No zealot like a convert


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it is that companies like Apple actually do to inspire the kind of religious fervour we’ve seen recently in the lead up to CES, and journalists and fans alike clamber over each other to make wilder and wilder predictions over the next miracle that Jobs will announce.

I’ve been round this loop myself a couple of time. At college we produced the student newspaper in a tatty room in the student union on a couple of Mac SEs. System 7 had just come out and we thought we were right at the cutting edge of technology. Then, as now, we looked down with a kind of pity on the PC people who we suffering with ugly boxes, impossible interfaces, and ‘general protection faults’.

And then Apple started going wrong, and their machines would crash just as much as as the PCs. Then Microsoft got NT4 out. And that really did never crash. And all of a sudden, the mac people seemed like the ones with the slightly deranged thinking. PC people were sensible because the kit was cheaper, and more flexible, and more hackable.

And now of course, it’s back the other way round. Vista’s pretty sucky (although it’s likely to improve dramatically at SP1 – like XP did). OS X is more stable and has reclaimed the interface ground that System 7 had all those years ago.

But of course, it’s not really about which is actually better. In an interesting interview with Gizmodo (where he also admits Vista is not a great product), Bill Gates makes a very interesting point:

“To the degree we can share the risk we’re taking and how our innovation comes through, we get a very positive image; to the degree that someone just got a few error messages or they think all big companies, or some specific thing we did, is arrogant, we get a negative message. It’s all going to be there. Maybe it reached a particular time period when we were having some court cases going on and people thought start ups were the source of all innovation. Xbox has helped, Zune has helped. There is a lot of data that people  have to process when you say ‘What do you think of Microsoft or the people that founded it’

So Apple, Microsoft or whoever might do good things, might do bad things but there will be a lag between what they do and their reputation capital. The brand will be insulated from at least some shocks, because people have a lot of data about it, all added together. So my new shiny iPod Touch has been going through a bit a period of crashing all the time. Does this make me re-evaluate Apple and their engineering standard? Well it will if they don’t get it fixed fairly quickly, but they’ll get away with it for the time being.

And the other thing, is that people strive for internal consistency. And they invested alot – financially and emotionally – in this platform decision. Backing Mac is more than a tech gamble. It’s a statement about the user too. And to change sides means reevaluating yourself as well as the box in the corner of your lounge.

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