Opinion – We typically don’t comment on the work of other journalists, but in this case we can’t resist. Apple is pulling again the dismayed PR stunt by sending out iPhone 3G review samples weeks ahead to a handful of cherry-picked journalists, ignoring others. Now that the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today have published their iPhone 3G reviews, we learn that the phones in fact have more bandwidth, but less battery life. Are these reviews just another part of Apple’s marketing pitch or is there real value in them?
Being a journalist has its perks. In our industry that would include an opportunity to play with the newest gadgets ahead of their release. There is a fun factor in it, but if you take your work seriously, there is, of course, the portion to evaluate a product, separate marketing from reality and report to your readers what they can expect from the product. Usually, these products are distributed on a broad basis – which secures a broad coverage for the manufacturer and delivers a variety of opinions for the reader.
It is a bit different with Apple. If you are a journalist these days outside of the old media industry and ask Apple to send you one of its products outside the laptop / PC line you may not even receive an answer. Apple not only can get away with premium pricing for its shiny gadgets and advertising its products in a questionable manner, but it is probably the only company that has the guts to say "no" to 99% of media outlets. We understand that companies prefer some media outlets over others and the success of a PR department is measured by the efficiency of top-tier media coverage – commonly referred to as “multipliers” since they help to “multiply” articles.
Sure, we are disappointed that Apple is engaging in this strategy and the fact there is no way getting your hand on an iPhone, if your name isn’t Walt Mossberg. But cherry-picking reviewers raises questions over Apple’s PR strategy and may prompt question whether the company is trying to skew reports. Imagine Microsoft doing this. Steve Ballmer would have to resign tomorrow.
Of course we know that Apple has the luxury not to send out review products. There will be millions of articles out there even before the first iPhone 3G will be in the hands of the first customer. On the other side, virtually no media outlet has the luxury to take the indifferent stance and ignore what millions want to read. But no matter how you look at it, early iPhone 3G reviews coming from Apple's favorite journalists in the WSJ, NYT and USA Today leave a lot to be desired.
We would have preferred to read reviews from more gadget-oriented websites.
It's not just the déjà vu feeling that you get by reading at these reviews, it's the fact that you simply expect more facts, un-biased opinion and a comprehensive conclusion other than that the phone is faster and cheaper (which may be questionable anyway.) The authors admit they only had a couple weeks of lead time to play with the gadget. But it is disappointing that the articles contain most of the Apple marketing claims, but little about real-life experience. Is it part of Apple’s carefully orchestrated marketing machinery? We will leave that up to you to decide.
So, what do WSJ's Walt Mossberg, NYT's David Pogue and USA Today's Edward Baig have to say about the iPhone 3G?
Not much. The reviews are a huge disappointment, at least for me. All three guys offered just three new pieces of information derived from real-life usage: The battery drains faster during 3G usage than what Apple specified, there are some unexpected dropped calls in metropolitan areas such as NYC and the audio quality during calls and media playback is greatly improved due to an enhanced speaker. Besides these, there's simply too little new substance and opinion and way too much of the marketing mambo jumbo.
What is astonishing is the carefully expressed criticism. Besides the 3G battery drain, we already knew about the other cons mentioned in these reviews: More expensive service contracts, exclusive carrier ties in most countries, the lack of a physical keyboard, a video recording camera and a user-replaceable battery.
The most interesting aspect, the iPhone software 2.0, received almost no attention. Besides listing the new features and briefly mentioning the App Store, there is no detailed run-down of new aspects of system software so you won't get the feeling what it feels like to bulk delete multiple messages at once, play the PowerPoint presentation or limit the handset functionality using parental control features.
Don't get me wrong, we at TG Daily read articles from these three guys just like many of you. Most of the time they deliver quality material that adds to your knowledge or offers a new perspective. It's just that we are disappointed when it comes to covering Apple and its blockbuster products. We don’t want to accuse any of the journalists as being biased, but the way how this review program certainly leaves a sour taste no matter how you look at it.
I, for one, have read much, much better reviews of the first iPhone by anonymous bloggers, ordinary people voicing their opinion in forums and iPhone users writing honest comments as a result from real-life handset usage, instead of uninspired opinion courtesy of the magic of the reality distortion field.
Articles following headline’s such as Mossberg’s “Newer, Faster, Cheaper iPhone 3G” just don’t cut it.