It seemed like a stupid question -- one which deservedly got a heaping helping of ridicule from Mac bloggers: Why doesn't Apple participate in the "Intel Inside" marketing program, earning the company big wads of cash just for putting a tiny little sticker on Macs?
The answer reveals some interesting insights into the inner workings of Apple -- or, at least, how Mac fans perceive the inner workings of Apple. And Mac bloggers' reaction to the question provides an exasperating example of Apple fans getting worked up over someone failing to show sufficient deference to Steve Jobs, Apple, and the Apple user community.
Here's what happened:
When Apple held a news conference last week to announce a new line of iMacs and software, the company opened the floor to Q&A. This is rare, journalists don't usually get a chance to question Jobs like that.
Bob Keefe, technology correspondent for the Cox Newspapers chain, took the opportunity to ask Jobs why the company wasn't participating in the "Intel Inside" marketing program by putting Intel stickers on Macs. Jobs quipped in response, "We like our own stickers better," and added that stickers would be redundant since Apple's use of Intel chips is well-known.
Well, the Apple blogosphere gave Keefe a going-over about that question. Keefe writes:
E-mails started coming in calling me an idiot and pleading with me "in the name of good journalism" to ask a better question next time. The Macuser site apparently launched an in-depth investigation to uncover just who would be stupid enough to ask such a ridiculous question. Ultimately, Macuser tracked down and posted my bio, e-mail address and Web site info (but didn't bother contacting me). One poster to the site suggested someone spy on my home and office to see how many Intel stickers I have on my computer (which, by the way, is a sticker-less MacBook). Others said I obviously know nothing about Apple, "good design or good taste."
I can honestly say that in nearly 20 years of doing this journalism stuff, I've never been questioned so much about a question I put to a CEO. Besides, how many other people can boast that they can Google themselves and "jackass" and come up with plenty [of references]?
One Mac fan started a Fake Bob Keefe blog to ridicule Keefe.
We joined in the fun ourselves. Why not? It did indeed seem like a stupid question.
But Keefe explains that he actually had a good reason to ask that question: He was working on an article on the Intel Inside campaign. It was perfectly reasonable to ask the third-largest PC maker in the United States why it's not participating.
Macjournals.com has further explanation, noting that Apple executives said in a recent earnings report that its margins are slipping -- from 36.9% in the June quarter to 29.5% in the current quarter "as a result of the back-to-school promotion [that gives student buyers a free iPod Nano when purchasing a Mac], higher commodity costs, and product transition."
Macjournals goes on to point out that Intel pays -- or used to pay -- a fat wad of cash to companies that went along with the "Intel Inside" program.
We know this, Keefe knows this, everybody knows this, and it's just two weeks after Apple told analysts its margins would drop precipitously during this quarter due to "product transition" and "higher component costs." That's what Keefe was asking. If you strip away the formal dance and political niceties, this is what the exchange really meant:
Q: If your margins are going to drop so much this quarter, why don't you take the free money from Intel like everyone else does and place the sticker on your computer? You've made a big deal about using Intel chips, so it's not like you'd be surprising anyone.
A: Because they're ugly, and we don't need the money so badly that we can't afford to make the beautiful products that our customers want. We like the chips, but our products are different than everyone else's and we're going to act like it.
Jobs is not the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, whose time is as precious as diamonds. Steve Jobs's time is precisely as valuable as yours, mine -- and Bob Keefe's.
And Keefe doesn't work for the Mac community, and therefore they can't claim that Keefe wasted their time. Keefe's time, and the time at the news conference, is not the Mac community's to waste.
All of this causes me to pinch the bridge of my nose, look away, and roll my eyes in exasperation. It reminds me of the bad old days, more than a decade ago, when journalist received searing flame-mail from Apple fans whenever they wrote anything about Apple. Or whenever they didn't write about Apple. This contributed to a reputation for craziness that Apple fans are still struggling to get over.
Although I loved the comment from "Joe," who writes:
Most of the grief you've been getting is pretty good natured, Bob. You should wear your minor disgrace like a badge of honor. A tiny little badge of honor that won't come off, no matter how hard you pick at it, and when you do finally get it off it leaves behind a tacky residue....