Apple: Unfortunately, no longer the underdog
Remember when Mac users were the fringe? The holdouts, the misfits, the ADB plugs in the USB holes? Don’t look now, but everyone’s found our party. That’s awesome—but I’m still not totally comfortable with it.
Why? Let me explain by way of analogy. I know a shocking number of songs only by way of the “Weird Al” Yankovic parody versions. I have no idea what the real lyrics are to James Brown's “Living in America,” but I can name all the medical conditions in “Living with a Hernia.” While the cool kids had the cool songs, I had the same songs but with debatably funnier lyrics. So, in the mind of my 12-year-old self, I won.
There’s more. Before I switched to the Mac, I had an Amiga. Most people don’t know the Amiga, but it was a computer so incredibly ahead of its time that it could multitask multiple applications effortlessly while simultaneously defending the owner’s virginity at any cost. I was so happy with my Amiga that the company went bankrupt. I switched to the Mac because it was the only choice: There was no way I could use a PC, because that’s what everybody else—the squares, with their suits and their mortgages and their hot lunches—used. The Mac was unpopular, universally derided, and most important, incredible.
The very big Apple
So it’s still a little bit weird for me to walk into an Apple Store today and see every corner of it jam-packed with humanity, not just the “It’s such a shame that Heat Vision and Jack wasn’t picked up as a series” nerd-fringe that I’m a part of. From the girls posing for Photo Booth and the cool kids listening to their (nonparody!) jams on some Beats by Dre to the hip toddlers tapping Toca Boca on a teeny tiny table and the questionable black market resellers buying 150 iPads with envelopes stuffed with cash, everyone’s arrived at the Apple Store.
Yes, in an unbelievably short period of time, Apple crossed over. Much like “Weird Al” himself, Apple got a haircut and LASIK surgery, shaved off its mustache, ditched the nerdy glasses, and created the iPod. And then the iPhone. And then the iPad. And the momentum that had already been slowly building on the Mac side took off as the iDevices took hold, and the Apple stickers slowly moved from the Volvo rear window to the top of the skateboard deck.
This is good. It’s wonderful to see people appreciating what I’ve always appreciated. It’s exciting to see Apple’s innovations reach more people than they’ve ever reached before. It’s beautiful to see FaceTime being used for discussing last night’s Game of Thrones and connecting grandparents and grandchildren. It’s nice to actually have games (games!) on an Apple platform. It’s awesome to see people realize that these are truly the best computers in the world.
But sometimes, late at night, I hear voices. They whisper: “How long can this last?”
Today’s teardrops are tomorrow’s rainbows
After all, today’s Angry Birds is tomorrow’s Pac Man, and today’s Skrillex is tomorrow’s Right Said Fred. In fact, that Skrillex joke was already out-of-date when I wrote it 13 seconds ago; by the time you read this, Skrillex will long since have been replaced by, I don’t know, a new musician named Marsh-Mex who sings for the Sriachachas. This stuff moves fast. Try doing a Twitter search for “Who uses Facebook?” and you’ll find the painful truth: replies laden with the “tween eyeroll” emoji about how Facebook is, basically, a place where only dumb old parents hang out and be dumb. Already.
When my nephew entered teenhood, he grappled with the all-important life decision of iOS versus Android. I bit my tongue as best I could. The pro-Android argument boiled down to the fact that his friends had Android phones, and you could customize everything on them: change the color of the menus, get new icons, stuff like that. When you’re 13, this is a legitimately big deal, and this is something the clean-lined minds at Apple will never, ever enable. He was so very, very close to Droiding it up.
The problem with massive popularity is that it’s fleeting, and it can hinge on the superficial.
But, you know what? I’m secretly okay with that. Because, don’t tell anyone this, but I wouldn’t mind seeing an Apple that’s just a little less popular. Down a peg or two, a little bit. I sometimes very awkwardly find myself rooting for Microsoft, Nokia—anybody—to put up a good fight and keep that fire burning under Apple’s collective behind. The smartest, most incredible people work in Cupertino, and their capabilities are boundless and their drive is endless, but sometimes—especially as a developer—you get the feeling that Apple doesn’t really need you, and will do just fine without you, thank you very much. I want Apple to need us.
Apple in the middle
If Apple can find that comfortable middle, we’re set. With keynotes still watched closely, but constant flying-car expectations mellowed out. Innovating constantly, but at a possibly more relaxed pace, so that those innovations can truly stand out. Still pushing the industry, but still with something to prove.
Of course, this means Apple’s stock would plummet (more), and as a shareholder, that makes me an idiot. And don’t get me wrong: I’m honestly glad Apple is receiving the success it deserved for so long.
If all else fails, Apple, take solace in this inarguable fact: We—the nerds—will always be there for you. As long as you don’t dump too much DRM in our dingles, or donate all your proceeds to dolphin-harvesting, we’ll buy every new thing, and hang on every word. We’re your #1 fans. We might not always be cool, but we’re awfully consistent. After all, “Weird Al” has been making parodies, with the same band, for 30 years.