Apple’s love/hate relationship with its users

Apple is an anomaly in today's tech world.

Long the mainstay of small segment of computer users it had a loyal following who would probably leap off of cliffs if Steve Jobs asked them to, especially if asked during one of his famous keynote speeches. There is no denying that all that faith and admiration in both the man and the products isn't well placed. The iPhone has transformed the whole smart phone industry, the iPod/iTunes has revolutionized the music industry and could have the same effect on video, and the Mac in all its variations is a beautiful and excellent computer.

When it comes to the man the loyal followers have him to thank for first bringing the company back from the brink of disaster and then making it more popular than it ever has been before. In return for this 'fandom' Apple and Steve Jobs continue to challenge the established ideas of how we perceive our electronic devices and provide us with some of the best designed gadgets to fill our days with – and in the process Apple is making money hand over fist. With over $25 billion cash in their war chest Apple is set to do basically whatever it wants.

All this goodness and light however isn't without its spots of tarnish – spots that are increasing both in number and size.

As hard as Apple tries to clean up those spots they aren't going away. No longer will people blindly sign NDA's over their iPhone exploding, no longer will they be silent about Apple's heavy-handedness. Now even the little things like Apple breaking developer reference links or the silence about the removal of something like the ZFS file system are getting attention.

Attention that Apple continually ignores as it sits behind its wall at Cupertino. However this is the age of the social web and the empowerment of the consumer where even the most loyal Apple consumer has a voice – and aren't afraid to use it. After all it's pretty easy – set up a blog, join Twitter, add friends on Facebook. The avenues for expression of dissatisfaction are all there and people are using them with increasing frequency.

Except Apple for the most part isn't listening, or at least even if they are they are not responding. They chose to ignore the very people who have dedicated much of their computing life to advocating the Apple way of life. They have believed enough in Steve Jobs and the company to add their portion to that $25 billion war chest.

In a world where, especially the tech part of it, where social media is becoming the powerhouse of consumer interaction Apple's silence is excruciatingly loud. As Tom Foremski writes

This is strange. This means Apple must have a company policy to not engage in social media at all. There can be no other explanation.

This company directive must come from the top. Steve Jobs has a reputation as a micro-manager and control freak.

And on the social web there is no control over your message. It will be "annotated" by thousands, potentially millions of people. It takes balls to put yourself in front of people on the social web.

Apple seems to be lacking the balls.

For all the life long fans have given to Apple there will be a breaking point as dissatisfaction with this silent treatment from the company that many of them love reaches a breaking point. It might not be a breaking that will turn that fan base away from the company but it is one that may seriously discourage any new people from taking up the Apple mantra.

People in this new social media world have the power to change things a lot more than they may realize but definitely more than companies realize. Apple may have once benefited from its autocratic, elitist, "we know best" attitude but as we are finding with every other business that holds that same attitude that world is gone. Once again Tom phrases it well when he says

The other thing people will remember is when you show you aren't listening, you aren't interested, you come across as arrogant. You have $26 billion in cash earned from your customers and you don't care about your customers, what they are saying about you, what problems they are having. That's memorable.

Very memorable.