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.
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.