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'Cult' of Apple hangs on Wednesday announcement

By John D. Sutter, CNN
  • Some fans say they will buy whatever product Apple announces this week
  • The iPhone and iPod maker holds a press event on Wednesday in San Francisco
  • Rumors say Apple will announce a touch-screen "slate" computer
  • New York man says he will buy it; the only question is how many

(CNN) -- No matter what type of new product Apple unveils at its much-anticipated press event later this week, Xavier Yaffar says he will buy it. Whatever the cost.

"I don't even have to look at it," the 48-year-old said.

Apple Inc., the Cupertino, California, company that's the darling of the gadget world right now, is widely expected to release a touch-screen "slate" computer on Wednesday at an invite-only event in San Francisco, California, according to blogs and news reports. Rumors say the device will have about a 10-inch screen and will look kind of like an enormous iPhone, but Apple hasn't commented on the subject.

While cautious consumers might want details about the new device -- like whether it exists -- before stashing away money and planning to buy one, Yaffar and some other Apple fanatics say they trust the fashionable and notoriously forward-thinking maker of the iPhone and iPod so much that they'll buy whatever the company puts out, even if they're not sure why they need it.

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"I bought the iPod when it was announced. I didn't know what it was going to do when I bought it," he said, adding that Apple knows before he does what he needs in technology. He ended up loving that portable music player. Now he has more than one.

Rumors of the Apple slate -- also called a tablet -- started years ago and have advanced to full-drool mode in the tech blogosphere in recent months.

For people like Yaffar, the rumor mill has been a blast. He said he spends about 4 to 6 hours per day reading online news about Apple. He hangs on all the details.

But the buzz generated by the notoriously tight-lipped company's events inspires an equal amount of gusto in people who dislike Apple -- or who say the company is downright evil.

A Facebook group called "I hate Apple," for example, has more than 4,300 members.

"I HATE THE PRETENTIOUS WAY ALL APPLE-FREAKS WORSHIP THEIR PRODUCTS, and that you in no way, what ... so... ever.. can have a reasonal (sic) discussion about their products without them talking about how pretty their iPhone is," one member of the Facebook group wrote on the page.

Others offer criticism about the company's finances.

"I think that Apple the company is massively over-hyped," said Per Lindberg, a tech analyst at MF Global. Apple deserves its status as a cool, hip company, Lindberg said, but that doesn't mean it will be financially successful, especially because its products are too expensive. "I don't think the tablet will make a big difference in Apple's financial numbers," he said.

Apple did not respond to a CNN request for comment on this story.

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The history of hyper-allegiant Apple fanboydom started long before the current slate computer fray.

Dave Greenbaum, a computer repairman in Lawrence, Kansas, said he started falling in love with Apple because of a 1984 television ad that compared rival PC users to drones, reminiscent of characters from George Orwell's novel "1984."

Before Apple, "there was this corporate mindset of 'We're all going to have boring computers with the black background and the green lettering,' " he said. "And Apple said, 'We're going to do things different ... and make computers accessible to everyone.' "

There is a social aspect to being an Apple fan that also appeals to Greenbaum, who writes for a site called TheAppleBlog in addition to his day job. He sees Apple as an underdog and a purveyor of counterculture.

The company had about 8 percent of the U.S. personal-computer market share in 2009, according to a report from IDC, a subsidiary of the International Data Group, or IDG.

Greenbaum met his husband at an Apple fan group in the mid-90s. When they started dating, the couple hung out in Mac computer labs together as a form of courtship.

"Most other couples would go to movies. We mark a key point of our relationship when we both decided to go to Macworld [a conference in California] together in 1995," he said.

The couple now travels to Apple stores across the country, taking photos in front of each one as if the computer stores were national monuments. They always check out new Apple products, although sometimes they wait for a second model to come out before they buy. When the iPhone 3GS debuted, they waited in line at a nearby Apple store from 1 a.m. to 10 a.m. to buy the phone.

"It's a part of your identity," he said. "People are going to recognize you more by the computer you use and the phone you carry than by the car you drive."

Leander Kahney, editor of a blog and book called "Cult of Mac," said Apple has earned respect over the years by releasing few dud products.

"They don't release junk," he said. "They're one of the few companies that still invest the time and resources into putting out a quality and well-made product. I think too many companies rush out stuff that's half done or unfinished or not well thought through."

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The company also is known as a hyper-secret master of marketing, releasing virtually no information about its upcoming products until it unveils them at invite-only and tightly controlled events.

Josh Pigford, editor of TheAppleBlog, said the company releases very few new products so as to create huge anticipation for everything it puts out.

Also, big product releases like the iPhone and iTunes changed the way people use phones and consume music, which creates buzz in industries other than technology. The result is that Apple has "more obsessive fans than any other gadget maker on the planet," Pigford said.

It's unclear how many people, like Yaffar, buy most every product Apple puts out regardless of what it is or what it costs. In a handful of interviews, some Apple fans said they would buy any new Apple product announced Wednesday as long as it's a slate computer. Others said price was a factor. An informal poll by the Web site 9to5Mac found 21 percent of more than 7,600 respondents said they would buy an Apple tablet sight-unseen.

Chuck Rogers, a business consultant in New Orleans, Louisiana, who said he briefly worked for Apple, likely will buy whatever product Apple debuts on Wednesday as long as it is new and doesn't come with an AT&T subscription plan.

"I've got two Apple TVs in my house. I've got a Mac mini that's feeding video to my TV. I've got two iMacs. I've got a MacBook Pro, 17-inch, and my wife has a MacBook. So we've got just about one of everything [Apple releases], and I would be amazed if they actually came out with something that I wouldn't find useful in some way," he said. "So there's a lot of trust there."

Yaffar said he hopes Apple will announce a slate computer, and he hopes the product will cost between $500 and $1000. Any pricier, he said, and he will still buy one for himself, but he might not be able to buy the new device for the four other members of his immediate family, which he otherwise would.

The Long Island, New York, consultant said he's not rich. He has to forgo other luxuries to be able to buy all of Apple's devices.

Of Apple, he thinks, "OK, what are you cooking up and what are you going to make me buy?" he said. "That's pretty much the way I see it."