Apple's reputation may be shaking as the company's sales climb.

An opinion piece in the Independent talks about the company's then revolutionary focus on design in its computers, and then points out that as sales climb there has also been a rise in fault reports. It asks: "Is (Apple CEO) Steve Jobs' empire losing its cool?"

It's not an unfriendly report, it points out that Apple has become a powerful 21st century brand, but observes that faults, court cases and PR shocks have taken their toll on the company's reputation. And that the increasing number of Mac converts is changing the loyal nature of Appe's congregation.

It recounts a list of recent disasters for the company, including the recent Mail on Sunday report that explored working conditions at Apple's Chinese manufacturing partners. "Given all this, perhaps it is not surprising that a YouGov brand awareness survey index released last week revealed a clear fall in popularity for the Apple brand, with the index for quality falling the most," it states.

The company's actions against long-time Apple watchers, as evinced by its recent failed court action agains Apple Insider, Think Secret and PowerPage, also crop up in the report, which points to "an intense corporate paranoia" at the company that "leaves a sour taste in the mouth," the report adds.

The first part of the report concludes: "Just a few weeks ago, the company announced profits of $472m, well ahead of forecasts. There is still talk of the "halo effect". But unless the firm's ethos is upgraded, its operations made more transparent and consumer friendly, its labour practices placed beyond reproach, could it be that Apple will become just another big business we all love to hate? Will the happy Mac icon lose its smile?"

A second opinion piece from the editor of points out that the company has a new audience now, an audience which "lacks the devotion" it has been used to so far.

"Apple has become ubiquitous, which has changed the brand beyond recognition, and, perhaps that's the real reason some of the shine has come off. It's just not as special as it was," the piece concludes.