Apple’s narrative problem

The negativity surrounding the reporting of Apple by tech journalists may be unjustified, but Apple still needs to do something about it

Reading many tech journalists today, it is easy to come away thinking Apple is in serious trouble. They haven’t released a ‘category defining’ product since—gasp—2010, the year the iPad came out. They’ve ‘only’ released incremental improvements to previously existing products.

Inevitably—yawn—this ‘lack of innovation’ is then connected to the death of Steve Jobs. Tim Cook doesn’t have what it takes to introduce brand new products to the marketplace, they say—or at least insinuate.

On top of this Apple’s share price, after hitting the lofty heights of over $700, has ‘collapsed,’ dipping at one point to below $400—though currently it’s hovering around the $450 mark.

There’s more too. Apple has in recent years been stung by reports into their supply chain and had a disastrous product unveiling of its new Maps application—even generating an apology from Tim Cook.

Piece all this together and you have (providing you exclude a whole host of other relevant facts) a narrative—and an increasingly negative narrative at that. Apple has gone from being almost universally loved by tech journalists to being almost universally despised (note the tone of gleefulness in much of the negative reporting if you think ‘despised’ is too strong a word). I guess that’s what happens when you go from underdog to top dog, as Apple has done in the last ten years.

I never minded Manchester City as a football club when they were a nothing team; now they’re a top four team, I can’t stand them. There’s something in human nature that—on one level at least—seems to really react against people and companies that become successful. Take music snobs: they love independent, local artists who haven’t made it. The minute that artist gets signed and has bigger platform though, they’re rejected and labelled as sell-outs. There’s no doubt in my mind that something of this is going on with the growing negativity surrounding Apple.

The negative “Apple is doomed” narrative that has so enraptured all too many uncritical tech journalists, is not good for anyone. Instead of using facts to build a narrative, they’re increasing putting their trust in their preconceived narrative, facts be damned. We’re all then left with lazy, one-dimensional reporting that is misrepresentative of reality.

Several tech writers who are most loyal to Apple—John Gruber and Jim Dalrymple—regularly use their sites to take down the most extreme examples of this shoddy, biased, misleading reporting. Gruber’s most recent piece is well worth a read, especially as it gives a specific example of fitting facts to the narrative.

It’s all very well pointing out how biased much of the reporting is, but the bigger question—particularly if you’re Apple—is how can the negative narrative that has been so widely embraced be changed? Shaming individual writers and tech sites clearly isn’t working; more and more crappy articles appear every day.

There’s no doubt that Apple will be paying attention to this. The negative narrative is harming Apple—I increasingly hear non-techie people repeating factually incorrect information about Apple. There is a real danger of the the negative narrative about Apple becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. Well, not self-fulfilling since Apple isn’t behind it—but you get what I mean. If you repeat something long enough, people start to believe it. And if people start to believe that Apple is in decline, then Apple’s bottom line will start to take a hit.

So it’s important. Really important. Hence those who are loyal to Apple—and I count myself among them—feel the need to stand up for them. But truth be told, if the narrative is going to change, Apple is going to have to change it. They’re going to have to do something that resets the narrative that surrounds them.

And this is where it’s worth highlighting that there is validity to some of the criticisms being levelled at Apple. Everything to do with the Apple Maps release last year was horrible. And though I hear it’s better now for some users, here in Sheffield, England—despite numerous personal submissions—there have been no improvements to the quality of the data. Other than roads, everything else is either out of date or in the wrong place. One year on, still hopeless.

Similarly with innovation: Whilst it is unfair to expect Apple to establish a new product category—or, more usually, redefine an existing one—every year, Apple do have a tradition of doing this and so, to some extent, the expectation is fair. And Tim Cook has spoken recently saying that Apple does still see themselves as that kind of company. So it’s not unreasonable to have a degree of doubt until we see a brand new product come to market under Cook’s leadership. On the basis though that Apple have long had big gaps between new product break-throughs, it’s not unreasonable to give Cook a good three or four years before needing to get alarmed. (Sadly, reasonableness is not a characteristic of the writing of many a tech journalist. Hey ho.)

Reading between the lines, it seems to me that 2014 is going to be a defining year for Apple under Cook’s leadership. I don’t anticipate anything more than product iterations in 2013 (which, lest we delude ourselves, are not insignificant). But it’s becoming increasing clear that Apple are working on something new and they seem to be setting expectations towards next year. It could be related to TV, it might be an iWatch, but I wouldn’t put it past Apple to surprise us completely. And maybe it will take such a surprise to bring the negativity juggernaut screeching to a halt.

There have been a lot of changes at Apple this last year. Following an update to almost every product in the back end of 2012, the executive team went through a major reshuffle. It’s not unreasonable to assume that, in light of that, 2013 will be a relatively ‘safe’ year in terms of hardware product development (iOS 7 is clearly not playing it safe).

But, as we head into 2014, that’s when I think it’s game on. And that’s what I sense Apple is hinting at too. 2014 will be the year Apple seeks to demolish the negativity narrative (though they’ll always be some doubters ) and Tim Cook will seek to show himself to be a leader who, like Jobs, can bring groundbreaking new products to market.

Making time to stare into space

Two words and a smile