2013-07-17

Should Apple Finally Open Up To Journalists?

For years Apple has relied on a “no comment” policy with reporters. In 2007 that was fine, but in an age where Google and Samsung are real competitors, Apple might need to learn to embrace the people who write about them.



I worked at Apple for five years and have stayed in touch with many of the people I knew there. Over the last few years as a journalist, I’ve also gotten to know several of Apple’s public relations people. Now, journalists have a real love/hate relationship with PR folks. Like people in any industry, you have the ones who are annoying hacks and then you have the ones who are the utmost professionals. All the PR people I’ve met from Apple are the latter.

My last meeting with Apple PR was one of the most pleasant meetings I’ve ever had with anyone in public relations. Half of the meeting saw us literally laughing about some of the ridiculous Apple rumors floating around the blogosphere, and also about a certain analyst’s long-running insistence the the real Apple television is always just around the corner.

But at that last meeting I was also told that Apple’s PR reps (who are all in-house and not contracted) often hear from journalists that the company needs to be more forthcoming with them. For these journalists (like me) it is often easier to get a quote or a demo or a full interview from companies like Google and Samsung than it is to get even a breadcrumb from Apple. And while Apple’s PR people acknowledge that, there is nothing they can do about until the further-ups at the company say it’s okay to open up more.

In this day and age, that’s a problem.

This isn’t 2007 anymore. The iPhone isn’t the only good smartphone in town. Google’s, Samsung’s, and even Microsoft’s smartphone offerings are each really good in their own ways. Those companies are also much more willing to talk to journalists than Apple, which means--because journalists like to (and get paid to) write stories--it’s much easier to put out a story about these companies than Apple.

Now don’t get me wrong, Apple doesn’t have a problem getting people to write about them. An entire ecosystem of websites have popped up over the last decade that are dedicated solely to writing about the company. But let’s face it, much of what is written about the company is bullshit speculation. And some of that speculation, often reported as “news,” is so bad it actually wipes billions off of Apple’s market cap at a time. But Apple is rarely ever proactive about such speculation because of its closed-mouth policy, which ultimately makes it harder for them to control their media message--something that could increasingly hurt the company.

Case in point: This is an amazing media study done by Edward Kitchingman at WeAreSocial. The study looked at the social media strategy of the launches of four major handsets: the iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Blackberry Z10, and the Nokia Lumia 920. As Kitchingman writes:

There was a huge variation between each launch, from the level of conversation generated, all the way through to the tactics each used on social media. Take the iPhone 5 for example, which on the face of it, was the perfect launch. It generated over 1.7m mentions on social media platforms, a number unmatched by any of its rivals.

However, Apple was not proactive enough pushing positive messages about the iPhone 5 and any innovation it offered, resulting in a low level of conversation around its features. It also received a high level of criticism – 20% of its launch conversation. Apple has established itself as being more innovative than its rivals and some fans felt that the iPhone 5 didn’t deliver on this reputation. And Apple did little to answer these questions.

On the other hand, the Samsung Galaxy S4--while getting only 140,000 social media mentions--had a much lower social media criticism rate with just 11% of social media mentions being negative. I point this out because the iPhone 5 is clearly the best smartphone Apple has ever made, yet the launch was heavily marred by negative press over iOS 6’s new Maps app, which translated into negative social media mentions and shares. Matter of fact, I was one of the first “Apple” journalists to harshly lambast the company in public (for which I literally received a death threat for being a “traitor”) and do you know who was the first company to reach out to me after my piece? Samsung.

I did hear from someone at Apple, about a week later, and not a PR person, but they told me not to write about what we discussed. So I didn’t. And I didn’t write about it not because Apple said so, but because if I reported on what I was told it wouldn’t serve my readers in any meaningful way; it would have just created more, ultimately meaningless, gossip.

