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The cool cult of Apple

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple

Makeshift memorial shrine for Steve Jobs.

Kai Ryssdal: There's a book on the bookshelf in my office called "The Cult of Mac." It's leftover from the guy who had the office before me, but it's not a bad start to our coverage of Steve Jobs today.

"Cult" is kind of a strong word, but it's not far off the mark. You don't hear the kinds of things being said about Apple and Steve Jobs today being said about Dell or Nike. Nobody's going to be leaving flowers and candles outside a Verizon store anytime soon.

But long before Steve Jobs ever got sick, people -- and you know who you are -- were calling themselves 'Mac people.'

Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith explores how Jobs and Apple managed to make personal computers so personal.


Stacey Vanek Smith: Outside of the Apple Store in Soho, Colin Bartlett adds a red apple and a letter to a growing shrine of flowers and candles. Bartlett has two iPhones, an iPad and two MacBooks. He says part of why he's been so moved by Steve Jobs' death is his experience with these products.

Colin Bartlett: I think it's that empathy, that feeling you get when you use it. It makes you feel like the company that built it cares about you.

Making people feel like it cares is exactly why Apple is Apple, says Jen Drexler, a brand analyst at Just Ask a Woman.

Jen Drexler: You joined it. It's like enrolling in college and wearing the sweatshirt. You joined this brand the second you became hooked on one of the products.

Part of it is the cool factor. Drexler says instead of focusing on selling to businesses and targeting the cubicle culture, Mac aimed its products at musicians, filmmakers and visual artists.

Drexler: And then everyone else who has one can feel a little bit of that too. I can tell you I've never done anything creative with mine ever, but I would like to believe people think I do.

And once you buy in to that perception, it's hard to get out. Apple's products have never played very well with others. PC documents won't open on your Mac; your iTunes songs wont load onto your Android phone. All of which creates an aura of superiority, says consumer behavior consultant Britt Beemer.

Britt Beemer: Part of that non-compatibility was kind of a snob appeal Apple also created for its customers.

Beemer points out Apple products also quickly become incompatible with themselves. For instance, if you buy a new iPhone, it won't work with your 4-year-old MacBook Pro. And when you finally break down and buy a new laptop, you will discover it no longer syncs up with your old iPod. At least that's what I hear.

Beemer says this cycle, vicious though it feels, is exactly what Apple's consumers thrive on. The short life span makes Apple products synonymous with what's new and what's cool. Which kind of makes you cool.

Beemer: People discarded an Apple product to get the new Apple product. If you have an Apple product, you always have the latest technology.

Beemer did a series of consumer studies for Steve Jobs back in the '80s. He says even back then, Jobs wanted people to get emotionally attached to their machines.

Beemer: He one time told me, he said, 'Britt, the day people put their wedding pictures in their computer is the day I know we've won.'

In New York, I'm Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace.


EDITOR'S NOTE: The above piece on the personal appeal of Apple products overstated the severity of compatibility issues with other operating systems and devices, and among Apple products. To hear a follow-up conversation between Kai Ryssdal and John Moe, host of the Marketplace Tech Report, listen to Marketplace today, Oct. 7.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

Makeshift memorial shrine for Steve Jobs.

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Help Wanted: NPR fact checker. Awful piece. 1996 called. . . it want's to know why it can't access files from Window 3.11. Pathetic. And associating Mac users with a cult. . . so played out. Yawn.

This story should never have made it to air. Has *nobody* at Marketplace *ever* owned a Mac? This story shows clearly that there are huge gaps in Marketplace's fact-checking procedures. No, actually, it calls into question whether Marketplace checks facts at all.

I'm writing this on a current-generation Mac, but next to it is a one-generation-back Mac. These are being backed up by an eleven-year-old two-generations-back Mac, and one of our portables is a three-generations-back iBook. Not too long ago I took a Mac out of service that was built in 1994 or so. My kid emails documents back and forth between our machines and the Windows machines at school *all* the time. I use these Macs with a variety of cameras, audio devices, iPods, and iPhones. Some of these machines even have SCSI disk drives. I frequently run UNIX shells on them.

Check the prices of used Macs online and compare them to the original prices of those machines, and to the prices of current Macs. These things depreciate *very* slowly, which should be one of the first things a business news show checks.

This story significantly damaged your credibility, and I hope you take steps starting today to fix that. Reduce your reporters' workloads so they can take the time to cross-check facts against second and third sources. Get your editors up to speed on online research tools.

I'm sorry you're getting so much harsh feedback on this story, and I fear it's going to make you anti-Mac. Instead, please buy or borrow some Macs so you can see for yourselves that these things are *not* religious icons. They just work. Extremely well.

