The tech fanboys who don't exist

Are the Apple shills in the room with us right now?

The tech fanboys who don't exist
Credit: Samsung

The tech industry has always had an element of “fanboy” communities: groups of people who become so passionate about a phone, game console, software platform, or something else that they will fight online about it. They’re the people who have helped push the console wars, smartphone wars, and many other competitive bouts of capitalism that end in “wars.” Sometimes they’re even parodied by the involved companies, like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 advertisement that included a person waiting in line for the new iPhone with a notch-shaped haircut.

There’s a lot to talk about in the social dynamics of those groups, but it’s also important to look at how the groups become generalized. How many times in online discussions do you see phrases like “Xbox fans think…” or “Apple sheeple always say…” or something else to that effect? Sometimes the generalizations are just harmless jokes, but other times they’re used in completely serious sentences (or rage bait at the very least). I did a search for “fanboys” on Twitter X and quickly found the below example:

Post that says, "Playstation fanboys: No one buys new consoles to play old games. The creators of the biggest selling AAA game of all time that has sold more than every AAA PS4 & PS5 Sony exclusive combined:" next to a screenshot of an article with the caption "GTA executive says consoles without backwards compatibility are not ideal"

That person pays for Twitter Blue X Premium, which is already a dead giveaway that they are going to have a terrible take. There’s no source for the statement about buying new consoles for old games (though Sony’s head of global sales and marketing made a similar argument in 2017), so I can only assume it’s made up. This happens constantly in online discourse about technology products, but I’ve noticed it the most in statements about fans of Apple products or game consoles.

This behavior is a bit like the straw man fallacy, where you refute an argument that is different from the one actually being discussed, and then act like you won the argument. However, that would involve an argument with a real person, but we’re not even making it that far. The original poster in that example is making up a person in their head, and then getting mad at that person.

I’ve come across this behavior repeatedly in discussions about tech products. Every product announcement, every leak, and every quarterly earnings report is viewed through a distorted lens of what the other side might think, like a weird version of political punditry. We need to talk about technology — and criticize it, if justified — based on what is real, and not what imaginary people or what social media accounts with 16 followers might think.

Most tech publications don’t fall into the trap of straw man arguments, but there are a few exceptions. The most absurd example I’ve seen was an opinion piece published on SamMobile in June 2023, titled “Apple fans are secretly terrified of Samsung’s foldables.”

The article starts off reasonably enough, stating that the rise of foldable smartphones has led to “the first time in years, perhaps over a decade, that a lot of iPhone owners have at least felt compelled to consider a phone that’s not made by Apple.” There are no sources cited, but that conclusion isn’t too far-fetched. Samsung said in 2021 that there was a 150% increase in people who switched from an iPhone to the Galaxy Z Flip 3, compared to people who switched from an iPhone to the Galaxy Note 20. Motorola said in June 2023 that 20% of its Razr phone customers previously used iPhones.

The article then starts to immediately descend into generalizing statements about iPhone owners. It claims they “scoff at foldables, branding them useless and no match for the iPhones” and “make every excuse under the sun to justify why this futuristic form factor is a fad that will die.” I have no doubt that someone out there thinks about foldable devices that way, but SamMobile didn’t point to anyone saying that. Then it gets much worse:

There’s a certain unspoken prestige that loyalists feel when they don’t just use but are seen to be using the iPhone. It almost becomes a part of their personality, a part of who they are, that people around them know as the person who only uses Apple products. It’s probably one of the reasons why they’re secretly terrified of Samsung’s foldable phones.

They understand the benefits that the form factor provides and the obvious advantages of owning one of these devices. However, they just can’t seen to be losing their status as an Apple user. So it’s simpler to take the easy way out and brand foldables as useless, even though Apple seems to be working on them itself and may eventually launch foldable iPhones in the future.

I still can’t believe this was published on a (somewhat) mainstream tech news blog. Again, there is not a single social media post, forum thread, or other source for anyone saying or thinking anything like this. This is another example of someone making up an imaginary person and using them as a crutch for an argument.

A few harmless jokes about “iSheep” or “Xbots” or whatever can be fun, but the bizarre generalizations only serve to derail any conversations about tech products and their impact on our lives. If you’re going to get mad at something on the internet, get mad about something that is actually real.