish supplier responsibility reports (opens in new tab), detailing worker conditions and environmental impact of its own supply chain, as well as, readily-available environmental impact reports (opens in new tab). As an entity, the company thinks long term, and it's already determined that enforcing higher standards from suppliers and cleaner energy usage are in its best interest, something other large companies still struggle with. So if it can be convinced that a tougher stance on China, or more open software or hardware ecosystems are to its advantage in the long run, then there's a chance that we'll see those things happen.

Choosing a brand to support, including Apple, sometimes feels like trying to make the best bad choice. From data harvesting, to toxic company cultures, to exploitative supply chains; it can all feel like a real mess that you can't do anything about. But applying enough pressure — real pressure — whether it's a full-blown boycott or getting legislation passed, may have an impact in making Apple, and companies like it, better actors for everyone everywhere.

So, instead of calling Apple fans "cultists" with blind loyalty and being dismissive of millions (billions, even) of people, maybe it's time to take a look at how we can pressure the "Evil List" of companies, Apple et. al, into doing the right thing by making them see that it's in their best interest to listen to what we have to say.

Joseph Keller

Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.

  • There has always been a simple "quid pro quo" basis for why I have been a long term Apple product consumer - both hardware and software. (My first Apple computer was a 48K Apple II+ so yes, I'm that old. Grin.) The question has always been, when I purchase an Apple product or service, did I receive a fair return on that purchase. That answer has always been a resounding "yes". That doesn't mean I have not purchased services or other products from different ecosystems over the years. For example, if Commodore and its Amiga ecosystem were still a viable ecosystem and had the Amiga continued to evolve over the years, the Amiga would still be my platform of choice. It took a long time before the Apple Macintosh ecosystem could equal the Amiga's non linear video editing ecosystem capabilities - let alone surpass it. Currently, IMO, the Apple ecosystem today provides the consumer with the best overall holistic experience. Period. The tight hardware and software integration between the macOS, iOS, tvOS, watchOS ecosystems are second to none. Apple still passes my original quid pro quo test and until some other ecosystem provides a fairer return on my investment - or - provides a critical functionality that the Apple ecosystem does not provide, Apple will remain my first choice for future hardware/software product or services. That requirement neither requires that I be a "religious techno zealot" or a non-discriminating cultist follower.
  • Very well said, Mr. Babiuk! I would add: Apple has the best customer service, best protection of privacy, and best resale value. Plus, there is too much risk using other platforms—especially android. I don’t go as far back with Apple as you do having only converted (oops!) after the iPhone had been out a while, but I’m just sorry I was one of those dismissive of the Apple “cult” and didn’t check them out much earlier. It pains me to remember all the headaches I endured with Windows and various mobile platforms.
  • I used Windows for many years while growing up, and always had some issues here and there, almost to the point where I thought this is just how computers are. I had a few old Nokia phones, they were always really reliable, and eventually I switched to Android. But with Android I got the same experience I got with Windows, issues now and again, usually sod's law comes into play and these issues happen at the most inconvenient of times. So I took a punt and switched to iPhone, a lot of other people I knew were really happy with their iPhones, and research showed online that they have a great customer satisfaction record, I knew it would be more restrictive but that was a sacrifice I was willing to make for stability. Fast-forward to today and I'm still using an iPhone, sure there is the odd iOS release which isn't perfect, but it's still one of the most reliable devices I've owned. At my old job they were using Macs, which coincidentally gave me an opportunity to try Apple's Mac range and to see if this would feel as stable as the iPhone does, and I'm happy to say it really does, at least for me. Now I'm very happy with my iPhone and Mac combo, I can't see myself using Windows or Android again, maybe Android but only if I feel a very compelling reason to, probably not any time soon. On PC I'm generally happy using either macOS or Linux, but macOS has a lot of really useful apps that I can't get on Linux
  • The kind of people who will read this piece will know exactly why they do or don't like Apple products. Apple's secret ingredient is that it has somehow made its products desirable to the ordinary consumer who is not tech savvy. I often hear a friend or relative due an upgrade say "I really want an iPhone but can't really afford it." When asked the question why do you want that particular phone they never have any specific reason other than wanting an iPhone. It's not a cult, it's brilliant marketing.
  • If this was truly a cult, then every product Apple makes should be a hit. The reality couldn't be further from that. Apple still makes dud products. Look at the limited popularity and adoption of HomePod. I see a dud. A true cultist following would have everyone buy the product just because, not because they actually need it or have some desire to own it. This old argument by those who are butthurt about Apple, really needs to go away.
  • Apple users are as much of a cult as Android users. It's crazy the amount of Android users you still hear that go on bragging about how cheap their phone was, how they have access to customizing the whole phone, how the specs are better, how Android is open-source etc etc, and then they end with "I think people just buy iPhones because of the brand and it being dumbed down so it's simple to use". The reality is that both OSes have upsides and downsides. I even had one guy say to me "Apple have planned obsolescence and slow down their old phones so that you always buy new ones", when in reality iOS devices are supported for much longer than Android devices and it's already been proven that iOS releases only slightly degrade performance on older phones (due to new OS features), except for the odd badly optimized release like iOS 7,.
