A Brief Chat With Leander Kahney
September 30th, 2011
Before we start would you give us a bit of your background?
I’ve been reporting and writing about Apple since the late 1990s, when I was a reporter for MacWeek, the legendary Apple trade publication.
I moved to Wired.com in 1998 and continued to report on Apple, collecting a lot of my stories into two books: Cult of Mac and Cult of iPod.
In 2007, I published Inside Steve’s Brain, an unofficial biography of Steve Jobs, which became a New York Times bestseller.
In 2009 I left Wired.com to run CultofMac.com as an independent news website covering Apple and its community of users.
There has been a particular event or reason that made you focus mainly on the Apple ecosystem?
I’ve always been an Apple fan. My dad had one of the first Macintoshes, which I was fascinated with as a teenager.
Apple has been the most influential company in technology and has set the consumer tech agenda for more than three decades.
The history of the company is one long, fascinating saga. And Steve Jobs, of course, is one of the most fascinating people in America.
The titles of your books and also the name of your blog point at Apple as to some kind of religion. It’s really the case?
Yes and no. You can look at many communities and see parallels with religion — soccer fans, for instance, share some of the same characteristics as church congregations — they worship at the same place every weekend, for example.
But the Apple community has some amazing parallels. There’s Steve Jobs, its charismatic leader, whose life has biblical overtones. Apple has born in a humble garage. Jobs spent decades in the wilderness before returning to save the company.
For the fans, being an Apple user offers a sense of identity; of belonging to a bigger, meaningful community of users. To say you are an Apple user tells others that you are independent, free-thinking, creative computer user — and you identify with other Apple fans who are like you.
Or is it just the press that likes to exaggerate things?
A lot of journalist are lazy. They resort to old cliches and use a lot of shortcuts, like referring to Apple as a “cult”.
There are a lot of other tech brands out there, why only Apple has been capable to create such a strong loyal customer base, with people queuing days in advance to get their hands on a new product?
Apple is very, very different from other tech companies.
It is still one of the only companies that brings consumer values into technology — like great design hand ease of use. Look at digital cameras, for example: you usually have to read the manual to understand how they work/ You don’t have to read a manual if you buy a new car, why should you if you buy a technology product?
Apple is one of the few companies that gets this. Pick up an iPad, and it’s instantly obvious and intuitive how it works. Consumers really gets kick out of that, and are delighted by products that “just work”.
Customers are more loyal to the Apple brand or to Steve Jobs?
The Apple brand. Steve Jobs is the living embodiment of the Apple brand, but the brand will continue without him – just like any religion – 😉
Will a permanent leave of the iCEO change the affection of customers towards the company?
Again, yes and no. A lot of fans have a deep affection for Steve Jobs personally, and he will be sorely missed.
I doubt Tim Cook will command the same affection. But fans love the products, and that will continue.
How difficult is it to write about Apple and to retrieve facts and figures to tell? I imagine that it would be a constant fight against secrecy and not great PR-friendship, or am I mistaken?
It’s hard to write about Apple’s pipeline because it’s a very closely guarded secret.
Most of the news is just rumors. But that makes it fun. On the other hand, Apple is always in the news.
Between Steve Jobs health, competition with Google, and missing prototypes, Apple generates a ton of news.
You have covered Apple for a long time now, seeing all the evolution they were able to bring into the market. In your opinion what will be the next big thing for Apple? A better cloud system or some revolutionary hardware?
Apple will diversify it’s line of iOS device, making them both bigger and smaller.
I would’t be surprised to see iPads designed to be tabletop workspaces, or to hang on the wall. Apple may well try to reinvent the TV for the internet age — it’s the last screen Apple hasn’t conquered.
And the cloud will increasingly play a bigger role in future devices. There’s already a trend of syncing software and media with the cloud instead of your desktop computer, and that will accelerate.
Finally, a common question for all my guests: which is the gadget that you cannot live without?
I can’t live without my iPhone. I use it for everything. It’s my personal communicator, my outboard brain and my TV and stereo.
I run my business on it and I videoconference with my family all over the world. It’s an amazing device.