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Arguing against a doctrine of Apple infallibility

I can almost guarantee that today's column about Apple's management of its App Store will earn me a flood of furious reader comments and e-mails, all accusing me of willful blindness to the facts and blatant bias.

That input won't -- I hope! -- be because I actually am blind to the facts or biased, blatantly or otherwise, against Apple. I can assure you that I am neither. (Would it help you believe me if you knew I was typing this from an iMac I bought in November?) But some people won't be convinced that easily.

I've been covering the computer industry for a long time, so I'm used to people thinking very highly of Apple and resenting criticism of it. I've seen the same thing among fans of other companies and products: Linux, Microsoft, Google, you name it.

But it's something different to see people twisting themselves into logical contortions to defend things that Apple itself then recognizes as errors. Consider these not-atypical comments on last week's post about the company rejecting editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore's application because it "ridicules public figures":

The Apple App store is just that, a store. Every store owner decides what to include/exclude in the store.
Frankly, I'd rather have Apple control over the App Store than have to worry about antivirus programs and so forth on my iPhone.
If you owned a store (yes, the iTunes is a store)... would you like to be forced to sell items... that you didn't want to sell?
Maybe Apple is just protecting its business. If it supports political content that some customers might find offensive, it risks losing those customers. If it permits some political messages and not others, it risks being accused of taking sides, and might even in some way become liable for the content it permits.

(This person went on to suggest that Apple could offer "a standardized publishing app," open to all, for which Apple would disclaim any responsibility. Yes, I can think of one way to do that.)

This post is ridiculous and silly. Apple OWNS their platform. It isn't a violation of free speech to prevent publication of content you disagree with on YOUR platform. If it were, every news organization in America would be anti-American and violating my rights to free speech.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs, meanwhile, seems to have a different take on the Fiore escapade, e-mailing a customer that "This was a mistake." Indeed, Fiore's NewsToons (note: link opens iTunes if installed) landed on the App Store earlier this week and is apparently selling quite well... though, presumably, not among the political figures the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist ridicules in his work.

You can see the same dynamic elsewhere online. In this comments thread on Apple developer Rogue Amoeba's blog, for instance, you can see people instructing veteran Mac developers how Mac OS X application programming interfaces really work.

It's no news flash to note that people are often wrong on the Internet. But it's still sad to see readers acting as if they are sure one company -- or, for that matter, any human organization -- is infallible.

History suggests I'll see more Apple absolutists in the comments soon enough, and then in my Web chat at noon. Should I attempt to address their concerns with evidence or logic or the usual snarky, sarcastic rejoinders?

(Update, 5:59 p.m.: I had linked back to Randall Munroe's wonderful "Duty Calls" comic, thinking he'd invited that by including the relevant HTML below that image. But his license only permits non-commercial use, so I've removed the image. My thanks to commenter "ms_babbage" for noting this point.)

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 23, 2010; 9:55 AM ET
Categories:  Mac , Mobile , The business we have chosen  
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I'm in favor of the usual snarky, sarcastic rejoinders. I don't have a bias against Mac, but I have friends who are absolute Mac Nazis. You can't say one thing without either a comment about how Apple is better, or how Microsoft is criminal. I hate that.

Posted by: maxinea | April 23, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I have a Mac and I like my Mac. I also have a Windows desktop and like it a lot too. Neither is perfect; they both have strengths and weaknesses. The problem is that many journalists, Rob included, get caught in Steve Jobs' reality distortion field and happily drink the Kool-Aid which is a disservice to readers. Apple is great at selling "cool". Microsoft is terrible at marketing and have an atrocious record when it comes to presenting their image to the world.

So my only problem is when tech journalists allow themselves to get caught up in Apple's hype which is far better than the reality of their products. And if you hold Apple to the same standard of critical analysis, as Rob has done with today's column, then it becomes quite clear that they are not the munificent, perfect purveyors of all that is good. The delusional Apple fanbois are like a cult determined to defend their great leader to the end. It's strange since Steve Jobs' isn't interested in being their "friend" he just wants their cash. But he's great at disguising that goal behind the slick marketing and touchy-feely atmosphere that he's brilliant at utilizing.

So no, Rob, no need to be snarky or sarcastic. Logic and facts should be your job. Be consistent. Treat them with the same level of skepticism that you frequently hold out for Microsoft. It's your obligation really.

Posted by: scarper86 | April 23, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Rob, while I appreciate that there's a link to XKCD, I think it was a mistake to post the comic without an attached tagline giving credit or a link. None of my students could get away with that. I mention this because since you must be tired of hearing from Apple fanatics, I thought you would enjoy hearing from an attribution fanatic.

Posted by: ms_babbage | April 23, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

@ms_babbage: Right you are. I saw the hotlink/embed HTML under the image but didn't follow through to read xkcd's CC license, which doesn't allow commercial reproduction without permission. In short: oops. Post duly updated.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | April 23, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

It's amazing how so many people seem to think that Apple's legal right to exclude the Mark Fiore iPhone app from the iTunes Store somehow makes the actual decision to do so a good idea, immune to criticism from the outside world.

Sure, Apple may well have the legal right to exclude any application it wants from the iTunes Store, but consumers like me also have the right to take into account the way Apple uses that right in deciding whether to buy Apple's products and services. Frankly, any company that presumes to tell me what political satire or humor I may view or hear on any communications device or service it wants to sell me automatically loses my business.

Posted by: knutsondc | April 26, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

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