My point here isn’t that journalists who complain the loudest should hear from a company (and to Apple’s credit, Tim Cook issued a very visible public apology regarding Maps). But when Apple’s competitor is contacting those journalists willing to talk about Apple’s trouble and Apple is not contacting anyone, that is a huge problem in an age where the iPhone maker’s competition is getting better and social media is everywhere. If Apple isn’t willing to talk to most journalists--the best of who serve as the bullshit-filters for all the Apple speculation flying around--then that lack of openness makes it hard, if not impossible, for the company to get a grip on any negative social media messages spreading on Twitter and Facebook.

Very rare controlled leaks from the company aside, Apple needs to start being more open with journalists to (truthfully) control their message--just like Samsung and Google are--or, one day, their lack of communication will lead to a tidal wave of negative social media mentions (perhaps deserved, perhaps not) over something that will irreparably damage the company.

This story is tracking: What's Happening To Steve's Company?

Today Apple's hardware and software set the standard for computing design, and the company itself is a consumer product hit machine. For a time the world's most valuable company, the empire that Steve built, is facing threats from all sides: aggressive Android manufacturers, changing consumer tastes, and the new primacy of social technology all threaten to rock the decades-old Mac paradigm. This story lays out what developers need to know about Apple in a post-Jobs world.


Previous Updates


Why Has Apple Been Plagued By Anti-Journalism?

April 26, 2013

The story of Apple's imminent demise seems to be perpetuated by those with a vested interest in seeing the company fail. Such people comprise two primary groups—those that bet against the stock, as discussed earlier,—and a select group of tech media who benefit from controversy.

From Ian Betteridge’s article in Macgasm titled "Just How Did Apple 'Journalism' Get This Bad.":

When I learned to be a journalist, we had one rule: We did what was the right thing for the readers. That sometimes meant annoying companies like Apple, if ‘doing the right thing for the readers’ meant giving them details of an unannounced Mac. Sometimes it meant giving large advertisers bad reviews. But whatever it meant, it always meant giving them the truth: facts we found out, put into context so the readers could understand what was going on better.

By those standards, David Gewirtz’s piece over at ZDNet entitled “iOS developers abandoning sinking Apple mothership: biggest drop ever” isn’t just bad journalism. It’s beyond that. It’s anti-journalism. Where journalism is about fact, Gewirtz brings us speculation. Where journalism adds context to make things clearer, Gewirtz removes it in order to make things more difficult to understand.

As Betteridge points out, Gewirtz took data about from a piece of unscientific research that measured relative interest in programming languages, notably Objective-C, which is used to write iOS apps. From that data Gewirtz removed all context from the report, then combined the remaining data with attention-grabbing lines like developers are “abandoning the sinking Apple mothership.” After reading Gewirtz’s article, you couldn’t blame casual tech readers for thinking that developers were fleeing Objective-C -- and thus iOS development -- in droves.

But of course, they aren’t. How do I know? Because tickets to this year’s WWDC sold out in two minutes today. Besides, interest in Objective-C does not necessarily equal interest in iOS development. After all, it’s possible that there are less OS X developers (who also develop in Objective-C). Or, this could be a sign of a natural maturation of the market. As the iOS development ecosystem matures, hobbyists that coded simple fart apps in the past are more likely to fall away as the pro devs gain a foothold. And that doesn’t even account for the short-term variances every programming language has. As Betteridge points out, interest in C# took a dive at the end of 2010, only to recover nicely since then.

So, given all the reasons above, why would a tech journalist write such an article about Apple?

Betteridge says a real tech journalist wouldn’t. Matter of fact, he calls Gewirtz’s article "anti-journalism.”

Gewirtz may be a brilliant example of anti-journalism, but he’s really just a symptom of how low technology journalism has sunk, and how the average pageview-hungry “anti-journalist” treats readers with contempt.

Maybe this is in part down to “readers” no longer being a defined group who regularly read a publication, but simply a swarm of who-knows-what people arriving from Google. Maybe it’s because all the readers are, to anti-journalists, is a number on a screen which adds up to more ad impressions, and thus more cash in their back pockets.

