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Apple is not America's favorite tech company

Illustrations by Garret Beard and William Joel

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The era of the Apple fanboy may be coming to an end. According to a survey conducted by The Verge in partnership with consulting firm Reticle Research, Apple falls squarely in the middle among Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon when it comes to inspiring passion and trust in consumers. It came in behind Google in both categories, and far behind Amazon, which led in positive responses for pretty much every category respondents were asked about.

The survey, conducted from September 28th to October 10th, included 1,520 people nationally representative of the US, based on 2016 US Census estimates. The findings suggest that Apple, while still a massively influential force in the industry, engenders less positive feelings, and in some cases more explicitly negative ones.

The iPhone maker also came in second to last in extreme negative sentiment

When asked how much they enjoyed using a company’s products and services, Apple scored the lowest among the big five technology companies — Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft — in the category for both “somewhat liked” and “greatly liked.” Among those expressing negative sentiment, Apple scored better than Facebook, yet still lower than Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Sixty percent of respondents “greatly liked” Amazon’s products and services, while roughly 55 percent and 45 percent felt the same about Google and Microsoft, respectively.

On the topic of whether respondents would recommend Apple products and services to friends and family, the company again fell behind Google and Amazon, both of which garnered responses of either “somewhat likely” to “extremely likely” from more than 90 percent of survey participants. Apple, on the other hand, received similar responses for only about 80 percent of participants. The iPhone maker also came in second to last, ahead of only Facebook, in extreme negative sentiment, with 15 percent of participants saying they were “not at all likely” to recommend the company’s products.

On questions of perception, like trust, Apple was again stuck in the middle of the pack. Participants trusted Amazon the most, which is not all that surprising given its e-commerce store’s ubiquity and the company’s overall drive to provide more value for lower prices with Prime and other services. Yet participants trusted Apple less than even Google, a company with a primary business model of collecting consumer data for targeting advertisements.

More telling of the current consumer perception of Apple came in the categories of passion and societal impact. For passion, as measured by how much a participant would care if the company disappeared tomorrow, Apple came in last among the big five, with less than 40 percent of participants saying they would care “very much” if the company and its products disappeared tomorrow, and nearly 20 percent saying they would not care “at all.” When it comes to societal impact, Apple surpassed Facebook and Microsoft, but fell behind Google and Amazon, in the number of participants who felt the company had a “very positive” impact on the world.

So despite its track record on consumer privacy, record-breaking revenue and market valuation, and reputation for premium hardware and top-tier design, Apple appears to have been eclipsed by companies that are becoming more deeply embedded in the fabric of everyday life. While neither Google nor Amazon really compete with Apple in key categories like premium desktops, high-end tablets, and smartwatches, both have dominant positions in areas increasingly more relevant to our digital existence.

Apple appears to have been eclipsed by companies that are becoming more deeply embedded in the fabric of everyday life

Google controls search, email, web browsing, the world’s most popular mobile operating system, the leading US online video site, and is now producing more than a half-dozen hardware products from phones, laptops, and VR headsets to speakers, routers, and earbuds. Amazon, on the other hand, is an e-commerce juggernaut and has positions of strength in the smart speaker market, the low-end tablet market, and the e-reader market. It also has popular products in the streaming video (Prime Video), set-top box (Fire TV), and live streaming (Twitch) arenas. The company also owns Whole Foods, giving it a direct and tangible gateway to serving consumer’s everyday purchasing needs. Apple is non-existent in many of those categories, dominant in only a few, and just another player in a small handful.

A recent poll from CNBC, titled the “All-America Economic Survey,” found that 64 percent of Americans own an Apple product, evidence that Apple’s ubiquity in consumer hardware remains undeniable. Yet it’s clear more people may feel less enamored with the brand these days.

Last year, Apple removed the headphone jack on the iPhone 7, telling consumers that the move, widely seen as user-hostile, was to usher in the bold future of Bluetooth headphones. And while Apple’s AirPods have been a surprise hit, not all consumers are buying into the company’s vision. More than 70 percent of Android users, in a survey of more than 7,000 smartphone owners published by Yahoo Finance in August, said the lack of a 3.5mm jack on newer iPhones was the primary reason they’re not interested in jumping ship to iOS. A theme present throughout the survey responses, Yahoo noted, was the notion that Apple removed the headphone jack only to charge exorbitant prices for accessories and products they didn’t need or want.

Apple has also had a meandering path since smartphones began dominating the computing landscape, leading to accusations that the company has run out of ideas. The Apple Watch, while now a multibillion-dollar business in its own right, hasn’t kickstarted the wearable revolution like many thought it would.

Apple’s business still largely depends on charging high premiums for cutting-edge versions of the same old screens

Apple’s Project Titan self-driving car project has also switched its focus over the last couple of years. It’s now more aimed at autonomous driving software, moving farther away from the once-rumored all-in-one Apple Car analysts and industry watchers were so enthused about. The company is also sitting on the sidelines with regards to virtual reality, choosing instead to put its focus on augmented reality. Even so, Cook was quoted this month as saying the technology to bring true AR glasses to market “doesn’t exist” yet.

Ultimately, Apple’s business still largely depends on charging high premiums for cutting-edge versions of the same old screens. Consumers may be just less enthusiastic of these practices today than they were five years ago.

The outcry over the 2016 MacBook Pro’s lack of ports and subpar performance configurations left hardcore Apple fans feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. Sales of the iPad, which went up for the first time in three years this past financial quarter, still won’t likely make up for the overall constriction of the market in the long term. And the new iPhone X, with its four-digit price tag, is not quite the symbol of excess that the company’s ill-fated attempt to sell a $10,000 gold-plated smartwatch was, back in 2015. But the edge-to-edge OLED phone is yet another pricey gamble on an increasingly smaller slice of an oversaturated market.

It’s not clear any one product or corporate practice could put Apple at the heights of power and passion it once enjoyed. The company doesn’t appear to have any intention to take over real-world logistics and completely dominate the smart home, like Amazon; nor does it seem all that interested in building the world’s most sophisticated and ubiquitous artificial intelligence platform, like Google. Yet that’s where the tech industry is headed, and Apple may find that fewer and fewer consumers care all that much about the best new phone, tablet, or laptop when the most exciting advances in technology are happening elsewhere.