The Guardian’s readers’ editor Chris Elliott today devoted his Open door column to respond to reader criticism that the paper has, in Elliott’s words, been,'”brainwashed” by Apple to give the company and its products excessive amounts of favourable publicity.’
Elliott makes a comparison of the paper’s coverage of Apple phones compared with the rival Android mobile phone operating system over the past 12 months:
“There were 900 references to Apple in the paper and on the website in total; 470 of those were in print. There were 340 references to Android phones, of which 30 were in print.”
Elliott’s article was balanced without reaching a verdict on the claims of Apple bias. He quotes the paper’s technology editor Charles Arthur:
“The statistics show that people read about Apple stuff. If a story involves the company, it gets huge readership. We aim to write about it fairly. If it gets a lot of coverage, that’s because what it does can move entire markets – stock markets, other companies’ shares (eg suppliers who win/lose contracts), how we use devices (so it might not have been the first company with a touchscreen phone, but it set the standard all the others followed).”
Arthur was criticised heavily by readers last month for posting a 5 star review of the iPhone 5 that didn’t mention the flaws in the new Apple Maps app that replaced Google Maps in the iOS 6 operating system that powers the new phone. Arthur reassured readers who may be concerned about switching to the Apple app: “Don’t worry – it’s very good.” Within 24 hours, his colleague Juliette Garside reported ‘significant glitches’ in Apple Maps, including the disappearance of Stratford upon Avon, new airports and relocated towns.
Charles wasn’t the only reporter to publish a glowing review that didn’t mention the maps fiasco. The Telegraph’s Shane Richmond wrote a similarly euphoric write up the same day. The challenge tech writers like Shane and Charles face is that readers and publishers demand an instant appraisal of new tech products. They don’t always get enough time to get under the skin of the latest phones and other devices. It was much the same with the last truly new iPhone model – the rumpus about the reception problems of the iPhone 4 (the predictably named ‘antennagate’) broke a couple of weeks after the launch, long after the glowing reviews had appeared.
UPDATE: Shane has pointed out in response that he wrote a parallel story the same day as his iPhone 5 review highlighting that iOS 6 isn’t as good as it could be: “Unfortunately, in the version I tested, Apple’s Maps are missing places such as railway stations and frequently misplace cafes and restaurants, often putting them streets away from their actual locations.” Charles has highlighted his piece last week asking ‘Why do some people really hate Apple?”
The cult of Apple … and Android
It can’t be easy to be a tech writer. Anything you write about Apple or Android leads to an torrent of vitriol from fans of the rival systems that is literally beyond reason. Take one comment on Chris Elliott’s article:
“For most purposes Apple products suck. If you want to do any serious professional work using a computer you do not use Apple, but instead PCs running Microsoft Windows or a version of Linux…The only people who use Apple products are those who buy the product as a fashion accessory, or because they think it is cool and rebellious not use Windows.”
It’s hard to think of any other type of consumer product that provokes this kind of religious/cult style over-reaction. Do Ford car owners condemn Vauxhall or Mercedes owners as stupid for their choice of car? Or Canon devotees about Nikon users? It seems unlikely.
My view is that Android and Apple phones are amazing devices. They offer features that we could only dream about five years ago – and are so much more user friendly than earlier smartphones. (Just try using a BlackBerry if you want to see how awful smartphones were before the iPhone.) iPhones are brilliant for people who want a simple yet powerful user experience but aren’t bothered about customising how everything works. Android is terrific for anyone who wants more flexibility – in handsets, software and customisation. You choose.