January 19th, 2011
12:13 AM ET

Apple of the media's eye

I hear it in the newsroom every time Apple announces a product:

“Why are we covering this? Aren’t we just giving Apple free advertising? We wouldn’t do this for any other company.”

The sentiment isn’t wrong. We probably wouldn’t give the attention we give Apple to any other company. But Apple isn’t any other company.

Apple is unique because it’s able to project influence far beyond the marketshare it holds. It’s not just journalists and consumers hanging on to their every word: Apple can shape the direction of the entire technology industry.

Need proof? Look at the glut of tablets at CES. You’d think if any company could influence the future of computing, it’d be Microsoft. Remember, 91% of all the computers on the planet run Microsoft's Windows. But when Bill Gates tried to usher in a new age in 2002 with Windows XP Tablet Edition, nobody answered the call.

Nine years on, tablets finally arrived. The catalyst for turning Gates' prediction into reality? Apple's iPad.

Here’s more: In the quarter ending in September 2010, Apple sold 14 million phones. Over the same period, Nokia sold 110 million. But which company transformed the role of the mobile phone from communications device to pocket computer? Apple.

And I haven’t touched upon Apple’s influence in consumer electronics (the iPod), how it made the computer accessible to all (the Mac OS), or how it’s changed the music business and operates the world’s biggest music store (the iTunes Store), because it’s more than just the products themselves that make Apple stand out. It’s also about Apple’s fanatical following.

Apple doesn’t have customers, it has supporters or fans. Why? An answer might lie in the words of this cult’s leader, Steve Jobs. Look at what he said way back in 1985 when he was forced to leave Apple:

“If Apple becomes a place where computers are a commodity item, where the romance is gone, and where people forget that computers are the most incredible invention that man has ever invented, I'll feel I have lost Apple.”

Those words still ring true 25 years later, when Jobs introduced the iPad by calling it a “truly magical” product. Apple does not treat its products as commodities; it treats them as creations. That mindset is why Apple applies the extra care, detail and polish to elevate its products and itself above the rest.

All of this is what makes Apple so fascinating to watch. It’s why we hang on every word Steve Jobs says: Because he dreams about building products that change the world - and he has the ability to pull it off.

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Filed under: Gadgets • Technology