Apple Enthusiasts' Urge To Flame: What Gives?

Fans of Cupertino could learn a few things from Fans of Redmond.

By  |  Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 1:00 pm

I have spent much of my professional technology writing life covering Apple, from my days at BetaNews right through my current gig here at Technologizer. My original “beat” wasn’t always Apple, though: I also covered Microsoft for a time.

Having covered both sides of the spectrum, I’ve dealt with the hyper-enthusiasts — the “fanboys” if you will — of both sides. What I’ve found is a completely different reaction to unfavorable press from either group.

Bad news is inevitable, after all.

Discussing this idea with a few folks, I’ve noticed that people have somewhat of a misconception about Microsoft’s enthusiasts, that they are somehow less excited about the company than Apple’s.

Knowing quite a few of these types myself, I can tell you firsthand that this is not the case. What happens here is that Microsoft’s enthusiasts are much more metered in their support: while no, they won’t go into a frenzy publicly when Microsoft or Bill Gates rolls out something new, these folks go into overdrive in private.

From one of these people, I get e-mailed like clockwork within minutes of that announcement. He’ll extol the virtues of Redmond’s latest creation, making sure we all understand how this fits into Microsoft’s grand vision for our digital future.

Apple’s enthusiasts are completely different. Keynotes become something akin to a revival at times, and these folks are very vocal in their approval. At points, it is almost like some of them do not have a filter.

This kind of difference trickles down into the defense of the companies they care deeply about. When I’ve written negative stories about Microsoft, those enthusiasts who disagree seem to be much more methodical about it — they’ll take your post point by point and respond back to every last minutia of it. Yes you will get the folks that go right to insults, but its not as common.

Writing about Apple, I’ve found things are nearly completely the opposite. More often than not — and I’ve seen this across many news outlets no matter who it is writing it — the comment sections often devolve into personal attacks and accusations. It also seems that a group of enthusiasts will also take a paragraph or sentence of your piece, and run with it, ignoring any other point you make.

I’m at a loss as to why there is such a disparity between the two groups. You don’t hear of a lot of Microsoft journalists getting all kinds of hate mail for their work, but I know of quite a few Apple journos getting practically getting read the riot act.

Either way it is a foolish way to argue. With Apple’s increasing popularity, it also does nothing to help the company’s cause. While I understand, and do agree to some point, that Apple’s work to date has generally been superior to Microsoft’s, Apple is not perfect.

Throwing insults or questioning integrity does not help either, especially when its done nearly to every negative Apple story out there. Apple has done some stupid things, and deserves to be treated just the same as everybody else.

I’d like to know where you all think this difference is coming from. Could it even be the media’s fault itself, which for too long left some of its journalistic morals at Apple’s door in return for favorable treatment?

Maybe somebody else can explain to me why there’s a need for this behavior, because I sure ain’t getting it.



14 Comments For This Post

  1. Daniel Says:

    I think one of the main things is that Apple enthusiasts are used to being on the defensive side. At least, that is true for me personally. I’m not saying that I am one of the people who would leave personal attacks on Apple critics, but it sure would be easy for me to. Apple is like a revolution against Microsoft, and that makes Mac users tend to constantly be on the defensive, sensitive-to-criticism side.

  2. carl Says:

    I’ve been using a Mac (primarily) for a little over a year and intermittently for an additional three years … and before I purchased my first Mac my brother recommended I go to AppleInsider to learn more … took me a little while but I realized that one of the worst things about Apple is a certain segment of its fan base … as has often been said before, Windows vs. OSX is not Jesus vs. Muhammad nor The Allies vs. The Axis … I seriously wonder whether the type of person I’m speaking of is between 14-28 yrs old and views his Mac/iPhone/etc. as not something he owns and uses but as reflective of who he IS … if an Apple product were a living thing then the “love” that some Mac-ites have for their product would be one of our more obvious examples of inappropriate interspecies love (sort like the lady in Connecticut who slept with/bathed/drugged her homicidal chimp) …

  3. Bill Says:

    Maybe it’s because an 80 year old grandmother doesn’t have the energy to fight and defend Windows;)

  4. Ed Oswald Says:

    Daniel.. i think that is a great comment. I was thinking of that. Could it be that Apple people are two use to “playing the victim,” for lack of a better term?

  5. Daniel Says:

    I really think so, Ed. I mean, whenever I have a conversation with a Microsoft user about Apple, all they really do is lay out Apple criticisms, everything from complaints about malfunctioning iPods, to saying that Apple is taking advantage of Mac users with unreasonably high prices, etc. All we Apple users get are criticisms/complaints, and I think that being on the defense (“playing the victim”) just gets ingrained into how we handle negative Apple talk.

    For this pattern to stop, I think Apple would have to move from being the rebellious stepchild to being a much higher and more equally respected marketshare contender in the computer world.

  6. Steven Fisher Says:

    I’m generally critical of both companies (along with anyone else who makes errors). As a Mac user, most of my criticism is directed to Apple.

    And yet, the only times I’ve ever been sworn at and called names are the times I’ve criticized Microsoft.

