Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Media critics can't understand why Apple doesn't listen to them . . . they have short memories

The media and its media gurus sometimes express concern that Apple just doesn't listen to them. Why, oh why doesn't Apple understand that we know best.

But from the perspective of the folk in Cupertino, the media and its supposed thought leaders have hardly been friends of Apple. In fact, it seems that from the first day Steve Jobs announced the iPad, the media has been quick to judgement. Sure there have been fanboys, as they are called, but many have been picking a fight -- and as John Gruber would say, providing plenty of "claim chowder".

This is not to say that Apple has gotten its relationship with the media correct, far from it. But this is to remind those of us in the publishing business that relationships go both ways. If today there are those writing to decry the policies of Apple and its App Store, let me briefly hold a mirror up:
The media didn't wait until the actual product was launched to begin expressing its doubts: "I’ve been covering and reviewing notebooks and battery technology for the past decade, and I know what the current technology is capable of," John Breden writes on the B2B website for Government Computer News. "There is no way that a 1.5-pound computer is going to be able to drive an IPS display for ten hours as Steve Jobs claims. It just can’t happen." Oh boy, please stop now before things get worse. But no, he goes on: "Unless Apple has also developed some new type of power source, such as nuclear cells or magical hamsters on tiny spinning wheels for the iPad, don’t expect the claims about battery life to hold true." Turns out that Jobs was underestimating the battery life the iPad would get.

Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either) -- Cory Doctorow, writing on boingboing says that "Gadgets come and gadgets go. The iPad you buy today will be e-waste in a year or two." And this was the day before the first iPad was even delivered.

Here is another review of a device not seen and not used: The Top 7 reasons I won't be getting an iPad -- Mike Butcher, European editor of TechCrunch, for The Telegraph. After listing seven reasons why he won't buy an iPad -- and remember, this is a tech editor talking, he ends with "I reserve the right to change my mind on all of the above. Once I’ve actually seen one." That was brave.

Amazingly, Claudine Beaumont, The Telegraph's technology editor, had to write her own list of reasons why she won't buy an iPad either. She writes "Don't get me wrong, the iPad looks lovely – all sleek lines and tight curves. But how do you use the thing?" I guess she won't downloading the Telegraph's own iPad app any time soon.

He's returning his: "So I reboxed the iPad so I can return it to Apple. As I say in the video, it’s not out of dogmatism but because I simply don’t see a good use for the machine and don’t want to spend $500 on something I’m not going to use." -- Jeff Jarvis, Buzzmachine. A few months later he was at it again, warning publishers to "avoid Steve Jobs' siren call. The iPad is not, not your salvation. Oh, it’s nice and elegant but your editors are leading you over the lemmings’ cliff because they think the public wants the world packaged just as they used to package it." Jarvis was recently named to a new advisory board by Postmedia. In other words, Jarvis will be advising Postmedia on its digital future.

As they say, I could go on all day. But the point here is not that there are many media people and media critics that got the iPad wrong. There are at least an equal number who wrote glowing, and often over-the-top pieces in praise of the device.

The point is that some of these folks are considered leaders in the industry, media advisors, critics, teachers. Newspaper and magazine executives, apparently, listen to some of these voices. The really crazy ones are even employing them.

If our industry is to progress and begin to adapt to the new digital era of publishing -- and I would say that we've done a pretty lousy job so far -- we're going to have to begin directly working with the new production platforms. These platforms are not owned by RR Donnelley, but by Apple and Google (and others). We can continue to believe that those advocating aggregation, layoffs and cheap wages are our new thought leaders, or we can start thinking about what our readers will really want to read now that the formats have changed.

Here we are, a little over ten months since the iPad was launched, and despite the cries of doom from some early reviews, over 15 million iPads are in use and that number will more than double this year. It's about time that both Apple and publishers spoke directly to each other like adults -- assuming there are, in fact, any adults in the room.