Mel Sampat's girlfriend was getting jealous of his iPhone. Once a Microsoft (MSFT) program manager loyal to his company's wares, Sampat left his job last February and became an Apple (AAPL) convert, buying a veritable catalogue of products—iPhone, MacBook, Nano. By early April, his new fetish had become contentious. At their dinner table in San Francisco, Sampat's girlfriend would complain he was too busy playing with his gadgets to pay attention to her. "Can't we talk about us?" Sampat recalls her saying. "Can't we talk about Desperate Housewives?"
As their bickering escalated, Sampat, 31, reached a breaking point. "I said, 'Maybe I'll date someone who will talk to me about Apple stuff.' " As he left the room to cool off, Sampat had an epiphany: Was there a woman out there with whom he could share his love of Apple products? Someone to make iTunes playlists for, someone to watch him play Angry Birds on his iPhone? In that moment, Sampat conceived a matchmaking site specifically for amorous fans of the company headquartered in Cupertino, Calif. "I didn't wait around for market research or some consultant to tell me if it was going to work or not," he says. And so Cupidtino was born.
Sampat launched the site later that month, a few days after Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad. With Mac lust spreading all over the digital grid, Sampat e-mailed the link to a few tech blogs. One recipient was Michael Arrington, the influential Silicon Valley blogger, who was immediately moved to post an alarmed note on his site TechCrunch. "The thought of them breeding and creating little Apple fans, a whole family of hard core hipster Apple lovers, is just not a good thing," Arrington wrote. "On the other hand, making sure that Apple fans only date other Apple fans is a good way of stopping them from spreading their Apple fan genes to the general population, I guess. So maybe this site isn't all bad." A day after the launch, more than 5,000 users had signed up. Sampat's girlfriend learned of the site's existence by watching him discuss it on the local news.
In less than a year, Cupidtino has grown to more than 27,000 registered "Machearts"—all of whom must sign up through the Apple-created browser Safari. The site's simple interface resembles a Mac desktop, with icons for favorites, gadgets, and messages hovering over a toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Users can name their favorite iTunes songs and display their favorite iPhone apps. They are prompted to fill out a form that asks both typical dating-site background questions such as "What do you do for a living?" and more specific ones like "When did you become 'a Mac'?" The site doesn't hide its premise. "Diehard Mac & Apple fans often have a lot in common," it declares on its home page, "personalities, creative professions, a similar sense of style and aesthetics, taste, and a love for technology. We believe these are enough fundamental reasons for two people to meet and fall in love."
While Cupidtino keeps its demographics private, a perusal of the site reveals that users tend to be male and largely West Coast-based—some of whom gamely pose with their favorite gadgets. While users can send initial messages for free, they will be prompted to pay $4.79 per month if they get a reply. The price is pegged to the cost of a Starbucks (SBUX) venti latte. "When Starbucks raises their prices, we'll raise ours," says Sampat. "That's how we adjust for inflation."
He won't reveal how many Machearts have paid for the service but claims the site, which Sampat runs with the help of two interns, makes a small profit. Cupidtino rents shared office space in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood, but Sampat prefers to work from a café or even his bedroom. Cupidtino does not yet accept advertising, and Sampat and a partner—who remains anonymous to maintain his programming job at a major e-commerce company—are paying themselves modest salaries.
With more than 20 million Americans using some 1,500 dating networks, according to market research firm IBISWorld, Cupidtino is seeking venture capital funding to remain competitive. Sampat is considering a variety of partnerships and remains hopeful, particularly since Cupidtino is a digital province of highly attractive customers—at least demographically. Apple users are typically wealthier and willing to pay a price for higher quality, according to Leander Kahney, author of Cult of Mac. "If you use an Apple machine, then it does indicate some kind of personality trait: creativity and independence, freedom of thought," he says. "It's a lifestyle indication, like the way you dress or the kind of haircut you have."
Of course, matching his and hers iPads do not guarantee eternal bliss. Lindsey Arasmith, a 25-year-old student in Sunnyvale, Calif., joined the site in April. "I had been on a string of bad dates, and I was ready to try something new," she says. Arasmith gave herself the handle "mostmac gal" on Cupidtino and quickly had one of the site's most viewed profiles. While browsing around, she found Chris Caselas, a 23-year-old Web developer. He lived in the Bay Area, liked the same music as she did, and was cute in that dweeby hipster kind of way. He also had a mustache.
The two chatted a bit online before making a plan in August. "I was completely comfortable with him before the date," says Arasmith. They met at a Roseville (Calif.) mall, where they caught a showing of the sci-fi thriller Inception and eventually ended at a local bar. "We really hit it off," she remembers. "The mutual love for our iPhones was the start." Although a full-blown romance did not materialize, the two remain friends.
Andrew Bayroff, a 38-year-old graphic designer from New York, also tried his hand at iLove this summer. "It was a nice time," he says of his one date with a Cupidtino user, "but there was no clicking, if you will." Despite owning 15 Apple products, Bayroff remains skeptical about his chances at long-term romance based on a shared interest in tech products. "In some circles it could be looked at as highly pathetic," he says. Professional dating coach Evan Marc Katz, a self-described "personal trainer for love," agrees. "I couldn't think of a less important thing for couples," he says, "than mutual love of Apple products." While Sampat says he's unaware of any marriages sparked by Cupidtino, he sees nearer-term rewards. "We don't make any promises," he says. "If you get a date out of it, you're luckier than most geeks."
Fortunately for Sampat, he has the best of both worlds. He still lives with the same girlfriend and remains deeply in love with his iPhone. "As soon as I started using Apple products, I realized what I was missing my whole life," he waxes. "I lost a few friends and obviously I can never work at Microsoft again, but that's O.K."
Hoping to expand its reach, Cupidtino is planning a new feature called Mac Her, which sends a short note to a crush. An iPhone app is also in the works. Meanwhile, the company is looking for investors. "It's not making us millionaires," Sampat says of his site, "but we can pay our salaries." While Apple has yet to officially acknowledge the site—and did not return messages for comment—Sampat says he feels good just being part of a larger cult. Whether or not the dating site makes him rich, he says, "I'll never sway my loyalty." He's talking about his iPhone, of course, not his girlfriend.