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Thursday, December 11, 2003  

Apple aficionado explains attraction

A consequence of being known as someone who wrote about Apple and the Macintosh before I became a blogger is that some of my readers expect me to have more to say about those topics than I do at Mac-a-ro-nies. Well, I am using the Mac Diva sobriquet. But, my intention is that this be a general assignment weblog. Since Apple has a niche market, I don't focus on it as much as I do computers and the Internet generally. But, that doesn't mean I've stopped following news about the Macintosh and other Apple products. I'm still tuned in.

Gary Allen isn't just tuned in. He lives the Mac. The Apple enthusiast makes a practice of attending the openings of Apple Stores as if they were A list movies. Leander Kahney of Wired talked to him recently.

On Thanksgiving, Gary Allen and his teenage son caught a plane to Japan from their home in Berkeley, California, to attend the grand opening of Apple Computer's new store in Tokyo.

Rising early Friday, the pair spent the next 28 hours standing outside the store in the rain to be the first in line when the doors were thrown open Saturday morning. Objective achieved, and commemorative T-shirts in hand, the pair flew home the next day.

"It was definitely the most exciting grand opening of all the stores I've been to," said Allen, who has turned the gala openings of Apple Stores into something of a hobby.

Allen, the 56-year-old publisher of Dispatch, a magazine for emergency dispatchers, and his son Devin, 16, have attended the openings of five Apple Stores in the United States, which they have documented in detail on Allen's 300-page website, IFO Apple Store (IFO = In Front Of).

"My wife doesn't quite understand the fascination," he said. "I try to explain to her it's a social experience. It's a fun thing. But Tokyo in the rain. She was mystified by that."

Allen's behavior is the kind of devotion that makes some people describe Mac users as a cult. However, I don't believe that. Cult members share a range of attributes. In my experience, Mac users often just have their choice of computer platform in common. Yes, I'm aware of the assumption that all Apple users are liberals. Yet, I've encountered my share of conservatives who use Macs, and even a few Right Wing wackos. On the other hand, I know people who consider themselves progressives who would never detour from the Wintel platform. Another claim that appeals to our egos as members of the Macintosh minority is that we are all individualists. Sorry to break it to you, but it is not so, either. Indeed, Mac sites such as the Mac Addict forums and Mac NN can be as much echo chambers as Windows locales.

So, what is it that makes Mac users different? I believe Allen has identified that distinction.

Perhaps most significantly, Allen said the stores are clearly designed to be meeting places and laid-back showrooms for Apple's technology.

"They are a focal point for many types of experiences, not just selling," he said. "They are very open to the social experience. They are not just for people to come in and buy."

. . .Allen said store staffers are extremely laid-back, and their hands-off approach encourages customers to come in and play around. Allen said he's used machines in the store to video conference with his son when out of town, which requires changing the machines' settings. "You can't do that in other stores," he said.

Allen visits his local Apple Store in Emeryville, California, every couple of weeks or so to hang out and chat with staff. One of the things he likes is the ease with which he can chat with other customers.

"You can talk because you know they are a Mac person," he said. "You can't do that in any other store. You can't talk to a stranger about refrigerators. You can't say, 'Hey, isn't this a great ice maker?' because you would feel foolish. In the Apple store, there's no barrier to talking. There's an instant connection kind of thing."

I believe it is that sense of being part of a community, a minority community, that binds Apple users together. It is something I've experienced and observed to an extent in other settings as a multiple minority. One may not be in agreement with everyone who shares the attribute about everything, but in a very combative society like ours, being able to engage in pleasant discourse about the aspect we have in common helps.

And, oh, in regard to that Apple Store opening in Tokyo -- check it out. Actually seeing thousands of people waiting in line will make an impression whether you are an Apple aficionado or not. The video is in a sidebar on this page.

3:50 PM