How Can Journalists Be So Wrong About Apple?

November 26th, 2007

Let’s take a trip back through time, to the 1990s, where the words “Apple” and “beleaguered” were usually described in the same sentence, rarely more than a few words apart. I suppose you could say that there was a death watch too, with lots and lots of publications waiting for Apple to bite the big one, or just go bankrupt and get swallowed up by another company. In a few years, the name would remain, but everything else would be history.

Of course, it didn’t turn out that way, although Apple came mighty close to the precipice for a while, as it began to hemorrhage money in the mid-1990s. This all happened before they succumbed to the famous Steve Jobs sales pitch (notice I didn’t say “reality distortion field,” but you get the idea) and bought NeXT.

I suppose, with all of Apple’s missteps, you could forgive a number of tech writers for suggesting that Windows 95 contained all the significant features of the Mac OS, and that Apple’s remaining opportunities to remain alive in the PC business were doomed to failure. There were times when I felt I had to force myself to convince people that Macs were still better, and the best those T-shirts could display was “Macs suck less than Windows.”

Of course, when Apple actually heeded demands to open its operating system and license it and hardware reference designs to other companies to build Mac OS clones, it was a train wreck of the first order. Startups such as Power Computing went right after Apple’s key markets with cheaper boxes and faster processors. Steve Jobs understood the dangers and stopped the program dead in its tracks before the company was destroyed by its own licensees.

Even when the first iMac took the world by storm, many suggested that Apple was forever consigned to niche status, and could never grow its market share again.

When the iPod came out, how many of you believed that it would soon come to dominate the media player market, and that there would be an iTunes store that would actually do more business on the Windows platform?

Sure, every single pretender to the throne was touted as the “iPod killer” of the day, only to disappear the next. Microsoft’s Zune was believed to have the best chance of gaining traction, but it came at the expense of Microsoft’s nearly-abandoned “PlaysForSure” partners.

Oh yes, there’s a report that the Zune has been a top seller at Amazon, but that’s the discontinued first edition, being dumped at fire-sale prices because Microsoft had some many left in their warehouses. Seems Microsoft has a reputation for flooding the market with product to tout high shipping rates, as dealers struggle mightily to get them off the shelves and into the hands of customers. The newest Zunes are showing tepid sales, just like their predecessors when they were first introduced.

Do you remember what the critics said when Apple decided to open its own chain of retail outlets? After all, Gateway had failed, so how could Apple possibly succeed? Give it a year or two, and they’ll give up and run off, tails tucked between their legs. Of course, with 201 stores and record visitors and profits, the naysayers were wrong yet again.

The iPhone? Wow, how could Apple even think of entering the well-entrenched wireless phone market. It’s so saturated, that the carriers are now signing up more and more subscribers at the expense of their rivals, perhaps including the beleaguered (there’s that word again) Sprint, which is the only major company to actually show a loss of customers in recent quarters.

From the very date of the official iPhone announcement at last January’s San Francisco Macworld Expo, a number of journalists tried to find reasons to justify their claim that Apple couldn’t possibly make a dent with such a product. It had to be a flash in the pan.

Besides, who’d want to use a touch screen keyboard, when they could use the physical version on their Blackberries? Did Apple really feel the world needed another cell phone?

To make matters worse, how could Apple possibly succeed if they made a deal with an existing wireless provider? So would they end up having to build their own network too?

Of course, we all know that the dire predictions never came to pass, and that Mac sales are at record levels, even after Apple was accused of pushing its consumer electronic products at the expense of its personal computers.

Then again, good news doesn’t always make a headline. If it bleeds it leads, they used to tell me in my days as a broadcast newsperson. And that, my friends, won’t ever change, I fear.

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4 Responses to “How Can Journalists Be So Wrong About Apple?”

  1. Gerald says:

    Accuracy doesn’t matter to yellow journalism, just a meaty story.

