I don’t need to defend Apple because, frankly, results tend to speak for themselves. And so it is that the indicators are that Apple is selling the iPhone 5 at a brisk pace. But even if it wasn’t, would that matter? Apple needs no defense — it is a corporation whose primary purpose is to make and sell products. If it makes products people want to buy, then its existence is thereby justified.
What Apple really is (for the sake of this discussion) is a barometer by which to measure the state of technology journalism. And I’ve come to the conclusion that tech journalism is dumb. Don’t get me wrong — there are good people doing tech journalism and I know a few but sadly, the bulk of tech journalism is really a hyperbole machine that fails to inform. And being informed is my baseline expectation for what journalism is supposed to do.
I hold as evidence this piece from the Globe and Mail where El Akkad and Marlow claim that Apple is no longer innovating. If this song sounds familiar think back a year to the release of the iPhone 4S. But instead of pointing out the lack of innovation with rehashing things said at the iPhone 4S launch in an ironic tone, let’s consider their arguments, which are as follows:
- Apple is big so it can no longer innovate
- The roll out of the iPhone 5 is timed to ensure it sells
- They’re suing their competitors
I’m going to dispense with the latter two first. Argument 2 (timed roll out) merits one of those “well, duh” responses. Why wouldn’t Apple time their release for maximum sales? And that ignores the fact that Apple has a traditional back-to-school event in which they roll out products. WWDC was never good timing from the perspective of rolling out a consumer product — but it was good for the first few years to get the developer community on board. So instead of giving us a context for the timing of the launches, El Akkad and Marlow spend their time weaving what is a rather obvious and trivial thing into some kind of diabolical plotting on the part of Apple.
Similarly they argue (essentially) that now that Apple is on top, they’re suing everyone to remain on top. What El Akkad and Marlow fail to inform us is that Apple’s always had a litigious history (sometimes being the target and other times being the bully) and that this is not a new thing. Moreover, the patent wars of the tech industry are pretty much standard practice. This is one of the reasons companies pursue patent caches so aggressively and all of the major companies have engaged in these practices. It doesn’t make them right but can we fault Apple for doing what is standard practice?
The “Big” Apple argument
The core of the big Apple argument is that now that Apple is part of the establishment, it can no longer take wild-haired hippie swings at the man. Consider this quote:
That’s why Apple has shied away from the kind of risk-taking that resulted in the original iPhone. To shake up the industry with another unexpected, revolutionary product would be to mess with a larger ecosystem of products that now drives a reliable and superlatively large revenue stream.
The problem with this is that no one yet has made a compelling case for what would constitute a revolutionary smartphone product. First off, major revolution comes in the form of product categories, not individual products. Can anyone say iPad (which they conveniently don’t mention)? Moreover, El Akkad and Marlowe’s only evidence is the lack of near-field communication technology in the new iPhone. Except that no one wants it or is ready for NFC yet.
I’m a gold-card carrying Starbucks drinker (no really — they sent me a gold Starbucks card with my name printed on it) and one of the things that Starbucks introduced a while back was the Starbucks app that allowed you to pay for your drink by waving your phone at a scanner. Initially I was enamored with using the app (it even lets you store your favorite drink!) but my enthusiasm hit the ugly reality on the ground. Half of the stores I went to either didn’t have their scanner yet or the scanner was there but it hadn’t been installed. Of the ones that did, the baristas more often than not stared at me in abject confusion when I held my phone out to pay. Eventually I went back to paying with my gold card. So if one company in their own stores can’t pull it off fully, why would we think unready technology showing up on a phone would move the retailers of North America? Change is hard.
And this is where tech journalism falls down hard. Instead of informing and helping us understand how technology can fit into our lives, they construct hyperbole and breathless anticipation for a restless pace of change. And while I’m not arguing against expectations of improvement, tech journalism has created an unrealistic sense of the pace of change — one that’s detrimental to our well-being. Consider what the consequence of Apple fulfilling the cry for revolution every year: Imagine your phone taking on a dramatically different shape and way of functioning year in and year out. You’d spend a lot of your time trying to master it to the point that you could easily slip your phone out of your pocket and answer the thing. And just when you’ve mastered it, it would change again.
And that’s a problem. We’re already overloaded. Evolution is a good thing.