Is Betteridge right in his assertion? Yes and no. I’ve been a tech journalist for almost four years now. And I do consider myself a “journalist.” By that I mean I always check the facts of a story before any rush to be first with it out the door--and believe me, the desire to be “first” with a story in the age of instant news is strong. I try to remain independent from the companies I cover (and when I can’t, I say so). And I always put my readers’ interests first—which I take to mean they are seeking the truth about whatever I am writing about. I’ve been lucky enough to work with many wonderful colleagues at different publications and many of them hold these ideals. Many wonderful writers on the web who only call themselves “bloggers” also hold these ideals.

But then there are the “anti-journalists.” That is a very real group of internet writers—and they are legion—who only care about pageviews or other personal interests when they write about a story (or just make one up). And what these anti-journalists know is that readers are exceptionally emotive about Apple as both a company and a driving force in our culture today. So if they can drum up outrageous headlines, they know the clicks will come. It’s not right. It’s not fair. But it’s reality.

The good news is that if you’re a regular follower of tech news, it’s relatively easy to spot the true journalists and bloggers from the anti-journalist hacks. And at that point the power is in your hands--and that power is immense. Your clicks and taps count, so choose what you click and tap on wisely.


We're tracking this story about whether Apple will keep its premier spot in computing--and its dedicated developer community. Read on for context, or skip below to read previous updates.

In the realm of fanboyism, the "–hater" suffix is common. You have Microsoft-haters, Samsung-haters, Google-haters, and of course, Apple-haters. Until recently, the –hater suffix was nothing but harmless fanboyism. Recently, however, it seems that Apple-hating has become a full-time job for financial professionals, some of who stand to make millions every time someone disparages the company.

The health of a company as sophisticated as Apple—which encompasses an entire ecosystem—is a difficult thing to measure. It's even more difficult when that company is Apple: A brand replete with goodwill and cash. So people fall back on a reductive measure: Stock price.

Apple's stock has declined from $705 to the low $390s in just over seven months—that's 40%. This decline has most people in the media screaming, "Apple is dead! Abandon ship while you can!" And why not? It's good for page-view, and who doesn't enjoy a little schadenfreude?

But there are hidden actors at work here, namely money managers and media companies, who like to promote every instance of Apple-doubting in the media. Here's just one example of the media playing up Apple's death without getting their facts right, as John Moltz points out on his blog:

Spot the error

Erik Sherman writing for CBS about the “Apple meltdown” (via Sat Tara Khalsa):

"Anonymous supply chain sources say that iPad mini unit sales could drop 20 percent to 30 percent this quarter, compared with the same period last year."

(Emphasis mine.) Apple’s apparently doing so badly that returns of the iPad mini will be so high next quarter that they’ll drive sales into negative numbers. Which is the only way they could sell fewer than zero. That pretty much sums up the current state of reporting on Apple right there, doesn’t it?

Shoddy reporting is one thing, but here's a more serious example. This one comes from Philip Elmer-DeWitt at Fortune. He's talking about the rumors in recent days that—wait for it—Tim Cook is being handed his hat by Apple. Here's what Elmer-DeWitt says:

The last time we wrote about Doug Kass -- a small hedge fund manager with a large presence on CNBC -- it was to document a nifty piece of stock manipulation played out on his Twitter feed in February, the day before Apple's annual shareholder meeting.

Apple's (AAPL) share price was down and Kass was long the stock. He tweeted a rumor that the company was about to announce a split, the stock went up, he sold his shares at a profit, he tweeted that the rumor was baseless and then spent the rest of the day hurling insults at his critics.

Well, Kass is at it again. On Sunday, citing the same "Gnome" that was the source for his stock split story, he tweeted: @DougKass: From my Gnome, high above the Alps - "Is Apple's Tim Cook... Cooked?

