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Thursday, 30 August 2012 16:14

The cult of Apple and the quest to kill competition

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One has to wonder at the frightening phenomenon that Apple has become. This uniquely singular corporation has not only generated fabulous wealth for its shareholders; it has created a cult of zombies who feel it is their sworn duty to defend the honour of their beloved supplier of consumer gadgets against wicked naysayers.

I got a sense of the religiosity surrounding the Apple cult when in 2007 I was invited by Apple Australia to attend the launch of the iPhone at Macworld in San Francisco.

As Steve Jobs took the stage to unveil the long awaited and much discussed iPhone, the crowd swooned and the event took on the air of an evangelical church revival meeting.

Moans of delight and passionate cries of “awesome” rang out through the packed auditorium at the Moscone Center. The atmosphere was positively hypnotic and it was hard not to get caught up in it.

It was at that moment that I realised Apple was unlike any other company that has ever existed.  Apple was not just a corporation; it was a pop group like The Beatles and Steve Jobs was John Lennon.

In fact Jobs was a huge Beatles fan and was only allowed to use the name Apple Computer after striking an agreement with The Beatles’ recording company Apple Corporation. The agreement was that Apple Computer Inc could use the name Apple as long as it did not associate its name or trademark with music.

Then iTunes was launched and we all know what became of the original agreement with Apple Corporation. Well at least the two surviving Beatles do.

At the time of writing this article Apple Inc has a market capitalisation of $631 billion. Meanwhile, oil juggernaut Exxon Mobil is valued at $405 billion while global mining giant BHP Billiton is worth a mere $108 billion, according to the market.

Thus we have a situation where a maker of premium priced gizmos is worth 6 times as much as the largest miner of raw materials and 50% more than the world’s largest oil company. Yet both Exxon Mobil and BHP had higher net profits than Apple in 2011.

Whatever one thinks about mining and oil companies and their rapacious ways, it would be hard to argue that their products are not essential to modern civilisation as it stands today. The same cannot be said for Apple products.

At this point Apple zealots will probably be on their feet shouting in righteous indignation that modern civilisation simply could not exist without iPhones, iPads and Macs.

Well no, phones and computers may be essential to modern civilisation but not necessarily the Apple versions. If Macs, iPads and iPhones disappeared tomorrow those of us not in the grip of the Apple mind trance would simply shrug our shoulders and buy an Android or Windows device.

Now here’s the thing: me just expressing this opinion is likely to draw the ire of umpteen number of Apple crazies. And these aren’t just wild-eyed naïve geeky adolescents.

A previous opinion article by iTWire senior editor Graeme Philipson about Apple’s hypocrisy in pursuing Samsung over patent infringements resulted in me receiving an irate email from the president of an Apple user group.

This mature age person, who is known to me, actually admonished me for allowing Philipson’s article to be published:

“Are you going to continue this line of journalism?

“In his first piece for ITWire, notably about the Apple Samsung decision, he (Graeme Philipson) opined:

“‘OK, so Apple gets a billion dollars off Samsung, which must cease and desist and work out other ways to perform basic mobile phone functions. Remember, Apple stole the idea of the mouse and pirated the graphical user interface, and has in truth as much respect for intellectual property as Pirate Bay.’”

“Not an auspicious start to promulgate mistruths.”

We then engaged in a series of email exchanges.

I was told that agreeing to sell 100,000 Apple shares to Xerox Parc, the company which invented the mouse and GUI, in exchange for Jobs and Wozniak getting the right to look at what the company was working on for three days amounted to Apple buying the IP it viewed.

Xerox Parc obviously didn’t subscribe to that point of view because it tried unsuccessfully to sue Apple. Likewise, Apple also unsuccessfully tried to sue Microsoft over Windows.

It still hasn’t been explained satisfactorily to this writer how those cases differ from the latest Apple-Samsung farce – or how a holder of one of the patents in question happened to be on the jury!

However, this is all beside the point of this article. The point is what on earth do Apple zealots have to gain by railing against Samsung for producing products with a similar look and feel to the iPhone and iPad?

Samsung didn’t steal any Apple code, it’s using a different operating system, different integrated circuit boards, different screens and different cases.

Apple didn’t invent the touch screen and from many accounts it didn’t even invent pinch and squeeze.

Do these zealots really want less competition in the market so that Apple can afford to keep prices high and make even more obscene profits than it already does? Well if they do, I’m pretty convinced that most of us sure as hell don’t.

I have an iPhone 4 and I’m looking to upgrade next month. If I don’t like the iPhone 5 or Apple stuffs me around by making me wait too long for its new product, I’m thankful that the Samsung Galaxy SIII looks to be a pretty good alternative.

Finally, let me extend a passing reminder to all you zealots who faithfully wait in long queues every time Apple releases a new product.  Apple is not a person or a bunch of cool dudes – it’s a fabulously wealthy corporation that feeds off your unquestioning loyalty and laughs all the way to the bank.

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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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