  • Well, the point you make, in my opinion, is not correct. The Android users you describe are NOT typical Android users by a shot. Those Android users are the very same types that use iOS and trash Android. These are typically the ones who think they are tech savvy but aren’t. When I was in high school it was the gear heads who were the cult members. Chevy, Ford, Dodge fans attacking each other about horsepower, torque , axle ratios, carburetors, supercharged vs turbocharged, tire treads, etc. It was funny then and it’s funny now to see the decedents of those cult members doing the same thing with tech.
  • I think this "Apple Cult" used to be a thing but not so much anymore. Back in the day, Apple users would profess that the platform was immune to virus... it wasn't. They also would tout any new Apple product feature as an industry first when other platforms already introduced them. I think this died down substantially as Apple released a few duds. Also other platforms seem to pass them by while they just turned out warmed over versions of previous products. Gone are the lines and camping out for the new iPhones. Many Apple users I know still rock iPhones three or more generations old. I think now most Apple users are nowhere near over the top about the products as they once were. I have used a mix of all brands and I just use what works for me. For work and personal computing, I use Windows as it is the most widely used OS and it really has become a solid performer. Also, in the same manner that iPhones pushed mobile phones to improve, the Microsoft Surface line has done the same for PC hardware. Windows based hardware is now just as attractive as Apple hardware and in many cases, still costs less. People seemingly got tired of the "Apple Tax". For phone I use iPhone. As one who used Windows Phone (Loved it but no apps), Android (Samsung experience ruins what otherwise is probably a good OS. I am not a violent man but I threw that phone and cussed it many times for all the problems I had with it), and Apple, I am back at Apple. Version 13.3 of the OS is polished and just works. Now I am thinking of dipping my toe into home automation and I am leaning towards Google. HomePod just don't seem to have the support as the other players and Siri, though helpful with simple phone functions, doesn't seem as powerful as Alexa and Google. As much as I would love to have one ecosystem to suit all my needs, there just isn't one that I feel does it all the best. I think many Apple consumers operate this way as well instead of blindly following everything Apple.
  • We are a cult, and we're coming for his family.
  • Today, you won the internet!
  • Personally I think it’s completely a YMMV thing.
    Windows worked absolutely fine for me. I switched as I don’t like it, was that simple. The aesthetics didn’t suit me.
    If what you want to do is to use Windows only software then your choice is made and the, “it just works”, ain’t worth jack.
    As for the cult thing I agree. Too many people seem to want to defend Apple till the end even when they are wrong.
    A certain well known writer for this website has taken a whole load of flak, (I’ve called him out before), and he just ignores it.
    The Apple support community is a great example of the wilfully blind to the extent that I don’t use it anymore.
    There’s a guy on another Apple forum and his sig is something along the lines -
    I use Apple/Microsoft/Google as I see fit. They all have their uses.
    Sense right there.
  • It's more likely that the signature refers to apps rather than operating systems. An operating system is so large and complicated, that your choice is really important, and it affects everything you do on your device. I had problems with Android and Windows, I might not use either of them again for a long time due to my more stable experience with other OSes (of course YMMV), but I do use a mixture of Microsoft, Google and Apple apps on iOS, macOS, and Linux. I'm not blindly loyal to Apple, it's just that in the case of operating systems there's not a huge viable choice, and macOS/iOS are restricted to Apple devices, otherwise I'd use them on other hardware. On PC I've used a mix of macOS and Linux, but on mobile there's pretty much just Android and iOS, there are smartphones with versions of Linux although they're not very mature or well-known. In terms of what features an operating system provides, the difference is mainly on mobile, where Android is much more customizable, and iOS more locked down. I don't know of anything macOS or Windows does that the other doesn't do, or at least nothing that you can't easily replace with an app
  • There's a lot of platform-specific software. For example, many Steam (and other) games only work on Windows, while Apple Arcade only works on macOS and iOS. Apple software products such as iWork, iMovie, GarageBand, Logic, Mainstage et al. are typically macOS-only as well, and there is a lot of Windows software (e.g. Microsoft Access, Visio, and Publisher) which can only run on macOS via Windows virtualization or emulation. Obviously there are similar programs, and sometimes even programs that can read the same documents, but sometimes you need the real thing. And good luck running Photoshop on Linux without some sort of Windows emulation or virtualization - GIMP, Krita, etc. aren't full replacements even if they can read/write PSD files. (As much as I appreciate GIMP its user interface is simply poor, and as much as I like Krita it's more of a paint program.) I guess you could try various web apps like Photoshop Express, but if you need Photoshop (and even simple things like layers and PSD) that might not do the job either.
  • > A company is always going to act in its own interests and those of its shareholders — that's what companies do. Last year Tim Cook (and more than 100 other CEOs) signed the Business Roundtable Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, which describes the role of business as "creating jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential goods and services." The core of the statement reads: "we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders" and describes a commitment to customers, employees, suppliers, and communities, in addition to shareholders. The point is that corporations (at least ones that provide products or services) are not intended to be nothing more than amoral monsters that eat money and exist solely to provide value to shareholders. Rather, they exist to serve some useful purpose (like making iPhones) and deliver benefit to multiple stakeholders including customers, employees, other businesses, and society at large. If companies do not provide such benefit, then they should certainly never be granted "personhood" in the form of incorporation. Moreover, Tim Cook also famously told an investor “When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI... If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”