Many assume people only make money on a stock if that stock goes up and they sell. But in reality, people can make millions shorting a stock as valuable as Apple's. So, as Elmer-DeWitt points out, professional Apple-haters like Kass have a lot to gain. And who else is in that group? Many, Elmer-DeWitt finds:

  • We've got the tweet from Doug Kass, whose main Apple-related claim to fame was to publish his "Bear Case for Apple" the day before the stock began a nosedive that lopped nearly $300 billion off the market cap of the world's most valuable company.
  • We've got "The impossible task of fixing Apple" by Rob Enderle, a consultant for Dell (DELL), Microsoft (MSFT), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and others, who has made a career of bad-mouthing Apple in print and on TV. (For background on Enderle, you can start with John Gruber's 2003 Putting the 'anal' in 'analyst'.)
  • We've got "Sunday's Is Apple Looking For A Replacement For CEO Cook?" in Forbes.com, the online arm of a once-respected business publication whose experiment in what it calls "incentive-based, entrepreneurial journalism" has led to what Macworld calls "a relentless clown show of anti-Apple contributors."

Usually financial news of a company and a company's stock price should be of little concern to developers. But when there is so much disinformation (but let's call them "rumors" to be nice) spreading about a company's impeding demise—a company that's paid $1 billion dollars to developers in just one month—developers need to start getting angry, because this effects their livelihoods.

After all, if consumers believe a healthy company is one step from death's door, why would they buy its products and, ultimately, your apps?


Wall Street turns on Apple. The New York Times documents how Wall Street has turned on its former darling as Apple's share price continues to slide, a total decline of 44% since September 2012. This story seems to be as much about a shift in sentiment toward Apple as the numbers themselves.

Apple remains enormously profitable and the envy of corporations worldwide. And yet Apple’s decline in the stock market has been so swift and so brutal that the development has begun to change the way investors view the company. Apple no longer looks like a sure thing.

Apple looks cheap by the most popular way of gauging a stock’s value, the amount of profit it generates for each outstanding share. Investors are willing to pay about $15 for a dollar of profit of the average Standard & Poor’s 500 company. But for Apple, they will pay less than $9. At its current price, investors are betting that Apple will grow more slowly than the average American company.

Apple announces its Q2 results next week and earnings are widely expected to be lower than previous quarters. Motley Fool lists 4 things which may go wrong for the company, including lower earnings, a drop in revenue growth, and no rise in dividends, which would indicate that Apple is hoarding its dormant cash.

The bearish case against Apple revolves largely around deteriorating margins, so even worrywarts may not realize that analysts now see Apple's top line growing in the single digits this quarter. Wall Street's eyeing just 8.9% in revenue growth to $42.68 billion. A miss here would probably be even more catastrophic than a sharper decline in profitability.

Time magazine also weighed in, suggesting that while Apple raked in 69% of the profits of the entire smartphone industry last year, it still needs a new product to counter its competition.

Few believe Apple can maintain an edge based solely on the strength of incremental improvement to the iPhone and the iPad. Instead, many investors feel, the company needs new breakthrough products of the kind Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs delivered repeatedly during his remarkable career.


Chinese "app store" lets Chinese Apple fans download pirated apps. Chinese site 7659.com has turned Apple’s own bulk enterprise licensing technology against it to make pirated apps available for free. You don't even need to jailbreak to use them. VentureBeat takes a closer look:

The site, which is only available within China unless you spoof your location via a proxy server, offers a wide selection of iPhone and iPad apps. In just a few moments, I found Final Fantasy V, a $16 iPad game; Badland, a newish $4 app; Le Vamp, a $2 game for iPhone and iPad, and many others.

The rather inventive justification of the company behind the site, Kuaiyong, is that many Chinese Apple users find it difficult to manage iTunes.

In order for Chinese Apple fans to download applications securely, Kuaiyong developed its own method of giving users access to thousands of free apps without having to jailbreak their devices.

