The underdog delusion

Mac 1984 ad

In the developing world, government transitions often turn ugly. After decades of persecution, a minority group finally overthrows the entrenched authorities. Then, over time, that minority becomes the ruling class. Revolutionary fervor festers into dictatorial malice, and the once-downtrodden minority exacts brutal revenge on its former oppressors.

Throughout the 1990s, fans of Apple Computer suffered. Mac loyalists watched in dismay as the Cupertino company squandered its early potential. Microsoft devoured the PC market, developers increasingly ignored the Mac, and Apple itself flirted with bankruptcy.

Still, Apple’s diehards remained fiercely loyal. They embraced the scrappy, underdog identity fostered by Apple itself, most memorably in its 1984-inspired commercial. Mac aficionados were the marginalized minority, struggling to survive under oppression.

Then, to fans’ delight, Steve Jobs righted the ship. The iPod became a cultural phenomenon. The iPhone’s explosive growth made Apple the largest corporation in history. The iPad defined an entire computing category. Mac sales continue their steady growth, even while the PC industry itself shrinks. Apple recently crept its way into the top five computer makers.[1] Operationally, Apple’s industrial design and supply chain outclass the entire industry. The company posts quarter after quarter of record-shattering profits.

And yet, despite this miraculous recovery, some of Apple’s most enthusiastic customers retain the wounded mindset of the perpetual underdog. They defensively belittle Apple’s competitors. They sneer at anyone who questions Apple’s superiority. They mock the “tasteless plebeians” who prefer other platforms. They loyally applaud Apple’s every move, no matter its merit.

All this smacks of insecurity, or, at the very least, poor sportsmanship. The truth? Apple won. The once-fledgling California firm now rules the tech roost. It’s the antithesis of an “underdog.” If anything, Apple is Big Brother. IBM dominated the 80s; Microsoft dominated the 90s; now, Apple dominates as the unrivaled, seemingly invincible market leader. This corporate behemoth doesn’t need loyal zealots to defend it.

Don’t get me wrong; Apple’s fans should savor this moment. They backed the right horse. But they should also be gracious. After all, there’s only one thing worse than a sore loser.

  1. Measured by units sold. Apple’s long been the most profitable PC maker.  ↩