Why so Many Tech Columnists are Down on Apple

| Hidden Dimensions

“You're miserable, edgy and tired. You're in the perfect mood for journalism.” -- Warren Ellis

As one travels around the Internet, one can find many, many articles that are suddenly anti-Apple. It's not that Apple didn't have its detractors before, rather, a new outcropping of negative writing has appeared. Let's look at why this is happening.

Once upon a time, Apple was a beleaguered company. In the late 1990s, Apple almost went out of business. Then, miraculously, Steve Jobs made his comeback and he drove the company to new heights.

In that historic journey, Apple started building terrific products. The elegance and style of Macs appealed to younger people, the iPhone was a sensation and completely changed the way smartphones are designed. The iPad set the stage for a whole new Post-PC era. Apple became a wealthy company.

During that critical period of upheaval, from 1998 to 2011, Apple shook the foundations of the consumer electronics industry. Not only did it sell highly desirable products to millions, build stores that were always packed shoulder to shoulder, but  Apple also called into question the management of every other high tech company on the planet. The comparisons were often blunt, critical and outright embarrassing.

Technical Evolution

As a long time observer of this company, my feeling is that companies got tired of being compared to Apple in an unfavorable light. Other executive teams sat down and started really thinking about the new economy, the new customer mentality, their own business practices and products. And with Steve Jobs gone, they started to look at any possible weakness exhibited by Apple.

The first realization was that the tablet era was here to stay, the PC as a mass market product rather than a niche tool was doomed, and that they should get serious about tablets. The next realization was that early tablets failed because they had no supporting ecosystem. Amazon developed the Kindle Fire series to exploit its marketplace and Google built a marketplace to support its Android ambitions (called Google Play). Finally, Android evolved into a decent tablet and smartphone OS and manufacturing techniques evolved to provide a pretty good feel, fit and finish.

Today, thanks to technical development and clever marketing, it's not clear to the average buyer why an iPad is so overwhelmingly superior to some Android tablets that they should be dismissed out of hand. It's not about what Apple has done wrong; it's about what other companies are doing right for a change. That's cause for celebration by all, not a predictor of Apple armageddon.

There are many reasons why Apple remains in favor. Without getting into a book-length treatise, Apple products retain a certain sense of style, balance and design. They pull us forward into the future, relentlessly. Apple has great customer service and hundreds of local stores. Apple still integrates hardware and software better than anyone.

But, in time, the vast gulf between early tablets and the iPad has closed, and this is alarming many technical columnists. A look at some of those reasons for alarm is worthwhile as well as some of the other factors, seductions, that are causing this negative turn in some writing circles.

Constant Dazzle

Apple's product cycles used to be on an annual basis. Recently, Apple looks to be changing that to a six month cycle. But publications need something new to write about every day. Internet readers, deluged by digital publications and blogs have to prioritize, and the Big Story gets their attention. So it appears that Apple's innovation is dying when, in fact, it's not. It's just not subject to a frenetic feeding cycle of Internet buzz. Good hardware takes time, time that writers and readers aren't willing to grant.

Apple: Love and Fear

Apple is a large, successful, glamorous company. We love their products. Millions of customer proudly carry their iPhone and iPads everywhere. So if something is wrong with Apple, we tend to get concerned. We're news junkies. Is Apple running out of gas? Is there a scandal? Has its run come to an end? Are new companies outperforming Apple? Will Apple's patents be slowly whittled away, leaving the company defenseless? With journalistic drama, publications want to have readers clinging to their every word. As an added plus, it makes the publication look important and valuable.

Celebrity Leadership

Tim Cook is an effective spokesperson for Apple as a company. He is clearly passionate about Apple's products. However, no one believes that he alone is the driving force behind Apple's new products. As a result, Apple currently has no highly visible spokesperson who can speak articulately about his personal passion for design and take ownership of the products. Only Jonathan Ive can do that, and he's not very visible as an Apple persona except at Apple keynotes. And even then, not in person but on video.

Without that kind of visible person, taking responsibility for Apple products and also engaging the public (and writers) as Steve Jobs did, writers have no grounding, no compass. Steve Jobs told us what we should be thinking, and it crystalized why Apple was the choice. We are a celebrity culture. Now, Apple's public image no longer has a shinning star, hanging in the east. Many writers have lost (or never had) focus on the basics of Apple. Call it writer's drift.

PC Era Curmudgeons

Those publications and writers who were solidly in the Microsoft camp in the 1990s have been forced to admit, lately, that Apple's products have been a sensation. They are nicely built and designed, wildly popular. It created doubts in their minds about the wisdom of Apple's competitors.

Accordingly, whenever there's a perceived chink in Apple's armor, hope springs anew that their old thinking can be dusted off and have a fresh face. By golly, that's something to write about.

Technical Insight

Technical stories are boring. Digging into the details, and there's always more behind the scenes to tell, is hard work and not always wildly popular. Worse, our own Internet bandwidth is akin to the psyche of many executives.

