Monday, September 17, 2012

Apple doesn't need publicists -- just journalists

"As a business journalist, I find it deeply depressing to watch the inevitable media frenzy about an incrementally new Apple product." -- The Wall Street Journal's David Enrich

 I think Apple may have reached a turning point with its relationships with journalists with its annual introductions of a new version of the iPhone.

As usual, journalists were falling over themselves in the days leading up to last Wednesday, when the iPhone 5 would be introduced. They feverishly published rumors of the product's looks and capabilities, and gave tips on how to sell your previous iPhone to pony up for this version. The whole hype parade hit a crescendo by JP Morgan Chase economist Michael Feroli, who predicted sales could play a role in boosting the U.S. economy! On the day of the press conference, attendees were positively giddy counting down to when Tim Cook would take the stage and open with the usual "We've been having such a fun time" line.

And then the press conference introducing the iPhone 5 took place.

And it didn't take long to discern from the massive Twitter outpouring that the iPhone 5 was a real "meh." Some more power, a faster camera, and a bunch of tweaks that screamed "is this the iPhone 4SS?" Even The Wall Street Journal's Jessica Vascallero penned a story titled, "Is Apple's iPhone 5 Boring?"

You think that would have sobered everybody up about the new iPhone? Heck, no. Reporters were stalking the AT&T and Verizon stores late that night, looking how easy or not it was to order a phone, if the service was sluggish or on time, and if the inventory was plentiful or not.

And for the second year in a row, Apple spokespeople use the identical phrase "blown away" to describe how fast preorders went in their own store, a phrase reporters everywhere and under every rock again. Next year, I'm betting that phrase pops up again -- why not?

I actually un-followed a few well known Apple news Twitter feeds this past week because of the blind lemming hype of a new smart phone that doesn't seem to have wowed many people at all. Even though Apple decided to change the shape of its USB plug, which will render everybody's chargers useless for the new model unless they fork over more money for adapters, no backlash... yet. Computerworld's Matt Hamblen estimates Apple stands to make $1 billion in revenue on adapters alone. 

Apple has turned journalists into religious cult fanatics who do all the publicity chores for them, despite the release of what seems to be a ho-hum upgrade. Nothing would make Apple happier than all this reporting frenzy causing that old publicity stunt, long lines in front of every Apple store, perfect for even more press coverage to keep the cycle going. Sadly, they've already begun over a week early.

However, when everybody comes back down to earth again, after we start hearing the first inevitable iPhone 5 complaints within the first 48 hours of its release and two weeks later, blog posts pop up for iPhone 6 feature wish lists, you have to have to wonder if the tech press will wise up to being Apple's waterboys. Siri got everybody talking a year ago and within three months, the backlash was deafening.

How many times will the press be led to the water before they stop for a moment and think about what they went so head over heels for last year, and frankly, saw the bloom of the rose a few months later? Maybe they don't feel they were burned by Apple for a product with just incremental improvements, but you would hope they'd think twice about slobbering over an upgrade the next time they're beckoned for a press conference.

Apple pulls enough of these much-ado-about-very-little events, and at some point, they going to find the tables turned and be forced to earn its good will and admiration all over again from the press. There are only so many times people will listen to a boy who cries wolf.

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