  7. Bill Says:

    Personally, I’m not loyal to any platform. I expect them to be loyal to me and serve me well. After all, that’s what I’m paying them to do. Windows users can hope that Windows 7 is spectacular, but Apple users should hope the same. The competition will force even more improvements to the Mac platform, and visa versa.

  8. tom Says:

    Daniel, I very much agree with you, especially as an Apple user in the ’90s.

    Apple itself has always been on the defensive–first picking a fight with IBM, then the interface war with Microsoft, and the entire rest of the “IBM-compatible” PC hardware market (once IBM became marginalized by the cloners). Of course, the defensiveness can also be seen in ‘attacks’ from Microsoft users, as Daniel said. The rebel, revolutionary attitude was pervasive at Apple; it’s probably why they went after John Sculley in the first place, since Pepsi had the same attitude against Coke, and that’s what Sculley did again at Apple. And Jean-Louis Gassee, who ran the Mac division after Jobs left. And Guy Kawasaki, Chief Evangelist, for goodness sake.

    I think the difference in behavior between the fans that you noticed, Ed–Mac fans (the so-called-but-I-hate-the-term fanboys) are more vocal in public and *are* more public about things, whereas Microsoft fans are more vocal in private–is evidence of how much both Jobs and Gates understand their markets. Jobs turned Apple from being “beautiful on the inside” (regular, plain beige boxes, great OS) to what it is today in order to use that behavioral-split to Apple’s advantage.

    In any case, I’ve been around the Mac web for as long as the web’s been around, and there’s a distinct level of juvenility on it. I don’t think it’s representative of the vast majority of users *not* on the Mac web (or not posting), but it’s a little embarrassing sometimes.

  9. DTNick Says:

    I agree with Daniel. For example, Mac users are much more accepting of criticism coming from other Mac users than criticism coming from Windows users.

  10. ediedi Says:

    Generally, Apple sells objects & software, as opposed to MS who sells primarily only software. People tend to be much more personally involved with tangible objects than with abstract creations.
    There is also another (related) side of the issue. No one can deny that for some(many) apple users, their apple product is also a fashion accessory/statement. Thus, the attacks become much more personal – imagine being told by a stranger ‘I hate your shirt’, for instance.

  11. Sanket Says:

    Hey Ed,

    I think this natural “urge to defend” comes from two factors:

    1. Apple is expensive. PC is cheap. If you are going that extra bit and buying a Mac, you’re constantly under attack from normal PC users who can’t seem to find a reason behind the extravagance, lest be tagged as fool.

    2. If you do buy a Mac, you find yourself outnumbered and a part of an exclusive, premium, minority – if you know what I mean. Given that you are a part of minority, people can’t find reason behind you’ve paid that extra bit – would be bit like you are going on a self financed mission to mars…you’ve broken the rules at a cost – and you can’t find the reason why people would critisize you at all – from your perspective, you aren adventurer and explorer.

    Dunno if it made any sense, but thats what I gather in my last 2 years of Mac’dom

  12. BG Says:

    Human nature. Which side of the brain decided whether you bought a PC or a Mac? Generally, Mac buyers are right brain thinkers (creative/emotional), PC buyers are more left brain thinkers (analytical/logical). When challenged, Mac buyers become more emotional about their decision and product. When PC buyers are challenged they defend thier decision more logically and when logic fails to convince, get emotional. Same can be applied to politics as evidence in the last election. Emotion rules in the end, even if it’s just regrets, and subjectivity cannot be discounted. Spend the money for a Mac with Boot Camp and don’t look back. No regrets. Mantra: Get over it, do something you love.

  13. Markus Says:

    Interesting BG, I was thinking the same thing. Taking it a step further, there do seem to be two types of people and the behavior demonstrated in the article can be seen in many walks of life. In politics, take the horrific attacks in the daily kos vs little green footballs more measured responses. Or conversely, hardcore religious fanatics vs scientists. Steve Jobs was a hippie (for lack of a better term) whereas Bill Gates was from a much more conservative background. The influence of the emotion vs the logical is evident in the nature of the products and the customer bases that support them. Very few Mac’s in business environments due to the very practical nature of a typical business. Mac’s tend to be viewed as fun or “hip”. It really comes down to the individual and how in “love” they are with their particular fetish. There seems to be a common thread of thinking with various things, products, activities, and groups that seem to inspire emotional devotion and limits critical thinking. I suppose you could boil it down to the age old difference between the artist and the engineer. Both have their uses but also their weaknesses. The artist can create things that people react to emotionally but cannot take criticism. The engineer however invites criticism to make his product better, but rarely does the engineer’s product inspire people. It is simply useful and necessary.

    Oversimplifying? Perhaps but I bet you can find these two divergent kinds of thinkging everywhere. No better example is the differing reaction between Mac and Windows. The good news for us is the amount of influence the two products have had on each other to make both products better. Apple is better and better at supporting windows, office, networking, etc. Microsoft is attempting to make Windows 7 prettier, more fun, and more useful.

  14. Rich Says:

    Ahhhhh…Don’t ‘cha just love healthy competition!

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