Our goal has always been about bringing Chinese Apple users with quick, convenient and pleasant IOS experience. Since the introduce of Kuaiyong, the proportion of jailbreak in China has declined dramatically from 60% to around 30%.

The problem for Apple of course, is that it is not earning any revenue from the pleasant iOS experience of all those Chinese users.


Apple core rot. Software engineer, photographer, and former Mac-fan Lloyd L. Chambers' blistering attack on Apple is a few months old but still worth a look. Chambers contends that OS X is no longer a platform fit for serious work. He laments the decline of the core operating system quality, the lack of updates in hardware for professional use, the arbitrary removal of APIs, and Apple's less than benign dictatorship of design and content.

OS X is degrading into a base for an entertainment platform. As it stands, the trend is entirely downhill for serious work (albeit a mild grade so far, but steadily downhill nonetheless).

Core operating system quality is declining as resources are diverted to software development in more profitable lines: iPhone, iPad, iHaveNoRealWorkToDo products. Apple forgets its history and leaves it core professional base twisting in the wind.

Not everyone agreed with Chambers, with commenters at Hacker News describing the post as containing "misinformation and half-truths" (commenter Osmium) or even insisting that the trend is in the opposite direction: "I see more and more developers switching to Mac and taking it seriously. My last office switched completely from Ubuntu to Mac" (commenter logn).

However, commenter Vonguard had the following to say:

Apple clearly has no desire to keep any users that don't see their iMac as a giant iPhone. The Mac OS was always for casuals, but when they added Unix, it changed and both casual and hardcore could love the same OS. But clearly the hardcore are no longer of any interest to Apple. It's a real shame because the Mac OS was very stable and useable for many years. Now, it's just a toy.


What's gone wrong at Apple? According to industry observer Paul Kedrosky, the design team led by Jony Ives (just listed as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world), has too much power within the company.

When Jobs was alive, Kedrosky implies, this "tension" between the design teams and manufacturing teams was in almost perfect balance. Jobs's brilliance as both a product designer and business executive kept the company from "over-designing" its products, or, just as bad, focusing so much on the numbers that its design standards sagged.

But now that Jobs is gone, Kedrosky suggests, Jony Ive's design team has been given too much power--without a critical check and balance on whether Ive's products can actually be produced in the quantity and timeframe that Apple needs to produce them to meet demand.

Has the dominance of design gone too far? And if it has, what does this mean for other hardware manufacturers?


Hackintosh for creatives. The first Hackintosh guide was written specifically for video editors and other creatives to building a machine that’s faster than the entry-level Mabook Pro, for half the price.

The post's author, filmmaker Ryan Koo, insists that creativity shouldn't be restricted to those who can pay for a high-end Mac.

Many creative pursuits require the latest technology--especially working with video, which requires a lot of processing power and storage space. But when Apple recently announced new Mac Pros for the first time in almost two years, I wondered why they were so expensive, concluding that they were “not a good value proposition.” As far as video editors were concerned, I also wondered why they no longer offered nVidia graphics cards as an option, despite (or because of) the fact that Adobe Creative Suite uses nVidia cards to get drastically higher performance when editing video.


[Image: Flickr user Tim Snell]






Add New Comment

13 Comments

  • jpintobks

    Apple is a transparent company in terms of release of unit sales, working conditions,  environment packaging and contents, etc. As a contrast look at Amazon that hide number of Kindle sale...

  • Delusional

    I find this kind of hilarious in the sense that public companies live and die on hype by analysts and yet we still have this discussion. RIM now BB was almost destroyed because of negative press which had nothing to do with a sound device/platform. Newsflash - companies are not worth $900/share let alone $300.  Its all driven by market hype.  

    The other thing that makes me shake my head is that people actually think Apple is a nice company.  They make widgets from dirt waged Chinese and than mark up 200%?????  Goodwill? Steve Jobs was a tyrant and frigging lucked out. His first time around almost bankrupt  the company, and second time around was able to succeed because of Pixar which he thought was a bad idea.  

