Why is Apple So Polarizing

One of the things I am excited to do with our Tech.pinions Insider content, is dive into subjects that may be more controversial than things we want floating around in the public sphere. So that is what I hope to do with this topic and the question at large in which I raise.

A balanced opinion of anything these days is generally hard to find. So many topics are extremely polarizing, for lack of a better word. Politics are perhaps one of the most universally polarizing topics for the general public. However in tech circles few topics are more currently polarizing than Apple. I recently lobbed the question of why Apple is so polarizing on a new discussion platform called Branch. Thanks for the many who added to the thread with many smart comments as they further helped me flesh out my thoughts on the subject.

We have to acknowledge that the general public does not seem to fall into the crowd with highly polarized opinions of Apple the company and its products. Rather it is centered more around the tech elite (early adopters) and many mainstream technology media and pundits. I see this on a daily basis as I write quite a bit about Apple for Tech.pinions and for TIME. The comments I get from the anti-Apple crowd are simply astonishing. I also follow a great many of pro and anti-Apple folks on Twitter. You can tell who these people are because they either regularly write or tweet extremely negative, Apple is doomed, hooray their reign is over articles, or they write or tweet extremely positive articles point out why Apple is not doomed and their reign is not over. It seems that generally speaking there is very little grey area around the topic of Apple in these circles.

In either case I am fascinated by how this came to be and why it still exists today. I have several theories to share.

Loyalty to my Tribe

There is simply no question humans routinely exhibit tribal behavior. There are elements of this mentality in the polarization of politics but there is no better example than in sports. Extreme loyalty for ones sports team and utter disdain for rival teams is prevalent in many sports fans. Some of this can be engrained by upbringing but it is also learned by time spent in the tribe. I have seen first hand the evolution of fans of local sports who start as a casual fan then evolve into a fanatic. It seems as though it is tradition as a part of that tribe to largely hate for no good reason rival tribes.

This tribal behavior is what I am certain is at the root of most polarizing issues and in particular the on about Apple. But a deeper issue still exists. Why do we end up in certain tribes.

Personal Preference

This is where personal preference comes into play. Those who are the most vocal and either attack or defend (or both) the decisions of others, are doing so because of the highly specific personal reasons they choose one product or another. Mature consumers know what they want and why they want it. Often when you come to make a purchase with such a level of personal preference as something like a personal computer, you don’t make the decision lightly. Each platform whether it be Windows, Android, or Apple’s, appeal to different audiences for very different reasons; all of them extremely personal in nature. When we make decisions at such a deeply personal level we often believe those decisions to be superior to the decisions of others.

This is why we see such heated debate, in my opinion, by the most fervent of consumers. If you followed or chimed in on many of the comments on John Kirks recent series you noted some of this, largely from the Android camp. I’ve seen this as well from the Apple camp but you, our regular readers and commenters, are much more balanced and sane no matter which camp you are in. However, I notice that those most passionate work very hard to justify their decisions and rationalize that others should be making the same decisions as them. Again, I am generalizing, but I think it is a worth while point in the discussion.

A while ago I opened up this topic as a branch. I’ll share a few summaries of key points that folks chimed in on below.

From Jan Dawson:

It taps into lots of larger themes – elitism, gargantuan profits, the power of brand, marketing, design, style etc. vs. substance, closed vs. open. So much of what’s ostensibly about Apple specifically is really about these larger themes and people’s strong feelings about which side of each of those tensions is right. And once you have strong feelings on both side, that just escalates beyond all reason and it’s no longer a rational argument (see also American politics).

From Shawn King:

A certain portion, the majority, of Apple’s customers just used the machines. But a vocal minority felt the need to stand up and defend their platform. Thus began the PC vs Mac Wars. It was the form of that defense – strident, unyielding, dickish at times, that helped to cause the polarization.

The internet “helped” and exacerbated the polarization.

From Walt French:

Apple has always been on a gee-whiz crusade and of course, the infidels hate that. Since 1984, the infidels have been the entire IT establishment, a confederation that needed and still needs benefits of network effects under Microsoft’s hegemony. So each $1 of Apple’s successes might threaten $2 of Establishment. Lots at stake.

From Ryan Buckwalter:

It’s all because of attitude; the attitude of the company, their leaders, their PR, and their overzealous fans. Any Apple product is generally a fine product, usually with good parts in a fairly well design package, but the attitude is that these products some how magically transcend their parts into being something far more, something without flaw and beyond the reach of any other product; thus worth the high asking price. These Apple products aren’t shown “as they are” but instead in a form of “perfection” and “simplicity” as if they really were made of “magic”. This would be great and all… if it were true, but it’s not. Apple products are often flawed, poorly designed, etc. The attitude is to ignore those flaws as they never existed.

Lastly, here is a link to Marco Arment’s post on the subject.

I’d love to open this up to a discussion with our members. So feel free to add and chime in.

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

141 thoughts on “Why is Apple So Polarizing”

  1. Is the choice between Mac or PC really that personal? Is it really even a decision?

    My first personal computer was a PC with DOS, because that was what my dad used. My dad in turn had a PC with DOS because that was what he needed for his job. Currently I’m very much enjoying my Mac, but only because a few years back I had the opportunity to finally become independent enough from the windows environment I was working in.

    I did make a personal decision by switching to Mac, but those years that I used Windows really was not my decision at all. On the one hand I do not expect that the lack of a personal decision is conductive to fanatic support. On the other hand, I expect that in such cases the mindset of superiority could still be established due to the high value we award to the opinions of those close to us.

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