Re-reading my first iPhone review: I was right about the AT&T problem

A decade ago today, Apple’s first iPhone went on sale and the Internet lost its collective mind for the first of many times.

My review of this device had to wait for another six days, on account of Apple PR only providing me with a review unit at the iPhone’s retail arrival and it being a simpler time before gadget-unboxing videos were a thing.

Ten years later, that write-up isn’t too embarrassing to revisit… if you read the right paragraphs.

This isn’t among them:

Other gadgets in this category function as extensions of business products: office e-mail servers for the BlackBerry, Microsoft’s Outlook personal-information manager for Windows Mobile devices. But the iPhone’s ancestry stretches back to Apple’s iTunes software and iPod music player — things people use for fun.

Yes, I complemented iTunes. Didn’t I say it was a simpler time?

This didn’t age well either:

But you can’t replace the battery yourself when it wears out. The company suggests that will take years; after 400 recharges, an iPhone battery should retain 80 percent of its original capacity.

In my defense, at the time I’d been using a Palm Treo 650 for two years or so and didn’t think it too obsolete compared to other phones available on Verizon then. Who knew walking around with a 1.5-year-old phone could so soon invite device shaming?

I was right to call out the “barely-faster-than-dialup” AT&T data service available. But sometimes I wonder about that when I travel overseas and see that T-Mobile’s free EDGE roaming remains good enough for recreational use.

The bits I wrote that hold up best address AT&T’s tight-fisted treatment of the iPhone:

The iPhone also comes locked to prevent use with other wireless services. If you travel overseas, you can’t duck AT&T’s roaming fees — 59 cents to $4.99 a minute — by replacing the iPhone’s removable subscriber identity module card with another carrier’s card.

My review also noted the lack of multimedia-messaging support, although I had no idea that AT&T would make its subscribers wait months after others to be able to send picture messages. Likewise, I would not have guessed that Apple would take until 2011 to bring the iPhone to another carrier.

The most embarrassing part of my first iPhone review isn’t in the story at all. That would be the whiny, do-you-know-who-I-am voice-mail I left with somebody at Apple PR after realizing that I’d have to wait to get review hardware after the likes of Walt Mossberg. Lordy, I hope there aren’t tapes.

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Covering Apple news from afar

My streak of never covering the launch of a new iPhone in person continued Wednesday, when I watched Apple unveil the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus the way any of you could have: via Apple’s video stream.

iphone-back-closeupWatching a product launch on my iPad in my own home looks less like “journalism” than typing away furiously in a crowded auditorium in San Francisco. But as long as my main clients have full-time staffers who regularly cover Apple events–David Pogue at Yahoo Finance, Ed Baig at USA Today–I don’t expect that to change.

(As vain as I can get, I don’t think I’m anywhere near enough of an “influencer” to warrant an invitation solely for my social-media audience.)

The obvious downside of not being there is no hands-on time with new hardware. Worming your way through a scrum of other tech journalists to get a few minutes of time to fiddle with a phone can be a mildly degrading waste of time, but it’s also the only way to try out features like fingerprint unlocking. I’ll have to wait until the new phones’ Sept. 16 retail debut to do a hands-on inspection.

The less obvious downside is not getting to meet some tech-journalist pals. Many of the reporters who focus on Apple don’t go to CES or the other regular events on my schedule, so sitting out Apple’s events means missing their company.

On the upside, not being in a position to cover a new iPhone’s launch means I don’t have to spend too many mental processor cycles worrying about Apple PR’s opinion of me–a profoundly liberating state of affairs. And when I’m tweeting from my own couch instead of inside an event venue, I know the WiFi will work.

(After the jump: How I didn’t cover the iPhone’s 2007 debut, even though I was in Pacific time at the time.)

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Apple Watch coverage as a spectator sport

I didn’t see or touch an Apple Watch until yesterday–when I played with a couple in an Apple Store, just like anybody else could.

Apple Watch close-upThat was a somewhat unavoidable consequence of my freelancer status intersecting with Apple PR’s choosy habits (as seen in 9to5mac’s fascinating chart of which places did and did not get review hardware before earlier iOS device launches): An outlet big enough to merit early Apple Watch access will already have a full-time staffer ready to review the thing.

