Leander Kahney: Bootcamp, the Apple Community, and Why Apple Matters
Leander Kahney is the managing editor at Wired News, and the author of two Apple-related books, The Cult of Mac and The Cult of iPod. Both books cover that passionate fanaticism that some of us in the Mac, and now Apple, community are known to possess.
Before working as an editor at Wired, Mr. Kahney was a senior reporter there, specializing in Apple and the Mac community, as well as internet culture and emerging technologies. He has covered computers and technology for more than a dozen years and has written for Macweek, Scientific American and The Observer in London. He took some time with me to discuss bootcamp, the difference between the Mac and iPod communities, and why Apple Matters.
Hadley Stern: What do you think the recent release of Bootcamp means for the “Cult of the Mac”?
Leander Kahney: Bootcamp is amazing and delightful. Now, Mac owners get two computers for the price of one. And it surely will entice current Windows users to switch because they won’t have to abandon their old platform cold turkey.
Hadley Stern: Given that now Macs share the same chips, the same basic hardware (USB 2.0, ethernet, standard hard drives, etc) and can now even run Windows is the line between the Macintosh experience and the Windows experience going to become blurred beyond recognition?
Leander Kahney: I doubt it. It’s the software that counts. Macs have been using more and more standard hardware components for years, but it hasn’t lessened the experience at all. In fact it’s a good thing—no more SCSI jumpers! Ihaven’t seen Windows Vista yet, but a lot of people comment on how OS-X-like it is. I’m somewhat skeptical that it will be as easy to use as a Mac, especially when settings need to be changed or things go wrong. In Windows, I always marvel at how deeply some basic settings are buried, or how complex the interfaces are—rows and rows of meaningless icons and tabs and “properties” boxes.
The good thing about the Intel transition is Macs are now solidly mainstream—in fact, they’re a superset of the mainstream. Not only can an Intel Mac do everything a Windows machine can do ([like] run Windows) it can also run OS X as well. Apple will gain from all of Intel’s capital investment and R&D investment, and future Macs will be smaller, faster and cheaper thanks to the commodity hardware market. It’s never looked so good for Apple, and us Mac users.
Hadley Stern: Is the “Cult of the iPod” as big a phenomenon as the “Cult of the Mac”?
Leander Kahney: It’s bigger, in terms of sheer numbers, but not as long-lived or as a deep. The Mac defines the PC era—we all use a Mac, even if it’s a pale Microsoft knockoff. In the same way, the iPod has the potential to be the signature technology of digital music, just as the radio
defined music in the roaring ‘20s, the jukebox in the ‘50s and the Walkman in the ‘80s.
Hadley Stern: What is the difference between the iPod community and the Mac community?
Leander Kahney: That’s a tough one. I’d say there [are] more similarities than differences. Both are very catholic communities—they embrace a very wide range of age groups, demographics and ethnicities. School kids, boomers and pensioners all have Macs and iPods. Both are very devoted to their devices—there’s nothing more precious than your music or your computer.
Hadley Stern: Do you think there is something innate in what Apple does that allows them to create not only products, but a cultish like experience around their product?
Leander Kahney: Apple creates very good, innovative products that become very deeply integrated into people’s lives. The Mac is a tool of creative
expression, communication and learning—people use it all day at work and all evening at home. Likewise, the iPod is plugged into some people’s heads 18 hours a day. This kind of usage forms very tight bonds. It’s very cybernetic. Plus, apple takes the trouble to do it right—they think a product through and don’t push something half-finished out the door.
Hadley Stern: Do you ever get a little scared when researching people and wonder, how can they be that into a product?
Leander Kahney: Not really because most have a great sense of humor about their fanaticism. They know they’re obsessed, and they’re able to make fun of themselves. It’s very human. I think there are much weirder hobbies—model trains, medieval reenactments, even golf. The only problem is email, which sends people off the rails. Then they’re unbalanced and extremely rude and abusive, though most are apologetic. If you take the trouble to engage them rationally.
Hadley Stern:Is there anything else on the tech scene that is akin to Apple products? Why is there no Dell Matters.com, or a Dell web like the Mac
Leander Kahney: Dell’s a bad example because it appeals to cheapskates looking for the crappiest deal. But there are very dedicated technical communities—the Be OS was one, and also the Amiga. Both had users with tattoos, big collections of ancient machines, all the t-shirts, etc. even windows machines like alienware and falcon (gaming machines, natch) have loyal, machead-like followings. On the software side, oddly, lightwave 3d has a big fanatical user base.
Hadley Stern:. Do you believe that a substantial number of people who have caught the iPod bug will now get the Mac bug?
Leander Kahney: Looks like it. Mac sales are up, what 20-30 percent on last year? The iPod is the big draw, but I think the stores have a lot to do with it too. A couple of years ago, it was hard to see a Mac in action, unless you went to MacWorld. Now most of the country is a short drive from an apple store. They probably go to check out the iPod, but you can bet they also run their sweaty fingers across a laptop or two.
Hadley Stern: 30 years from now will there still be a cult of the Mac or a cult of the iPod?
Leander Kahney: Yeah, I think there’ll be both. The iPod has been huge for apple, but the next big thing is the rebirth of the Mac. I think it’ll take off again—slowly this year, but much faster next year and the year after that. The Mac is back!
Hadley Stern: Is there a typical profile of a person in your book?
Leander Kahney: Well, yes and no. The average Mac user is a well-heeled 40-year old NYC designer who wears all black, I suppose. but I’ve also talked to retired navy admirals who thought he and his birch society buddies were typical Mac users. So do all the rappers who use Macs to lay down beats. It’s a pretty mixed crowd.
Hadley Stern: Does Apple matter?
Leander Kahney: Apple matters very much—and now more than ever. In fact, it’s the only company in the PC industry that matters. It’s led every trend and innovation in the industry’s 30 year history, from the graphical user interface to wifi, USB, Bluetooth, flat screens and to the color of your earbuds.