The only thing worse than an Apple product launch is dealing with the reaction of the Apple evangelists in the days following.

Before all the Apple fanboys stop reading this, let me assure you I’m not anti-Apple. In fact, I’m writing this on an Apple MacBook Pro and I live in a three-person, five-iPod family — and one of those people is six-months-old and lacks the basic eye-hand co-ordination to use a touch-sensitive wheel.

My point rather is that some Apple fans seem to have — how to put this delicately? — lost touch with reality.

Too harsh? Perhaps, but indulge me for a moment.

My most recent encounter with Apple evangelists’ tenuous grip on reality occurred at a class for first-time fathers-to-be. There were fifteen of us seated in a hospital meeting room. Over two hours, we were to learn about the mysteries of labour and the adventure of fatherhood. Filled with questions about the meaning of life and the universe-shattering wonder of birth it was only a matter of time before the conversation turned to… the iPhone’s lousy battery life.

It all began when one father-to-be mentioned an iPhone app called iContraction into which expectant fathers can record all the relevant information about the progress of the labour. “I haven’t used it,” he admitted, although he assured us that reports about it had all been positive.

This provoked a bit of good-natured laughter, until another father-to-be pipped in. “You better hope for a short labour. You’d be lucky if the battery lasts that long.”

At this, iPhone-loving-father-to-be got a bit cross. “Watch what you’re saying.”

“Hey, I’ve got one,” replied the iPhone-battery-sucks-father-to-be. “The battery life is terrible.”

It’s not an isolated instance of how Apple products can turn otherwise rational people into commodity fetishists. When the iPhone was first released in the US, for example, one customer was reported to have queued 18 hours to purchase the phone, only to find it didn’t work.

“It looks cool, but I can’t do anything with it,” he whined to Fox News. “I’m angry and frustrated and feel like I wasted my time standing in line.”

How to explain to this poor sod that his time was wasted whether the phone worked or not? Unless you’re waiting for food, water, medical attention or to see a loved one, queuing for 18 hours is, by definition, a waste of time.

In some ways though, such lack of perspective is understandable, given the press reactions to Apple product launches. Even journalists, who you might expect would be a little more sceptical — if only for the sake of appearances — succumb to the iStupor induced by shiny things stamped with Apple logos.

As Newsweek’s technology writer Daniel Lyons wrote last year, “Reporters don’t just overlook Apple’s faults; they’ll actually apologize for them, or rationalize them away. Ever seen reporters clapping and cheering at a press conference? Happens all the time at Apple events.”

Lyons went on to describe the ‘Faustian pact’ that some journalists make with Apple, agreeing to withhold criticism in return for access to Apple products and people.

Things were no different with the launch of the iPad. (Watch this to hear ‘journalists’ whistling and cheering Job’s announcement.)

Such uncritical coverage colours even the local news. Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald for example, Stephen Hutcheon, who was “a guest of Apple” at the launch, told readers: “Dressed in his trademark jeans and black skivvy, [Steve] Jobs described the iPad as “magical and revolutionary” and containing Apple’s “most advanced technology”.”

This isn’t journalism. It’s an unofficial Apple press release.

Nor is it news. It would have been news if Jobs came out and said “Jeez, I was kinda hoping it would be better than this. It just a big iPhone — but without the phone bit.” (Fortunately the SMH recovered its journalistic senses later in the day with this piece from Asher Moses.)

Apple excels at many things. But a sense of perspective and an ability for critical self-analysis are just two things at which they fail miserably. For that we rely on, among others, journalists. As things stands, we’re not being well served.

Christopher Scanlon teaches journalism at La Trobe University and is a co-founder of upstart.net.au.

Peter Fray

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