The iPhone 4 Antenna Saga: Some in the Media Served; Some Sucked
Author’s note: you can read this post or listen to the iPhone 4 Antenna Song (embedded below). Your call.
As a longtime user of Apple products, an AAPL investor, and someone who aggregates all the news on Apple though two sites, Apple Investor News and Apple|Enthusiast, I’m certainly aware of all sides of the Apple media frenzy.
On one hand, there’s the quick-to-respond, almost immediate feedback of media, bloggers and fanboys who dissect, reveal and inform the process. These media, and other longer lead-time journalists, are to be acknowledged for serving their public. They played a role in compelling Apple to act more quickly, which it did on Friday. This is process journalism at its best.
Then there’s the media who take a simple story and blow it out of proportion, piling on like a chain reaction train wreck while adding nothing to the conversation. Steve Jobs was right Friday when he said of some in the media, “You guys talk to each other a lot.”
There’s no better example of this than the iPhone 4 antenna saga of the last few weeks. I too was getting pulled into the vortex. I will be buying an Phone 4 and was angry that my soon-to-be new prized possession might not work properly. I got caught up in the hype that can often accompany all things Apple.
Then I walked into a Best Buy store early last week and asked a salesperson, “Have you guys sold a lot of iPhone 4s?” Answer: “A ton!” “How many people have complained about the antenna?” Answer: “Not a single one.”
“How can this be?!” asked a shocked I, the uber-knowledgeable aggregator of all Apple news. I had to check further, so I asked the manager in charge of iPhone/AT&T activations, who reiterated that not a single customer had complained.
At this point I realised that something was wrong in Appleville. Had we strayed so far from the truth? Had we lost track of a larger context? Were techno-journalists and bloggers feverishly screaming and squabbling while the average consumer was just enjoying his or her iPhone? Was the “big story” now becoming a “big mess” that we ourselves co-created? And how could the advice of the venerable Consumer Reports be so far afield from the experience of so many users who flat out love the iPhone 4?
More importantly, why weren’t more journalists doing real research and homework to dig beyond the surface headlines? Even media outlets that should know better were piling on, simply reporting on the day’s reportage, some of which was ill informed.
A large number of these media indeed sucked the life out of the story, offering no new perspective or information and doing no original reporting. Even I, with just five minutes of local fact checking, got a glimmer of the story that Apple confirmed: yes, there is a real problem, but only a small percentage of actual users are experiencing it, and fewer than that even give a damn.
The Apple fanboy dynamic is clear: When you love something so much, even the smallest problem can feel disproportionately large. This happened with the G4 Cube case crack issue in 2000, with the first iPod nano’s scratch-prone screen, and now with the iPhone 4 antenna. Of course Apple is now a Goliath and has become a lightning rod with techno-journalists. Its success will only ensure repeats of this type of media drama, I’m afraid.
Apple journalists and bloggers understand that for many people an iPhone is not just a useful gadget, but more like a piece of jewelry, a personal statement. So they use this dynamic to rack up traffic by generating flame bait.
Of course, Apple did much to hurt their own cause, once again having to do a PR double-take after the software patch and suggestions to “hold it different” made matters worse (similar to Apple’s January 2009 statement on Steve Jobs’ health, which had to be reversed days later). But on Friday Steve apologized and, in my opinion, did the right thing. I frankly never doubted it. As a longtime Apple customer, I’ve always known its customer service to be stellar. This larger context was lost as things got heated over the last two weeks.
No, this episode wasn’t the media’s “fault.” Apple made a design error. But there were two distinct media camps covering this story. So to all those who did their own original research and homework, congratulations for playing a part in forwarding this story. To all who fanned the flames of hype and wasted our time, you can do better.
And to all of us, as the guy in the “iPhone 4 Antenna Song” says, it’s time to “get over it.”
Frank Cioffi is editor of Apple Investor News and Apple|Enthusiast, part of the Tech Investor News network of news aggregation sites. He is a former AP radio reporter and TV news producer, and also serves as a news media consultant. Disclosure: Long AAPL.