  • franciskong

    You will know that the company is in trouble when they spend more money on lawsuits than allocate resources to developing new and cool products. A leader in logistics handling creative work just does not make sense when given the same power and autonomy as the former one.

  • snawab

    There people who make a living by spreading rumors and being skeptical. Stock market alone cannot predict the true state of affairs of the company. Apple has enough resources to come up with the next big thing and surprise us all. I hope they have great leaders at the top.

  • Larryalobo

    When the inspirational head of a company who is visible in public is no longer there, all the mechanics of his vision made some time ago and inspiration of those who work there may pale  since he is not there to prop it up.  It wasn't just the products, not just the software - it was the way he made you feel when you saw and listened to him talk about Apple products.  And even when he introduced a product that was no different or better than what others had (icloud) and were playing catch up, people sat in wonder.  In the meantime, the other players are coming up with lots of other products and services that challenge or run ahead of some of what Apple does (no matter how profitable they are now) (Google Glasses, whether they are practical or not - Microsoft ecosystem of products).  We'll see what else Apple has up its sleeve - whether the ideas or based on Steve's last visions or what Apple staff comes up with.  The wonder of Apple's supply chain and its efficiency is no longer a wonder since other companies are coming up with new type of products very often, more than once a year.  Let's see what 2015 brings.

  • Jim

    It's been 18 months since the passing of Steve Jobs... hard to believe.  But let's all remember that even when Steve was still with us in body (as well as spirit), he was questioned and doubted by the same crew currently forecasting the next downfall of Apple.  Apple has been the object of critical and negative assessment since its very founding in 1976.  And much like Mark Twain, the rumors of Apple's death are often greatly exaggerated. I cannot objectively guess what the future will bring for Apple, but with or without Steve Jobs, I wouldn't bet against them.

  • OM

    You needed to write something, and this is what you came up with? To fill a deadline? Really? It's unfortunate, you could not have written about something that actually commands attention in the technology space. I personally worked with several people in the Apple organization, and the continued collaboration. It is a real shame you wasted our time as innovators with this filth, most importantly time in solving the worlds problems. Next time tell your editor if he has a deadline, to write up something worthy of writing about. You and Fast company should be ashamed of yourselves.

  • Greg Furry

    "Many believe there's something rotten in the state of Cupertino" Really? Many believe in the tooth fairy as well but then they grow up. People love to focus on rumors and hearsay. What happend to actual numbers, facts and journalism? Oh I forgot this is about page views and your bottom line not reporting the actual truth. 

  • Gerald Irish

    Apple has a couple of problems to contend with right now.  Their biggest problem in my opinion is that the quality gap between iOS and Android has all but disappeared.  Meanwhile, cloud services are becoming a big part of the mobile device experience and Apple's offerings are behind the curve.  iCloud is way behind what Google Drive can do, Siri isn't quite as good as Google Now despite its head start, and of course there was the folly that is Apple Maps.  Apple should be going toe to toe and winning on the cloud services front. 

    As far as devices go, iPhone sales are still strong but now Android phones are the ones introducing new technologies.  Some of the new Android phone features are frivolous, but for example, Apple should not have been the last to the party with a 4G phone.

    The battering Apple is taking from Wall St. is of less concern in a lot of ways.  Apple is probably working on their next big thing, and they'll release it when they're ready.  Pushing something out half-baked just because Wall St. is hungry for it would be stupid.
    I also think Apple is missing a huge opportunity by essentially ignoring the enterprise market.  There was a window when companies were extremely eager to integrate iOS into their infrastructure and Apple should've taken that and run with it.  If they had gained a bigger foothold they could've capitalized on Microsoft's missteps with Windows 8. 

  • Schratboy

    Ms. Byrne. Are you available to turn my compost pile? Based on your writing style I think you're a natural in mixed together manure and other man-made food scraps.