Why can't Apple stop ticking off its fans?

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 company they supported has chang-ed, showing signs of being wrong-headed, 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 Apple is starting to remind them of Microsoft, which in their world is the prototypical soulless, monopolistic machine.

"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.

Longtime Apple observers attribute the increased grousing to growing pains as Apple broadens its horizons. The company known until January as Apple Computer is now a major player in consumer electronics, digital music and cell phones. That expansion has helped the company move into the top tier of technology companies.

Its shares gained $5.21 on Friday to a historic high of $161.45 for a market value of more than $140 billion.

It dominates in digital entertainment players with nearly 70 per cent of the US market. Its iTunes store has become the No 3 US music retailer. Macintosh computer sales are booming. And Apple has sold one million iPhones in less than three months.

But Apple's continued push into the mainstream market has come at the cost of goodwill from some of its biggest fans. The recent drumbeat of complaints has come from Apple supporters, the people who stood in line for hours the day in June when the iPhone debuted and paid up to $600 to be among the first to own one.

Apple elicits passion like no other company. Enthusiasts acknowledge that it can make them so angry only because they love it so much. "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.

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. An Apple spokeswoman declined to address many of the issues that have been topics of discussion among bloggers and customers.

Many Apple fans who coveted an iPhone fumed when Apple chose AT& T as the service provider, complaining that it dropped too many calls and offered a slow data network.

Others complained after Apple chief Steve Jobs delayed the launch of the new Leopard operating system from last spring to this month, saying engineers were needed to finish the iPhone. Many waited in line for hours 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.

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. ( Gulf )

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