David Heinemeier Hansson

May 9, 2024

Hating Apple goes mainstream

This isn't just about one awful ad. I mean, yes, the ad truly is awful. It symbolizes everything everyone has ever hated about digitization. It celebrates a lossy, creative compression for the most flimsy reason: An iPad shedding an irrelevant millimeter or two. It's destruction of beloved musical instruments is the perfect metaphor for how utterly tone-deaf technologists are capable of being. But the real story is just how little saved up goodwill Apple had in the bank to compensate for the outrage.

That's because Apple has lost its presumption of good faith over the last five years with an ever-larger group of people, and now we've reached a tipping point. A year ago, I'm sure this awful ad would have gotten push back, but I'm also sure we'd heard more "it's not that big of a deal" and "what Apple really meant to say was..." from the stalwart Apple apologists the company has been able to count on for decades. But it's awfully quiet on the fan-boy front.

This should all be eerily familiar to anyone who saw Microsoft fall from grace in the 90s. From being America's favorite software company to being the bully pursued by the DOJ for illegalities. Just like Apple now, Microsoft's reputation and good standing suddenly evaporated seemingly overnight once enough critical stories had accumulated about its behavior.

It's not easy to predict these tipping points. Tim Cook enthusiastically introduced this awful ad with a big smile, and I'm sure he's sitting with at least some sense of "wtf just happened?" and "why don't they love us any more?". Because companies like Apple almost have to ignore the haters as the cost of doing business, but then they also can't easily tell when the sentiment has changed from "the usual number" to "one too many". And then, boom, the game is forever changed.

I think this is bound to come as a bigger surprise to Apple than it would have almost any other company. Apple had such treasure chest of goodwill from decades as first an underdog, then unchallenged innovator. But today they're a near three-trillion dollar company, battling sovereigns on both sides of the Atlantic, putting out mostly incremental updates to mature products. Nobody is lining up with a tent to buy a new iPhone any more. The Vision Pro had at best a mediocre launch. Oh, and now the company is even the creator of cringy ads, introduced by a cringy CEO.

Not that this is a mortal wound or even a story anyone is likely to remember in a month. But it is an early indicator that Apple's run on easy street is over. And that's going to require a new approach, which Apple probably won't embrace until they've embarrassed themselves a few more times (like they did with another cringe ad from a little while back).

Everything is great until it isn't.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.