The game of cat and mouse that tech writers play with big companies has gotten out of hand. Today Apple seemed to take that poisoned relationship head on.
"We're not perfect."
That's the sentiment Steve Jobs opened with in today's unprecedented "mea culpa" in response to a highly criticized design flaw in its hugely popular iPhone 4. The unexpected takeaway from the press conference was Apple owning up to its mistakes and giving insight into their design process.
The centerpiece of the criticism has been a design choice that causes some iPhone 4 users to drop calls when they place their hand over the gap in the phone's antenna. "Antennagate" marked the first major public relations defeat for the Cupertino company since their return from the grave under the leadership of company co-founder Steve Jobs.
Yet today's scene was almost predestined at the beginning of the year, when tech writers began sharpening their poison pens at the mixed reaction to the iPad's launch event. Glee radiating from the peanut gallery that the mighty Apple had finally screwed up shown through blog post after blog post. The iPad's massively successful release stifled most of that sensibility, but tech bloggers had gotten the scent of blood, and we all know what comes next when that happens.
The central problem is that people love a good comeuppance tale, whether it's Citizen Kane or a TMZ Lindsay Lohan Afterschool Special. What would be a juicier story than the mighty Apple being felled by a design flaw? I mean, they don't make mistakes... and yet here's a doozy.
Maybe it's human nature -- when you're doing well, people want to tear you down. I see it happening with Google, people trying to tear them down. And I don't understand it... what would you prefer? That we were a korean company, that we were here in America leading the world with these products... maybe it's just that people want to get eyeballs on their sites. We've been around for 34 years... haven't we earned the credibility and the trust of the press?
The images Jobs showed of the antenna testing labs are even stranger than I had imagined. Seriously. The set designers on Sorcerer's Apprentice should take notice. That's what a modern day wizard's lab looks like.
But it was the display of a sense of humor-- not the first trait we tend to associate with Apple- that reads as the most disarming tactic. They opened with a semi-satirical (but still Apple-friendly) YouTube song about the issue. One that was as much about the media reaction to the antenna problem as the problem itself:
In the end, Apple did what it needed to do to get the focus back on the actual state of the art: they dropped some of their cool detachment and let the tech press in on the nuts and bolts. Apple seems to be betting that even writers looking to take the company down a notch really just want to feel like they've played a role in the game.