Why can't Apple Inc. stop ticking off the people who love it?
Some of the loyalists who have made Apple so successful lately have turned on the tech star. Even as Apple posts record financial results, they complain that the revolutionary company they supported has changed, showing signs of being wrongheaded, shortsighted, even greedy.
One week there's hue and cry over Apple's decision to slash the iPhone's price only two months after it went on sale. The next, it's sputtering anger over a software security update that wiped out programs iPhone owners installed so they could do such things as send instant messages or play games.
When they get really mad, they lob an M-bomb they say the Cupertino Calif., company is starting to remind them of Microsoft Corp., which in their world is the prototypical soulless, monopolistic machine.
It dominates in digital entertainment players with nearly 70 percent of the U.S. market. Its iTunes store has become the No. 3 U.S. music retailer. Macintosh computer sales are booming. And Apple has sold 1 million iPhones in less than three months.
"There is a rise in complaints about Apple's policies and strategic decisions this year, and it seems to be accelerating," said John Gruber, writer of the popular technology blog Daring Fireball.
But Apple's continued push into the mainstream market has especially come at the cost of goodwill from some of its biggest fans.
"When I think Apple has strayed, I come down really hard," said Wil Shipley, a software developer and blogger who says he has bought 19 iPhones. "It's like someone you are married to. You hold them to a higher standard of morality than a random stranger on the street."
The conflict between Apple and its fan base is mostly over control of new products' uses and features. The iPhone, Apple's first entry in the mobile phone market, has sparked the biggest complaints.
Many Apple fans who coveted an iPhone fumed when Apple chose AT&T Inc. as the service provider, complaining that it dropped too many calls and offered a slow data network.
Still, many waited in line for hours on June 29 to buy an iPhone, then lashed out when Jobs sliced $200 off its price only two months later. Apple defused the revolt by giving $100 store credit to many people who had paid full price.
But it didn't stop there.
The iTunes music store failed to complete downloads for some buyers the following week. The faithful again cried foul when iPod owners discovered they would have to repurchase their games to get them to work on Apple's refreshed line of the device.
Another line was crossed, some say, with Apple's new iPhone ring tone program. In early September, Apple started selling the right to use some songs from iTunes as ring tones for the iPhone at 99 cents a pop. In late September, iPhone customers who had created ring tones from other sources found they no longer worked. Nickel and diming, people cried.
Apple's fan base is used to being able to load programs created by outside software developers onto Mac computers. But Apple made the iPhone more like an iPod than a Mac. It barred owners from downloading new programs onto the device, saying doing so could damage it and void the warranty.
"Unfortunately, the unlocking and unauthorized software causes damage that is not reparable," Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said Friday. "Apple strongly discourages unauthorized unlocking programs on their iPhones. We can't know all the unauthorized software out there."
Especially at risk, Apple said, were those who used software hacking techniques to uncouple the iPhone from AT&T's network. In addition to protecting the iPhone, Apple may have been trying to protect its profits. Analysts believe the company gets a cut of AT&T service fees.
So when Apple issued a security update in late September that made some iPhones freeze up and wiped out some programs that customers had put on their devices, such as games and voice-recording software, the wailing became a howl.
Some customers said they didn't load any unauthorized software but their iPhones broke down anyway.
Apple "went out of their way to make useful applications like ours not work," said Mexens Technology Inc. Chief Executive Cyril Houri, whose company's navigation software was downloaded by 100,000 iPhone users.
"We were there when Apple was hurting, we stuck with it, we nursed her back to health," Shipley, the Apple fan, wrote on his blog. "It's our money she has now, and she's turning on us now that she's rich."