Apple Cynic Watch: Slate’s Jack Shafer

Jack Shafer, Slate’s media critic, argues in “Apple Suck-Up Watch” that the press has a silly crush on Apple and has paid and continues to pay undue attention to their products.

First he mocks the press coverage devoted to the iPod with video debut two years ago. Why?

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.

Apple has gone on to sell tens of millions of video-capable iPods. Unless Shafer is willing to argue that the iPod’s continuing success is the result of the media coverage, the video iPod’s popularity justifies the press coverage. (The press paid a ton of attention to the Segway, too.)

On to the iPhone:

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 swallowing it up.

Apple’s stock price jumped $4 on the battery news. Was that a result of the press coverage, too? Three additional hours of battery life is a significant difference.

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 swift kick in the ass from some editors.

The Ocean does look like a cool phone. But does Shafer really want to get into a pissing match feature comparison between the iPhone and Ocean? And regardless of features, was anyone lined up or camped out to buy an Ocean the day it became available? Did anyone even know what day it became available? People aren’t just aware of what day the iPhone goes on sale, they know the hour. It is, of course, entirely possible that the original iPhone will be a disappointment. But it’s impossible to argue that there’s ever been a phone debut like this. It’s a genuine phenomenon. What is Shafer’s argument? That the press should ignore the fact that hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people are going to line up hoping to buy an iPhone at 6pm on the first day it’s available? Is it not possible that the iPhone deserves tremendous media attention?

Shafer’s right about one thing: someone needs a swift kick in the ass.