Jan 14

Technology, religion, fanboys and Walt

Touchy, touchy.

Seems like former Wall Street Journal technology reviewer Walt Mossberg isn’t in the mood for aggressive comments these days.

In his first article at re/code, he “schools” those who are intolerant of others’ opinions and exhibit religious devotion to their chosen platform.

While Walt tries to be objective, two subtle clues hint at the source of his frustration.

One is the headline: It’s Not a Church, It’s Just an Apple Store. The other is his main visual: New York’s iconic Apple Store Fifth Avenue.

I don’t really mind that Walt makes Apple fans the poster children for his article. You have to get those clicks somehow.

Didn’t we cover this Apple-as-religion thing years ago at Scoopertino? (click to see)

And it’s not like this is anything new. Badly-mannered zealots have been among us, on every platform, for decades — just as they have been in politics. It’s actually more of a human thing than a technology thing.

What’s out of whack for me is Walt’s very first paragraph. For a guy whose life revolves around technology, he expresses a surprisingly cynical view of technology companies:

Attention fanboys and fangirls: Your favorite tech hardware, software and services are not religious objects. And the companies that make them aren’t cults or faiths. They are capitalist enterprises, out to make a profit, grab market share, and, if they can, make products you will buy.

To say that tech companies exist to make money, grab market share and make alluring products is like saying human beings exist to eat food, have sex and do things.

It’s a little deeper than that.

Every company has a soul. Every company has a distinct set of values that colors its priorities and behaviors. Companies believe in different things to different degrees, including innovation, value, quality, freedom, choice, price, and so on. This unique mix is visible in a company’s products.

Consciously or subconsciously, people tend to gravitate toward companies that share their values. That’s why marketing works.

And so, as one would expect, people express their opinions. Some do it quietly. Others build shrines in their bedrooms and write angry notes to tech columnists.

That’s life in the free world.

Like Walt, I wish the raving intolerants weren’t out there. However, since human behavior isn’t likely to change for a few millennia, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Walt’s column won’t create a new breed of gentler commenters.

But — feel free to blast me mercilessly for saying it out loud.

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  • The Gnome

    This religious “war” takes on a more serious aspect when one finds they no longer want to associate with people who just can’t let it go. For example, I have a few Android friends/zealots who can’t go 10 minutes without trying to sell someone on an Android phone, or why Apple is evil, or why I’m crazy for owning an iPhone. They ruin what used to be good social times and, like most, don’t use their heads when it comes to their comments. Because of this, I find myself looking at someone wielding a monster sized Samsung and want to simply avoid them. I know this happens on all sides and its too bad. Why should a company like Apple suffer because so many love their products and a few take it to an extreme? Why would anyone hate on someone who seems to be enjoying the device they selected… for whatever reason.. This whole smart phone war is getting sickening. Most blogs are just fueling the fire.

  • SSpindler

    Maybe he’s taking a page from Bill Shatner’s “Get A Life” rant from the Saturday Night live skit a while back..

  • dorkus_maximus

    Mossberg was being unjustifiably cynical in portraying Apple and other tech companies as just out to sell stuff. Reading the paragraph quoted above I was reminded of the famous Steve Jobs conversation with John Sculley, in which Jobs asked if Sculley wanted to just sell sugar water (Pepsi) or side with Apple and “change the world.” If Mossberg were correct, the Jobs-Sculley conversation would’ve been all about salary and stock options. Changing the world has nothing to do with making a profit or grabbing market share.

  • Dmitri

    Exactly. Very well said. Walt is being unnecessarily cynical.

  • WFA67

    I wonder if some of his response is a function of age. I love Apple’s products and the way the company thinks. But for those of us in the later years of life, lining up for days in the rain for a new product release may seem ridiculous.

    The appeal of feeling like one belongs to a tribe is one thing; being part of a flock of sheep is another.

  • Walt Feedback

    Walt has simply gone off the rails the past there four years and is no longer any gauge of reality in technology.

  • Gary Deezy

    “Companies believe in different things to different degrees, including innovation, value, quality, freedom, choice, price, and so on. This unique mix is visible in a company’s products.

    Consciously or subconsciously, people tend to gravitate toward companies that share their values. That’s why marketing works.”

    I respectfully disagree. Companies exist to make a profit. “They” don’t “believe” in anything else, although they may propose otherwise. They will follow whatever legal and, hopefully, ethical path that gets them to maximize those profits. They don’t even necessarily follow the moral or political beliefs of their own shareholders (a.k.a owners) or employees; otherwise they would not be donating money to causes which a majority of these stakeholders don’t believe in. But, they do.

    All companies do this, but since your article is about Apple, here are my thoughts:

    Apple has dropped so many potentially-great-but-not-yet-profitable products over the years (Newton, Cube, AppleWorks, XServe…) because those products did not get the company closer to its mission of maximizing profits. The company also pushed R&D resources to the iPod then to iPhone over Mac products because that’s where the profit is. Heck, the company even changed it’s name (dropped the ‘Computer’) to make its messaging more clear: we’re more profitable in consumer electronics then computing, so we publicly re-stating our “values.”

    If they really cared about values such as choice, quality, or customer empathy many would argue differently about which products got fixed, or which got cancelled and which ones did not.

    Marketing works because we humans want to believe companies have a soul. It’s all in our heads.

  • Gary Deezy

    Walt is right, most of us are sick of the platform “religious” wars. I use an iPhone, my kids chose Android; I could care less. We don’t argue to convince each other to switch, although we occasionally share what we like and don’t like about each platform.

    Walt was not picking on Apple, he was using it because the company is at the center of it all “Apple vs. Windows THEN Apple vs. Android AND SOON Apple vs. whom-ever-makes-next-cool-technology-platform.

