Apple suck-up watch: Watching the press froth over a new cell phone.

Media criticism.
June 20 2007 6:04 PM

Apple Suck-Up Watch

It's not just a new kind of cell phone, it's a cultural watershed!

iPhone.
iPhone

The press corps' love for all things Apple routinely swells and bursts in a dewy explosion whenever the company readies a new gizmo for sale. Like the Detroit automakers of yore, Apple knows how to seduce reporters and editors with incremental improvements of existing products. Two years ago, the company kindled an embarrassing—for journalists—media conflagration with its introduction of the video iPod. The press largely ignored the fact that video-capable MP3 players already existed and treated Steve Jobs as if he was the reincarnation of Thomas Edison. If you don't believe me, get a load of these headlines.

Apple's latest PR triumph is the rollout of the iPhone, a product that Jobs announced back in January and which reaches stores next week. "iPhone mania nears fever pitch: Anticipation grows for June 29 debut," slobbers today's (June 20) USA Today. The device moved the Chicago Tribune to run a June 16 editorial titled "iLust for iPhone." The June 7 Business Week asks, "How Big Will the iPhone Be?" Answer: It may be a $10 billion business. So calculated is Apple's launch that it got news bumps early this week with the announcement that the iPhone battery will last three hours longer than originally promised and that it will play YouTube clips. No drop of milk oozes from the Apple teat without a crowd of journalists gathering to swallow it up.

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Like the video iPod before it, the iPhone isn't the first to market in its category. Helio's "Ocean" beat it by more than a month and received a positive review from the Wall Street Journal's Walter S. Mossberg. The Ocean is $200 cheaper than the cheapest iPhone and it does GPS, while the iPhone doesn't. Phone tech and design are moving so fast these days that the media freakout over the iPhone indicates a press in need of imagination—or a swift kick in the ass from some editors.

Even the articles downplaying the iPhone hype—"Despite all the hype, iPhone details are still scarce," Boston Globe; "Apple shares gain on more iPhone hype," Associated Press; "There's hype, then there's iPhone hype," San Jose Mercury News; "iPhone Hype Has Gadget Geeks Camping and Drooling," Reuters—end up increasing anticipation. It's win-win for Apple, no matter what the press writes.

With iPhone Day a little more than a week away, the press writhing will grow only more furious. TV news cameras will stake out Apple stores and AT&T outlets to record the queuing customers. The first iPhone reviews, promoted on Page One, will flood the nation's newspapers. Somebody in San Francisco will stab and kill his iPhone-owning roommate for the pleasure of using the touch-screen to call his mom in Decatur. Hell, Steve Jobs will probably go onto Charlie Rose to talk about his iPhone vision and give teasing clues about Apple's next technological "discovery."

And somewhere out there in medialand a journalist will produce such a fawning piece of iPhone worship that the Church of Apple will anoint him a saint. Do your part and send me (slate.pressbox@gmail.com) the most ridiculous examples of Apple polishing you encounter over the next two weeks, and I'll publish the results in a future column.

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Disclosure: I've worked for Slate since it wasfounded in 1996 by Microsoft, an Apple competitor. Slate is now owned by the Washington Post Co. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

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