Apple did not "aim its products at musicians, film makers and visual artists". Those people gravitated towards Macs because the Mac version of those products are easier to use. No one ever told Adobe that Photoshop should be easier to use on a Mac (by about six steps versus a Windows PC, "I've been told" by a professional photographer). Microsoft Office documents open just fine with iWork, which costs a fraction of Office for Mac. Microsoft is in charge of what works on a Mac, not the other way around. It is simple to authorize an iPod to work on a different machine. My biggest gripe about this segment is that you called me a "snob" while my local station was begging me for money. I don't consider myself a snob. I buy Macs because they last longer than PC's. This was an ill-timed story. Steve Jobs hasn't been dead a day, and you are allowing trolls to pile manure on his not-yet-buried body. I am pretty sure I will not be contributing a pledge on behalf of Marketplace any time soon. If you ever rely on Jen Drexler or Britt Beemer as sources again, please check their agendas.

Wow. The amount of factual errors and skewed reporting in this "report" were shocking.

"PC documents won't open on your Mac" - Are you kidding me. I run an IT support service of both Windows and Mac machines. With a few exceptions there are almost no documents that cannot be opened on a mac that can be exported from a PC.

"iTunes songs wont load onto your Android phone." - Since Apple strong-armed the music industry to allow them to release and re-release songs DRM free three years ago, that is no longer an issue.

"Apple products also quickly become incompatible with themselves. For instance, if you buy a new iPhone, it won't work with your 4-year-old MacBook Pro."- I have not found this to be the case. We have iPhones in our office from 1997 (Four years ago) and they sync up fine with our newest laptops. In addition, iCloud which was just discussed at the Apple event on Tuesday makes syncing information between all of your internet devices simultaneous and fast and no cables needed. Demonstrating that Apple has been truing to make it even easier to sync everything.

"finally break down and buy a new laptop, you will discover it no longer syncs up with your old iPod" - I can see that if you bought one of the old Firewire iPods back anywhere from 2001-2003, you might be upset. But after 2003 all iPods used USB! And there are no machines that would not be compatible with them.

"The short life span makes Apple products synonymous with what's new and what's cool" Macintoshes are kept and used longer then any other PC. They just keep working. Macs are easier to maintain than PCs and as a result they stay around and are used longer. The shortest amount of usable life I have had a Mac around is 6 years.

"People discarded an Apple product to get the new Apple product. If you have an Apple product, you always have the latest technology." - This is true. As Apple tops themselves and the industry, over and over again, there is much appeal to want the latest and greatest. MAn what a terrible thing. That you make products so awesome that people want to buy from you again and again.

In the last eight years Apple has led the PC industry in customer satisfaction. Trouncing its nearest competition by 12 percentage points. Your article tried to tie its success to the idea that they are snake oil salesmen and either ignored facts or did not even engage in any fact checking.

Poorly done and I am canceling my podcast download. How is that for irony.

My bad...Stacey Vanek-Smith has a rough meeting to look forward to...

Also, "iTunes songs wont load onto your Android phone.". Not true. It's called doubletwist and it works fine. Wow. I fear for Beemer at the Thursday morning meeting. Really dropped the ball on this story.

Wow. So many pieces of misinformation, it's hard to know where to start. As a production artist in the print industry, I can attest to the compatibility issues first hand. If you've got the software, you can open the file. Period. Font issues used to plague people like me more than any other, but since the Intel chip machines and improved font management software, even that is a thing of the past. The most ridiculous claim has to be the built-in obsolescence. There are 5 Macs in my house ranging in age from 1 to 14 years. They ALL work fine. Why do I have a 14 year old Mac? Well, maybe that's the one thing this article got right...I'm a Mac person, and maybe it is a cult. In my experience though, the Mac people are faintly bemused at people's devotion to their buggy PCs, while a PC guy will practically start foaming at the mouth hating on Macs. At least I'm drinking the "be happy" kool aid.

I've generally become enured to Marketplace's shoddy reporting, and the program, if I listen at all, only serves as a bridge between ATC and The World. But you really embarrassed yourselves this time. Virtually everything in the report, particularly the comments by Britt Beemer, are utterly false and easily proven to be so. Particularly offensive was the supposed "consumer research" BB did for Jobs. Apple was famous for not doing such studies. Beemer should produce his invoice as proof. As a side issue, he runs the America's Research Group, a conservative polling firm, and Al Gore is on Apple's board. Have to inject politics into everything, no?

Really? Macs and obsolescence? I listen to Marketplace with a 2003 Powerbook, which synchs with an iPad2 just fine, while new Macs work just fine with legacy hardware. The average lifespan of a Mac is *longer* than that of a PC; People buy new PCs because the old one is "too slow" with ad/spy/junk-ware. Please check your sources; it's not 1985 anymore...

William, good points. I don't have problems sending Mac documents to PC users, though. If they are using the same software, Word or Excel, for example, the document opens perfectly in Windows or on Mac.

I prefer not to use Microsoft Office, though -- it wastes so much of my time, so I use other software and very quickly export to Word form before emailing documents.

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