It happens and doesn’t really bother me, although it did when I was at the Post and felt that One of America’s Most Important Newspapers was being snubbed. To the Apple reps I yelled at over decisions made by their bosses: I’m sorry.

Anyway, it’s been positively relaxing to sit out this round of the new-Apple-gadget media circus and instead read everybody else’s reviews at my leisure. I started with those from my regular clients–David Pogue’s at Yahoo Tech, Ed Baig’s at USA Today–and then proceeded to check out John Gruber’s reviewJoanna Stern’s critique at the Wall Street Journal, Nilay Patel’s lengthy assessment for The Verge, and Farhad Manjoo’s evaluation in the New York Times.

Apple Watch reviewsAs ever, it was fascinating to see what issues each reviewer focused on and which ones didn’t merit a mention. Fun fact: None cited the watch’s thickness (at 10.5 mm, or .413 inches, it’s thinner than the Moto 360 I did not like enough to buy). Maybe I’m an oddball to be so persnickety about smartwatch thickness?

I also enjoyed seeing the Verge’s designers get to play with the layout of that piece, and I thought the day-in-the-life-of construction of that review and the WSJ’s was a good way to unpack the Apple Watch’s utility–and the limits of its battery life.

So now that I’ve played with the Apple Watch up close, am I tempted to buy it? Of course not: I have an Android phone. And even if I’d broken my streak of never owning an iPhone, this entire category of product still looks at least one update cycle away from earning a spot on my shopping list.

 

Relationship status with Apple PR: It’s complicated

SAN FRANCISCO–I’d planned to spend this morning covering the keynote opening Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference here. But after getting some optimistic replies from Apple PR over the last two weeks, I was told last Wednesday that they were out of room.

Apple Sept. 2010 press pass

My press pass at Apple’s Sept. 2010 event to introduce the redesigned Apple TV

An e-mail reiterating my interest (in addition to Discovery News, I had a tentative assignment from a larger regional newspaper to write up the keynote) and asking if Apple had concerns with my coverage or the scope of my potential audience yielded the same answer: sorry, nothing personal, we’re out of space.

This was not a total surprise. With Apple, working for a big-name media property does not guarantee access–while I was at the Post, smaller news organizations and even some individual bloggers got review hardware days before I ever could. But it’s also possible for a site to get an advance look at one year’s highly-anticipated Apple gadget and then get left out the next year.

I have written some uncomplimentary things about Apple–this rant about App Store rules comes to mind–and, as a Mac user, gripe about OS X issues often enough on Twitter. But  while I haven’t gotten any review hardware or media-event invitations from Apple since leaving the Post (when I reviewed the new iPad, I elected not to deal with Apple PR and worked out an alternate loan arrangement), its reps still return my e-mails and phone calls reasonably quickly, especially in recent months.

Since those steps don’t involve allocating scarce review hardware or seats in exhibit spaces, there’s always the ego-deflating possibility that my current outlets don’t promise enough exposure in Apple’s estimation. Or maybe it’s something else. With a company as set on keeping its own secrets as Apple, you never know.

At the same time, on a personal level the Apple publicists I’ve talked to have been among the nicer people I’ve met in my work. After I announced my exit from the Post, two of the first “good luck” e-mails I received came from people there. One wrote that he hoped our conversation at the iPad 2 introduction wouldn’t be the last time we met; I hope so too, but our next chat may take a while longer.

I’m not writing this to beg for sympathy or brag about my fierce journalistic independence. Apple has its job to do and I have mine, and most of that doesn’t require liveblogging product-launch events. Worst case, the money saved on three annual roundtrips to the Bay Area (for new-iPad, WWDC, and new-iPhone events) would more than cover buying all the Apple hardware or software I’d review in any year, even if I have to do the karma-denting move of returning a review iPhone to a carrier within two weeks to avoid getting stuck with a contract.

I am, however, writing this to document that covering this company involves a certain low-level angst I don’t get when dealing with some of its competitors. That imbalance amounts to another influence I need to factor out of my evaluations–customers don’t deal with Apple PR or anybody else’s. And now that I’ve talked about this issue instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, you’ll know to call me on it if you see it skewing my judgment.