Last week, I noted one of the eternal verities of the tech journalist’s life: Big news stories result in us receiving unsolicited, canned quotes from would-be experts, and what they have to say is nearly always either painfully obvious or just plain dopey.
I didn’t mention another fact about these pre-fab pronouncements: Quite often, they arrive before the news in question has been announced, leaving the expert in question in the challenging position of trying to say something quotable about an unknown quantity.
That’s never more true than when an Apple announcement is imminent. On Monday, less than 24 hours before Apple’s Tuesday media event — which I’ll be liveblogging — I got an e-mailed pitch to quote Michael Beckley, the CTO of Appian, a business process management app company. It included a ready-made quote from him about Apple’s news:
I’m a lifelong Apple user, but I must say that the ‘s’ in iPhone 5s now stands for slow. Apple is too slow to respond to the competitive threat poised by the rising tide of innovative Android devices. We haven’t even seen it yet but the iPhone 5s is already a disappointment to Apple users like myself. Apple’s unwillingness or inability to quicken its release schedule and deliver a major upgrade, an iPhone 6, signals the end of their dominance of the North American smartphone market and the inevitable devaluation of Apple’s brand as a technology leader.
Hmmmm. I guess it’s possible that Beckley has a mole at Apple. He might be positive that whatever Apple announces on Tuesday will be called the iPhone 5s. It’s not utterly inconceivable that he’s seen the phone and knows exactly what features it does and doesn’t sport. If all that’s true, he’s entitled to express strong opinions about it and have them taken seriously.
But there’s another scenario: that he doesn’t know any more than the average reader (or writer) of tech blogs. He’s assuming he knows the model name and features. Though he’s also saying that he doesn’t need to see it to know that it’s a disappointment and that Apple’s decline is inevitable. If that’s true, it doesn’t really matter what Apple unveils. Beckley’s pre-announcement opinion isn’t contingent upon any particular set of facts.
That’s true, almost by definition, of any canned quote provided before a news announcement. After I read Beckley’s stance on an unannounced new iPhone, I dug back through my e-mail. Back on October 4, 2011 — shortly before Apple announced that year’s iPhone — I received a pitch suggesting I call on the insight of two “tech experts.” One was Ken Wisnefski, the founder of a search-engine optimization company called WebiMax. His canned thoughts said:
– Apple does an amazing job in creating demand for their own products. Example, the iPhone 5 probably has technology that any previous iPhone can have. They cultivate their customer loyalty because consumers don’t just buy 1 iPhone, they buy the iPhone 3G, then the 3Gs, then iPhone 4, now iPhone 5. The average iPhone owner has owned 3 out of the 5 models.
– Will the new iPhone and iOS5 have Flash? We as a web design company have to caution clients when we build their mobile platforms because the majority of smartphone owners have iOS over Android. Will apple’s new unit have a Flash component? We sure hope so!
– Larger viewing screen, and introduction of iCloud. Apple wants to compete with Android and is expected to announce a larger viewing screen as Android devices have. Also, the introduction of an Apple based cloud component can take precious market share away from Android manufactures.
I’m not even sure what parts of this mean. (“Example, the iPhone 5 probably has technology that any previous iPhone can have.”) I do know that the iPhone in question turned out to be named the iPhone 4S, not the iPhone 5; that anyone who even brought up Flash support on the iPhone as even a remote possibility after April, 2010 wasn’t even moderately well-informed about the subject; that there was never any meaningful evidence that the phone would have a “larger viewing screen.”
Then there’s the other tech expert included in that 2011 pitch, Larry Fishelson, the COO of telecommunications company Dynalink Communications. His ready-made musings on the impending iPhone:
It’s going to be more feature rich with processor upgrades from an A4 to an A5; 5 mega-pixels now going to 8 for the camera; Bigger screen 4 inch touch screen up from 3.5 on the iphone 4); it’s going to be tearshaped with metal back and slimmer body.
– This shows the continuing trend for the smartphone markets drive to eventually take over the PC
– HP got out of the PC business a couple of months back-smartphone demand is tremendous no matter what the economy does
– Apple is leading the way in the smartphone market as we saw with their record earnings and they keep upping the bar
– They have to do this new move, with the new Google Motorola move and Samsung charging ahead, this is all good for competition and driving each company to get better. Bigger better with more upgrades, which will keep continuing.
The iPhone 4S did indeed have an A5 processor and an eight-megapixel camera. But the screen size stayed at 3.5″, the back wasn’t made out of metal and the teardrop-shaped case was sheer fantasy. By the day before the announcement, you didn’t need to be clairvoyant to figure all that out. All you needed to do was pay attention.
Oh, and the declaration that “HP got out of the PC business a couple months back” would come as news to HP. Back in 2011 it did announce that it was going to investigate whether spinning off its PC unit would be a good idea. But the company nixed the possibility long before it got anywhere near becoming reality.
This doesn’t seem complicated to me. In situations such as this, there are two ways to come off as an expert. You can chime in before an announcement and be so smart about it that your comments still sound smart even after the facts are in. Or you can wait until after the news is official, thereby greatly reducing the chance that you’ll say something that sounds ridiculous in retrospect.
Do you think it’s coincidence that the true Apple experts out there — like this former coworker of mine — tend to bide their time before shooting off their mouths?