In a technical company, there are the guru engineers and the chief scientist. They know all the ins and outs in detail. They can publish technical papers. Executives at the top, on the other hand, have broader responsibilities and don't have the required technical training. So they can only absorb tidbits. They create simple mental models that they can digest to explain events they encounter. Call it elevator-speech intellect.

Many writers and their readers, pressed for time, use the same techniques. A single juicy tidbit of information, even rumors, can be enough to sway people who think of themselves as smart and seasoned. Call it quick-trigger thinking. It affects Apple stock and it permeates Internet writing.

But Wait! Nothing's Really Changed

Meanwhile, not much has changed at Apple. The core executive team has been there for over a decade. Some senior executives have come and gone, but the leadership and spirit of Apple remains as strong as it ever has been.

What's changed is that some writers have found that there's money to be made by waxing sensational about Apple, feeding our fears, posting silly, juicy rumors, avoiding essential nuances, glossing over the important technical details, seizing opportunities to appear to be our knight in shining armor, and generally blasting our visual field with lurid headlines.

That's not to say that Apple is a perfect company. Occasionally it makes mistakes and needs to be called out, calmly and professionally.

The recent wave of negativism has many causes. I cited the notable ones above. But the essential thing to remember is that Apple is building great products. It's good to be in the Apple ecosystem, and one can be amazingly productive with Apple's offerings.

It's not about what troubles Apple from day to day, real or imagined. It's what we as customers can achieve with those products, our own passion, that's really important and can make a difference. Still, more than most other companies, Apple understands that. Not a step has been lost there.

As Steve Jobs used to say when he savored a particular product on stage: "This is why we do what we do."

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Newspaper headlines via Shutterstock.

Comments

Paul Johnson

For some reason you forgot to mention the expiring AAPL call options on January 19 and stock manipulation to keep the price under $500 a share.  That’s where the truth is.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

John, You shouldn’t discount lawsuit fatigue and just being tired of the whole “they copied us” thinking. Of course there is cross-pollination of ideas. But there are many things that the alleged “copiers” have done much better than Apple. There just comes a time when competitors aren’t going to put up with the bullying and will kick back hard. This is the fundamental problem that Cookie needs to solve, or he’ll just be the guy that steered the ship for a couple years while it lost half its value.

palenoue

“Sour Grapes” is another factor to consider.  A lot of these columnists declared Apple dead a decade ago, stated as a fact that the iPhone would never amount to anything, and sneered at the iPad as failure incarnate.

Every record-breaking quarterly report is a slap in their faces.  They can’t stand being wrong yet Apple is proving them wrong every day.  As a result they feel compelled to print nothing but bad things about Apple, even if they have to make it all up.

RonMacGuy

LMAO Bosco, you are just so negative.  Your resentment of Apple is hilarious to me.  Apple will release earnings, show how incredibly successful their last quarter was, and stock will rise again.  Meanwhile, I am taking advantage of the situation!!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Last time you claimed to be taking advantage of the situation, AAPL was at $540. I’ll make you a deal, Ron. Instead of buying AAPL, why don’t add the money in your piggy bank and just break me off 10%. Much better investment.

b9bot

There products aren’t better, they just copied Apple and made them seem better. But there implementation of what they copied is piss poor and awkward to use unlike a real Apple product. Not to mention the lack of quality control leaves there products open to malware and other unmentionables that I myself don’t want in a product. Or they make the product try and do everything in one which also doesn’t work either. Yes maps in IOS had flaws but when it comes down to it more than 90% just works as advertised but you won’t get malware or security issues with it. And Apple always will give you an update to fix the issues where others will just make you buy a whole new device for the latest software.

webjprgm

I’d like to know more about those call options Paul mentions.

About the copying, remember that Apple ripped off some ideas that competitors put in their copies of Apple things, like iOS’s notification center.  I think it’s pretty obvious that competitors ripped off almost everything about Apple’s designs, but the laws in the US and world just aren’t set up to stop people from copying everything, and so far Apple’s had mixed success defending tiny bits of their stuff.  It’s a shame for Apple, but that’s how it is.

Personally I’d love to see Apple’s stock go back up to $700 (because I have a small bit of it, and because I’m an Apple fan), but I’d like even more to see Apple make some really awesome improvements this year now that they’ve pushed out Mr. Forstall.  Does anyone think that will happen? Will it take Federighi more than a year to get things working his way and leaping forward? Can Federighi even do better than Forstall?  I’m optimistic about Mr. Ive having more input on UI now too.

john Dingler, artist

Hi John M.,
Well, those old thinkers you mentioned may be irrationally surprised and chagrinned that Apple has once again achieved success, not normal success, but has become a leader in the mobile field.

So now they want to punish Apple for not adhering to their “Apple should be dead, dead, dead, I tell’ya” narrative, they write false stories, or dredge up aged negative-sounding stories that no longer apply to Apple’s top performance, or expand on a factual statement about a cut in orders but frame it to mean a performance downturn.