    If you review Walt’s major statement, I think you will see he is speaking to all sides:

    “Attention fanboys and fangirls: Your favorite tech hardware, software and services are not religious objects. And the companies that make them aren’t cults or faiths. They are capitalist enterprises, out to make a profit, grab market share, and, if they can, make products you will buy.”

  • Andrew Fields

    I could care less about the partisan vitriol. Grow some skin. Who cares about trolls? Ignore them. I’m more interested in Ken’s take on the new Apple ad. I liked it, but I found the iPad Air branding at the end kind of weak.

  • dan

    speaking of values and marketing, what do you think of the new iPad ad “your verse”?

  • Dan

    Apple looks to change the world with its products. Not create things that go hardly used such as the newton. Profit comes as a result of creating great products. Their goal is to primarily make great products that will change society and profit comes as a result. If they were after a profit, they would not give apple users free software updates. They know apple customers are loyal as is. Apple could get $20 from majority of their millions of users once a year. The mac-pro is definitely not one of their most profitable products but they still radically change it and improve it incredibly.

  • Tuan Fawaz

    Hi Ken. I was shocked when i red Walt’s piece and was wondering for a second why he chose to review capitalists products, if he considers them ‘evil’. However, he is entitled to his opinion, but what baffles me is that I guess we all know about Harley Davidson and its ‘religious’ followers. A motorbike company thats is almost worshipped and a way of life. I wonder what Walt would would say about this? Profit is what propels companies to push further in tech or any other company, We all work in profit making companies, profit is what end of the day keeps the fire burning in a house. Ken, you walked with Apple for a kong time, I think you know better than all of us, if Apple’s priority internally is all about profit, duping customers, or all about making a super product that customers crave for and is actually useful ?

  • Nameless Coward

    As you al here may well know I Nameless Coward am very sceptical of Apple not being capable of becoming Orwellian. Google’s Don’t be Evil is Orwellian.

    I do however feel a real connection with Apple’s products and culture.

    Many years ago I bought my first Mac and I was just amazed at how great the experience was. Standing by my desk I turned around to tell my girlfriend how the hardware design seemed to speak to me. I spoke for a few minutes in amazement The exact words I can’t remember.

    Years later when I heard Jony speak on hardware design he used the exact same words I used to describe my hardware experience. Again can’t remember, but the words were exact. Wow.
    This happened more than once.

    Apple is unique, they do have a lot going for them. I do understand that. I share some thinking with them. It drew me to them in the first place. Trust me. I want them to succeed.

    Using Mac’s for years now and we Mac ppl have always been pretty cool and tolerant. Not much changed until Android reared it’s ugly head. We do get passionate about Apple, true. All of the sudden on forums and news sites we get dissed, shouted at and down voted. Being merely passionate and trying to state some facts or clear up a misconception leads to violent character assassination.

    It was always there though. But it intensified.
    In the late 90’s a friend used to show me pictures of people using mac’s with you know these silly texts added to them. I never got the jokes or why using mac’s was stupid.

    My family use Androids and they won’t even hear me on iPhone, nope.

    My mom got an Android and never before has she looked so alienated by technology. When I told her how so my sister started to shout at me…

    These Android folks are.. Androids.

  • Nameless Coward

    Is it not human nature of man to build things? And what if money did not exist? What if taxes in general did not exist? Shareholders? Would man stop technological progression and stop dreaming of making life better? I think not. Is one not entitled to get rewards for hard work and taking risk? Is that a bad thing? What if others took no risk and just copied your work, would you still take the risk of trying to innovate? I you did would you feel guilty when you reap rewards? May Apple not save money for a rainy day? A day that is surely due.

    Your argument against Apple not caring about anything but hard Dollars is flawed on several points.

    So HP, DELL, ACER et all care about consumers and consumer choice by producing all the countless models they churn out? Making good products consumer care and support very difficult. They are nit about making as much crud so as to hit every price point as to maximise profit? I think they do. We know they do. And they copy copy copy…. no hard work.

  • Nameless Coward

    And to add. By your standard Apple should hire the EXACT same management that brought to the edge of oblivion.

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  • I think I saw all D conferences more than once and I do perfectly remember how Walt was in comfort talking to Steve in person and I did see mutual respect. For Walt now to brush all companies and Apple included with such brush as he does in this post…hm…it’s not right. I wouldn’t even blink seeing the same approach from Gizmodo, TechCrunch but Walt…

  • ksegall

    I had a similar feeling. For many years, many have talked about Walt as being in the Apple camp. He could normally be counted on for a positive review. At this point, he may just be trying to prove how objective he is as he launches the new site. Somewhat of an abrupt change in attitude — seemingly for the cause of commerce. But only Walt knows for sure…

  • Andrew f.

    Off topic, but I’m surprised you haven’t shared your opinion on Apple’s Verse ad. I’d love to hear your take. Thanks.

  • ksegall

    Sorry. Just been consumed the past couple of weeks and was lost for time. Wondering if it’s still a timely topic…

  • Dan

    Also another Walt, Isaacson recently claimed google is more innovative as a company. I was wondering what you thought about their purchase of Nest and if you agree that it wasn’t in Apple’s best interest to buy it?

  • Andrew

    It’s always a good time to hear Ken Segall talk about Apple marketing :)

  • me@me.com

    He’s old, shrinking, and donut shaped. Time to retire.

  • Eda Utku

    The Bible has taught me one thing: Don’t hate, appreciate…Apple’s community is enviable even by Biblical standards. I’m in awe of how inspired Steve Jobs was and how he continues to inspire and aspire. If that level of inspiration and service to humanity is not sacred, I can’t fathom what is.

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