Like a distinguished violinist working her way through a familiar Beethoven sonata, Lydia Depillis delivers a thoroughly professional rendition of a classic tune -- Apple fans and their discontents -- in the (new) New Republic. Timed to coincide with Apple's annual meeting on Wednesday, the piece explores a growing sense of unease on the part of Apple's most fervent worshipers. The company, despite its huge profits and genre-defining products, just doesn't seem so insanely great anymore. The thrill is gone.
The malaise stems from multiple sources. Apple hasn't delivered any mind-blowing new products lately. Apple seems to be rolling out bloated, buggy software with greater frequency, making decisions for crass, commercial reasons rather than purity of style, design and function. Apple's stock price has been falling. In one of the nicest touches, Depellis quotes one Apple blogger as comparing "the feeling to a lefty's disillusionment after the election of Barack Obama: 'Well, I still like this guy's platform better than the other guy's platform. But I'm really kind of disappointed with what I see.'"
To the disillusioned enthusiasts, Apple has become an entertainment giant for the masses rather than a quirky tech company for geeks. In short, Apple has sold out.
Although Depillis is careful to note that the criticisms of Apple all come in the context of a company that is still absurdly profitable, sitting on tons of cash, and selling products that millions of people lust after, the temptation to froth over in mockery at all the woe is hard to resist. There's a hefty dose of "my favorite obscure indie band became popular and now I hate them" underlying the sellout accusations. Grow up, people! By any practical standard Apple is still clearly the greatest corporate success story of the 21st century.
How much of the disillusionment is based on reality and how much is generated by the free-floating anxiety that has swirled through Apple's fan base since Steve Jobs died is hard to say. It's also difficult to penetrate the late-capitalist postmodern irony inherent in accusing a company whose bottom line is to sell as many devices as possible of "selling out."
My advice to Apple's queasy legions? Take a page out of Steve Jobs' Zen Buddhist manual. Embrace impermanence. Nothing lasts forever, nor should we expect it to. Our knowledge that the gorgeous beauty of that moment when the cherry trees are blossoming is doomed to crumble under the force of the next strong spring breeze feeds our appreciation, our sense of wonder. Apple's had a great run. Rather than wallow in anxiety about where it's headed, why not appreciate where it's been? Or better yet, grab your iPhone and enjoy the now.
But if you're still looking for something to grumble about, how about this: At Apple's annual meeting, shareholders defeated a motion to create a board of directors committee on human rights.