    Take for example the “bricking” that happened when the first iPhone firmware update came out. The iPhone Dev Team (the authors of the unlock software) had a mutiny over the fact that not only was the bricking THE DEV TEAM’S fault, there was nothing Apple could have done to prevent it. Calling themselves The iPhone Elite Team the splinter team began fixing the problem they caused and started working on unlocking the new version.’s Erica Sudan is on the team and blogged about it extensively.

    Yet, just today I read that Jobs and Apple “went so far as to disable or “brick” the device of anyone who dared “jailbreak” it for use with another carrier, or who downloaded third-party applications for features Apple hadn’t built in.”

    In fact, “brick” is the new word they’re trying to stick to Apple. Like with “beleaguered” they hope to dictate a reader’s initial emotional response to Apple’s mere mention.

    “Apple? Aren’t they the one who bricks your stuff if you do anything they don’t like?”
    “Apple? Yeah, you have to buy ALL-APPLE or else they’ll brick you over the internet!!”

    Yesterday I read three articles that claims that 10.4.11 “bricks” your Mac if you have Boot Camp installed.

    It happens all the time. Ask Wooden Gore, Flip-flopper Kerry, 9-11 Guliani, or Shoot-You-In-The-Face Cheney. Just don’t ask them to spell “potato”, throw a chair, have a gerbil removed, or stand on Oprah’s sofa declaring their love for Katie Holmes. That kind of thing sticks to you …and your sugartits.

  2. Karl says:

    I was introduced to a Mac back in 1985. My next door neighbor had one and I used it to do a music report on Generation X/Billy Idol. I created graphics for the report using (what I assume was) MacPaint.

    In design school, I was re-introduced to it again along with PCs/Windows. Once out of school, the company I worked for was all Macs in there design department and PCs everywhere else – cica 1993-1994. It was at that point I was hooked. System 7 on a Quardra 950 was just amazing.

    In 1997, I ended up buying a PowerComputing PowerCenter 132 and loved that computer. I still have it running system 8. My family/friends were telling me I was crazy going with a Mac. I should use a PC. Apple has lost and are closing, etc.

    In 1999, I was talking to an IT consultant hired by the company I was working for. This guy knew Macs, Windows, Unix, Oracle and a bunch variants of other operating systems. Anyway, we were shooting the breeze about computers and he tells me to keep an eye on Apple. They are going to do amazing things.

    Well he must of had inside info. Maybe a tester for Apple. Who knows? But not long after that, I was using Mac OS X and seeing for myself that he was right. Apple started to put together some amazing technology.

    I am glad that Apple has righted the ship. But that time between 1994 to 1999 when Apple was “in trouble” it was a special time to be a Mac user. The ups and downs made for a fun ride.

    I don’t remember the timing exactly. As I get older my memory gets fuzzer and my stories get more entertaining. So if I’m off a year or so, don’t hold it against me. 🙂

  3. Yep, those Apple retail stores will be going out of business faster than Apple can pull the plug. Business Week May 21 2001 ran a commentary: Sorry, Steve: Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work. Money quote: “I give them two years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake,” says Goldstein.

  4. John says:

    My impression was that most of the Apple nay-sayers were not making honest evaluations of Apple and its place in the market, they were spouting conventional wisdom. They were feeding into popular opinion. They were not doing analysis. I don’t know why.

    Not that everyone should have been an AAPL supporter, just that they should have grounded their statements in reality.

    I’ll forgive them for missing the iPod. That was a game changer. Perhaps that is the answer. If you are not an Apple user then looking at Apple is like looking at the rise of the iPod (or mp3 players in general). It doesn’t fit into the normal pattern of business. Most of the business press seems to be focussed on small extensions of the current reality. I recall the iPod Mini being panned by the press. They compared it to the existing market and it came up short. It didn’t have a big enough hard drive. It cost too much. However, if the newspapers had sent fashion editors or music reviewers instead of engineers to to Moscone Center to actually hold those devices in their hands and marvel at their lightness and beauty and utility then the reports might have been different.

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