Has Apple Lost Its Outsider Status?

Despite operating within the profit-driven world of consumer technology, Apple has often maintained a distinctly rebellious public persona. Launched by two former telephone hackers Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (in addition to Ronald Wayne), Apple forged their own path by ignoring the status quo and offering such innovations as the first widespread GUI and desktop publishing software which was easy for anyone to use.

As Apple lost a series of running battles with Microsoft over market share and the company faced a number of vicissitudes, Apple embraced their underdog status and turned their near destruction into a rallying cry. Never had a technology company made financial disaster seem so cool and owning an Apple computer could feel like being part of an exclusive club. However, as Steve Jobs and co guided Apple back from the brink to renewed success, there is a perception that perhaps they lost something of their free-thinking spirit along the way, that Apple have become part of the establishment which they once so gleefully ignored.

Thinking Different

Consider the following piece of text taken from the ‘Crazy Ones’ poster as part of the Think Different campaign of around fifteen years ago.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

This was more than mere marketing spiel and though brash advertisements have often been seen something of a tradition at Apple, the text makes a rather bold statement in itself about the kind of company who would pursue such an advertising campaign – with all due respect to the firms in question, it’s hard to imagine such values being extolled by Microsoft or Hewlett-Packard, for example.

Now let’s contrast this with the almost maniacal control wielded over designers, developers and even users in Apple’s iOS App Store – there are no misfits, troublemakers or round pegs to be found on an iPhone, though there is a boatload of fantastic software to be sure. Clearly Apple have either had a change of heart, or perhaps the rebel act was just that, an act?

Aiming For Ubiquity

In the past, Apple acted like the underdog because they were the underdog and in a typically gutsy move, they embraced this. However, while those working at Apple back then will have genuinely (and rightly) considered themselves outsiders in a world dominated by beige PC’s, I’d argue that this was more of a means to an end than any inherent desire to be cast as in the role of a rebel of computing.

We can see Apple’s aims toward putting their computers and devices into as many hands as possible when considering their efforts to popularize the first widespread GUI and we can also detect it in Apple’s admirable work toward making OS X accessible for all people, regardless of physical abilities. iOS is merely an evolution of this, a form of hassle free computing, without the worry of malware or complex decisions on the user’s part. The question is not if Apple has grabbed hold of the controls, because they most certainly have, but if they’re using their new power effectively.


In the pursuit of technological greatness, Apple is steadily growing into a more controlling company, increasingly concerned with the content their users are digesting and keen to keep a clean platform fit for all. Never exactly an open platform to begin with, Apple’s computers and devices have become steadily more closed – though at the same time, have also become that much more compelling to use. Whether the tradeoff is worth it is a matter of opinion, though I’d personally be inclined toward thinking it is, so long as OS X doesn’t go the way of iOS and become completely closed, which seems exceedingly unlikely.

Apple has certainly moved away from the rebellious attitude it once had and evolved from the role of plucky rebel to caring big brother, but the negative connotations of this have been mitigated by Apple’s will to wield their new influence and position to change the way we all interact with technology, which, in its own way, is really quite revolutionary in itself.


Add Yours
  • Apple used to be a company known for great “PRO” products like the PowerMac/Mac Pro, professional server hardware, professional (worldwide standard) software, etc. used by, well, professionals in a professional environment (Agencies, Studios, etc.)

    Apple is a consumer product company now!

    I can understand the reason Apple is focusing on products like the iPod, iPads, iPhones, and all the other (i)consumer stuff, but its strange to see kids walk around with Apple hardware now.

    Good bye and rest in peace MacPro and Xserve.

    Apple lost much more than just its outsider status!

    • Though it’s true that Apple’s main focus these days is on consumer products, it has not stopped caring about the professionals! They made some mistakes during the launch of Final Cut Pro X, but mainly only immediately stopping selling version 7. However, all the most important missing features from FCPX are now in place already, which shows their dedication to serving their pro customers. Apple repeatedly push hard to get rid of the old to make room for the new – but in the case of FCPX, they pushed a little too hard a little too quickly. However, I guarantee you they’ll be back on top in a year or two. FCPX is a fantastic platform to build on.

      Aperture has never been industry leading. It’s a decent piece of software, but PS/Bridge or Lightroom is just so much better for most photographers. Photography is definitely where Apple has the most room for improvement.

      Logic Studio will likely receive an upgrade this year. It’s a truly fantastic piece of software that rivals everything else out there at an absolutely unbeatable price. Sure, there are some features still missing, but I’d wait until Logic Pro X is announced to judge it.

      The Mac Pro is so awesome it doesn’t really need to be updated as often as the rest of the line-up anymore. The current version offers up to 12 cores, supports up to 128GB RAM (though OS X currently only sees up to 96GB). Also, you can put almost anything else in there to suit your needs. It’s hard to find any meaningful number of edge cases where the current MP line-up won’t be a good fit.

      The MacBook Pro, well, it’s also awesome. What’s wrong with it?

      As far as the XServe goes, well, yeah – that was a market where they realized they’d have to build up a very large and dedicated support organization, which it’s quite easy to see wouldn’t have been worth it for a company like Apple.

      Although it may sound like I work for Apple or something, that’s not the case. I just can’t see that there’s any merit to 98% of the criticism people are throwing Apple’s way over their pro offerings.

      I will concede one point: Apple sure could get better at communicating with their pro customers.

      • “The Mac Pro is so awesome it doesn’t really need to be updated as often as the rest of the line-up anymore.” Thats absolutely correct, Joe!

        I still have “just” my 8-Core Mac Pro 3.1 (early 2008, 2×2.8GHz) and its the best Workstation I ever had! I’m sure I don’t have to upgrade that Mac the next two or three years. I did some RAM-, SSD, GFX-Card-upgrades over the years, tho.