Others relish the the thought that Samsung is able to steal Apple’s intellectual properties and, as the court cases wind through the courts, the former is able to make illicit profit by the thefts, so they seem to write vindictive stories about Apple’s weak IPs or that it should never apply for its property rights and, worse, be granted them. And people are just waiting in the wings to stab and plunge and thrust at Apple’s success.

Some write bad news about apple simply to induce investors to dump so that they can buy and subsequently bump for a sales profit.

So, as far as I can tell, Apple’s tanking stock price was primed by amateur or vindictive journalism. That Apple’s stock decreased to only approx. 500 under this widespread and incessant henpecking is a testament to Apple’s strong fundamentals.

Paul Goodwin

Good article John. There are so many writers now making a living bashing Apple because there has always been a significant portion of the population that likes to hear it. The amazing thing is how some investment counselors are advising their customers based on al the rumors and unsubstantiated predictions. Blows my mind how many investors listen and sell based on it. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if a significant number of them aren’t in place just to manipulate stock down for a cheap buy. The collusion theory is certainly possible. Money and greed drive Wall St, and there’s certainly been plenty of wrongdoers. Just not enough of them investigated and caught because there aren’t enough resources to investigate everyone, and they know it.

As for the future based on Apple’s past performance:

1998 iMac Bondi Blue

2001 OS X
2002 iPod, iMac G4 Flat Panel

2006 Intel iMac, MacBook Pro
2007 iPhone, Apple TV
2008 MacBook Air

2010 iPad

2013/14 ??????

I obviously haven’t captured all of Apple’s great products on a timeline, just a few of their big hitters, ones that really shook up the markets.

Expecting something completely new and innovative out of any company every 6 months or a year is just a dream. The amount of R&D dollars, and production readiness investment is huge. And to get the right new thing into the market when there really will be a market takes a lot of things to line up in time, like the piece part technology of what’s inside the new gizmo, and a market infrastructure that can actually support the innovation (i.e. who would use near field). Whatever the new device is, it has to be secure. Software has to be developed along with the hardware. It all takes a lot of time, and a lot of money.

Apple has the money. I’d say we’re approaching (later this year or early next) another significant step in technology, another thing we didn’t know we needed.

Everyone is just too impatient. Apple keeps building new products as extensions of the technologies that they came up with in 2007-2010. And why wouldn’t they? I’m quite sure they are spending large sums of money on R&D, have many working prototypes, and are formulating their business plans for whatever the new thing(s) are.

I wish I had a few thousand bucks to buy their stock right now, it’s cheap.

Paul Goodwin

If you do a best fit straight line from March 2009 to Nov 2011, where the stock growth was a long fairly steady climb, you can predict what the stock prices probably should have been last year (much lower) and what it should be right now - about $536.

True, nobody can predict, but there’s not much reason IMO that the stock shouldn’t settles out and reset to the more normal looking growth it was doing during that prior period. last year’s huge upswing wasn’t really justified. This years’ fall isn’t either.

During that period I used above, there were times when the stock was above and below the best fit straight line prediction (trendline if you will) by as much as $50. So it looks like it might be at about the minimum.

crazy legs brad

Apple products are no longer the hip alternative to the mainstream.  They ARE the mainstream, and more and more android gadgets are looking like the “cool” place to be, despite the fact they are still catching up in a few areas.  I believe thatis driving much of the nnegativity.

John Martellaro

brad: I find it humorous. We’re in the Post-PC era.  This is the dawn of the tablet age. Every tech company on the planet that can is building tablets, even Toys R Us. Technology is evolving.  Current tablets are catching up with Apple.  So here’s the crazy thinking, in pseudo-quotes for emphasis: “Apple is no longer the supreme leader, embarrassing the competition. Therefore, Apple is doomed.” 

I don’t think so.

Still, Apple makes the very best tablets. If the very best tablets made by humankind are made by Apple, then I want to be mainstream.  I’ve never settled for second best, just to be different.

Paul Goodwin

And there’s nothing hip about cheap plastic phones and tablets.

GraphicMac

I think it’s more likely that they simply get more pageviews by writing about Apple than anything else. And those pageviews go up even further if the article is negative. It’s really that simple.

John Martellaro
Steve

Good article John. I’d like to put this out there… it’s not about the products it’s about the Hero.

The media want to see a hero on their journey, it doesn’t matter where they are on the journey but they need to see a Hero.

Steve Jobs was a Hero many times over in his tenure at Apple. He saw a challenge, fought the dragon and lived to tell the tale.

What we don’t see right now is a challenge and a Hero up to meeting the challenge face to face.

I reckon one of the major challenges for Apple is IP and all this lawsuit stuff. If Tim Cook found a way to beat back all the lawsuits, and was public about what he was doing, then Apple would have another Hero and so would the media.

That was always the great thing about Steve, he really vocalised the challenges that Apple faced and then proceeded to overcome them.

No wonder the press is ‘meh’ about Apple right now.

John Dingler, artist

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