culture tech

Tribal malfunction (rooting for tech companies is silly)

Humans are instinctively tribal. Our fierce, hard-wired clan loyalty has its advantages; in the prehistoric age of hunter-gatherers, tribal commitment could make the difference between surviving together or dying alone.

That same tribal instinct drives our social behavior today, too. We’re driven by irrational devotion to sports franchises, political parties, and, yes, multinational technology companies.

In the last case, we’re bound to our “team” not by geography, ideology, or genetics, but by past purchases. Once we decide to invest thousands of dollars in one platform over another, we feel tremendous pressure to see that decision justified, to see “our side” come out on top. Hence, we see Apple hordes descending upon tech sites that don’t give Cupertino the credit it deserves.

Such brand affinity is a malfunction of our tribal programming, and it works against our own best interests. Google and Amazon will never return my allegiance, and their success is largely irrelevant to my own happiness. So why should I bother defending them, or deriding their competitors?

If anything, we should root against any one company—even our “favorite”—from dominating the market. Apple customers should celebrate the successes of Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and Amazon at least as enthusiastically as Apple’s own victories. We need viable ecosystems and trend-setting products outside of iOS; competition is good for the industry, good for consumers, and good for Apple.

So, when Google debuts a phone like the Pixel 2, the logical response from Apple fans should be “That camera is incredible!”, not “Neener, neener! Apple was right about the headphone jack!” When Apple announces another record-shattering quarter of profits, Android afficianados should cheer, instead of prattling on about “sheeple” buying whatever Jony says is good.

Let’s leave the tech cheerleading to those on these companies’ payrolls. Let’s step back from the arena and let the tech giants duke it out themselves. And let’s look forward to the innovation ahead, no matter whether it comes from Mountain View, Cupertino, Seattle, or Redmond. ■

  1. Foam finger artwork courtesy of Vecteezy.

apple tech

Punching down: should Apple fans mock the Pixel 2’s missing headphone jack?

Yesterday, Google announced two new flagship phones: the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Because they offer the premiere stock Android experience, and because they boast great hardware (like a terrific camera), the devices will likely prove very popular with those outside the Apple bubble.

Some pundits inside the Apple ecosystem weren’t quite so receptive. Instead of praising Google’s improved design chops or its industry-leading AI features, they mocked Google for removing the Pixel’s analog headphone jack.

Now, maybe turnabout is fair play. Last year, Google poked fun at Apple for nixing the 3.5mm port on the iPhone 7. So why shouldn’t Apple-focused writers do the same thing, now that the Pixel has followed suit?

For me, the problem lies in Apple’s dominant market position. Apple’s handset business dwarfs Google’s in both unit sales and profit.[1] Whereas the iPhone has made Apple tremendously powerful, supremely confident, and unfathomably rich, the Pixel remains little more than a side project for Google.

So when Apple fans snarkily ridicule other companies’ devices, they do so from a lofty perch; it feels like “punching down” on Apple’s behalf. That may not be wrong, per se, but it’s not very funny, either. The world’s most dominant technology firm doesn’t need an army of apologists, patrolling the Internet for proof that Apple was right. Apple can look out for itself; it’s no longer the downtrodden underdog of the 1990s, struggling just to stay afloat.

Yes, this is a double standard. Is it fair if Google aficionados snidely deride the iPhone, while Apple’s followers hold their tongues? Maybe not. But when your team is winning, good sportsmanship demands that you dial down the trash talk. After all, nobody likes a sore winner. ■

  1. Google has likely shipped 1–2 million of the original Pixel since its October 2016 launch, whereas Apple sells over 200 million iPhones each year. Its dominance doesn’t end there; from a marketing perspective, Cupertino owns the mobile mindshare and can suck the atmosphere from the room with every announcement. Technologically, Apple’s A-series chips decimate the competition in benchmark tests. And finally, Apple’s strategic decisions steer the entire industry, charting the course in everything from hardware deprecation (e.g. the headphone jack) to accessory sales (the iPhone will make Qi chargers ubiquitous) to software features (every flagship phone now includes a ‘portrait mode’).