        The Mac Pro itself is great – you just have to upgrade the stuff yourself, as the BTO-prices for RAM, SSDs, and Gfx-Cards are just ridiculous. (especially since you can use much(!!!) cheaper PC-graphic-cards in your Mac Pro now)

        The MacBook Pro is awesome indeed, there’s nothing wrong with it at all. (except that glossy screen maybe, but thats another story. ;-))

        I just hope Apple is not going to stop making new/more “Pro” products like the MacPro and the MacBook Pro as Apple is focusing more on fancy consumer-products like the Mac mini or iPad/MacBook (Air). Thats what I’m afraid of.

    • I agree, apple is a consumer product company now!

      • OK, make that a prosumer conduct profany ;^D

  • This was more than mere marketing spiel and though brash advertisements have often been seen something of a tradition at Apple, the text makes a rather bold statement in itself about the kind of company who would pursue such an advertising campaign – with all due respect to the firms in question, it’s hard to imagine such values being extolled by Microsoft or Hewlett-Packard, for example.

    Well, not very hard. When every other laundry detergent is touted as “revolutionary”, you can easily imagine MS and HP putting out such an ad. All it takes it’s a little cynicism after all.

    But we don’t (and we didn’t) buy Apple because it was “outsider”. We bought it because we thought the hardware/software was better. And while it still stands, if it also has wide success, the better, as the future of the platform is assured.

    The comment above says that: “Apple used to be a company known for great “PRO” products like the PowerMac/Mac Pro, professional server hardware”

    Well, that was not the case, just an impression. If you look at the historical stats, the sales of Mac Pro were always minuscule compared to the other machines, like the laptops and the iMacs. And even more so for XServe, which was a very very tiny niche.

    Even for the target market it didn’t hold so. Like, for the last 5 years, at least, when I go into a professional design studio or ad agency etc, I see iMacs, not Mac Pros. And when I read an interview of a professional musician/producer in trade magazines, like Future Music, Keyboard, etc, they always seem to have an iMac or a mac laptop not a Mac Pro.

    • Well, my comment above might be just an impression, but in the last 5 to 10 years most of the iMacs I saw in Agencies where those on the desk of consultants or copy-writers. (actually, I remember almost 10 years ago even copywriters sitting in the same room with a designer and developer were using a PowerMac) Macbooks were used in meetings/presentations, etc., but the heavyweight business was done on the big machines.

      Most of my colleagues (I’m a pro audio/music-producer (and freelance web-dev)) are using MacPros for music production too.
      Protools hardware, (used by professional studios, although mostly in the US) are PCIe-Cards, MacPro only. Same for lot of other hardware used for pro music- or video-productions.

      And working with large audio- or video-files, having 64BG RAM and 8/12 Cores (and up to 4 internal HDDs/SSDs, PCIe, etc) is an advantage!

      I do share your opinion about the fact that we bought Apple products because of the quality, not because Apple was a underdog/outsider.


  • Design studios and ad agencies are one thing, video processing is an entirely different beast that requires that extra magnitude of RAM and processing power (neither of which can just be thunderbolted onto an iMac or mini).

    That said, while it is indeed hard to call Apple the outsider with things like the iPad, iPod, and iPhone making it more mainstream every day, in the end that very spirit you write about lives on to this day in the fact that Apple is wiling to take on challenges (such as tablet computing, or completely redesigning the way we approach coomon objects like a phone) and produce amazing outside-the-box results.

    Now, you can indeed argue that Apple wants everyone else to stay within that box to a large degree once they’ve put it out there, but the fact that people are waiting with bated breath to see the next big product release from Apple (iTV, anyone?) says to me that they’ve still largely got that spirit from the old days. It’s just that now the world around them has evolved to a point where their way of rebelling is now seen as setting the pace, as opposed to simply being quirky. Saying Apple isn’t rebelling today is like saying that your favprite indie band is terrible today because someone else discovered them and helped them get enough attention to be commercially successful.

  • I do not think the Think Different campaign was about Apple being outsiders, but rather in Apple being different and perhaps their users thinking different(ly). Apple itself is still different. Very different.

    Apple aims at enhancing the overall user experience for people using their digital devices while creating shareholder value so they can continue to create these great products.

    This is very unlike Google, Microsoft, Amazon or Facebook. Apple sells an experience complete with software, hardware and connective tissue (iCloud). They also provide frictionless access to third party products that aid the quest for user satisfaction (App Store).

    Technically, Apple ignores spec sheets in favor of overall experience, unlike any other company.

    Financially, Apple charges for their products (with rare exceptions like iBook Author).

    Apple thinks different. It is true that many of the folks buying their products don’t necessarily think different.

  • Your “big brother” comment is the most telling slip in all of this. I’ve watched 18 private developers I follow knuckle under or die out because of AppStore totalitarianism. And is what the “big brother” paradigm really is. It is not brotherly at all… claiming so makes naive to the underlying ideological and even political principles involved. You didn’t even seem to understand the terms you were using that backfire on your perspective. Being sardonic therefore failed.

  • At least they aren’t Google.

  • Rebel/outsider status is clearly disappearing but that may not be that bad at the moment. I think Mac Pro shouldn’t be updated, it doesn’t need to be updated and should be even canceled next year after MacBook Pro and Mac Mini get another significant upgrade. As for software I hope we’ll get new iWork 2012, improved iTunes AppStore, better Safari (I’m thinking about 6.0 not 5.2), that way people will know that Apple is still working at the “meat & potatoes” and not simply pumping out new iPods etc. Safari especially needs some innovation because it doesn’t stand out from the crowd and doesn’t do anything better that the other browsers do, Apple should show everyone they are still thinking different in a good way here.

  • +1 for use of the word “vicissitudes” :)