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.

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Weekly output: New-computer setup, Facebook Timeline, Twitter custody, podcast (plus republished CEA TE posts)

I wasn’t quite as productive over the last work week of the year as this list might suggest–I finished one of these items last week and had most of another done by them as well.

12/27/2011: New Computer? Same Old Setup Issues, CEA Digital Dialogue

From 2005 to 2010, I did a “how to set up your new Windows or Mac computer” guide for the Post every December. This year’s version ran on CEA’s blog instead; in addition to having fewer ads around it, it revises some of my advice for Win 7 users (such as using LibreOffice instead of OpenOffice as a free Microsoft Office alternative) and incorporates new suggestions for Mac users to compensate for problems in Apple’s OS X Lion.

12/27/2011: Facebook’s Timeline: We Are All Historians Now, Discovery News

At first I thought I’d hate the new Timeline profile format (in part because of the overwrought predictions made about how it would forever change our lives). But after playing around with it a week, I realized that it’s a neat way to tell people about the pre-Facebook parts of your personal history–as long as you remember that new “Life Events” are public by default, and that it’s not a bad thing to keep some mystery about your life.

12/29/2011: New Job-Divorce Dispute: Twitter Custody, Discovery News

The dispute between PhoneDog Media and tech writer Noah Kravitz over who owns the Twitter account Kravitz created and ran–under PhoneDog’s instructions, the wireless-news site says–and then kept for himself after leaving the company, but it didn’t vault into mass-media headlines until the New York Times ran a story about it right after Christmas. That’s when an editor asked if I could opine on the subject; having some experience with the virtues of keeping a Twitter identity separate from one’s employer, I was happy to oblige.

12/30/2011: Rob’s December Podcast: 3D TV, Holiday Sales Trends and CES, CEA Digital Dialogue

Tech commentator Mario Armstrong has interviewed me on one show or another many times before; finally, I was able to return the favor by chatting with him a few days before Christmas about the holiday sales prospects for various tech gadgets–and the odds of people having trouble setting them up after taking them out of the box. Elsewhere in the podcast, I relate the history of CEA’s soon-to-end Tech Enthusiast program, offer a few predictions about CES and make a disturbing confession about my own experience with 3-D TV technology.

And speaking of that transition at CES, the folks there also re-posted all of the columns I did for the TE site on CEA’s regular blog a few days ago. Here they are, from newest to oldest:

  • 12/5/2011: Why You Keep Reading These Privacy-Scare Stories How bad habits in business and journalism lead to panicked coverage of cases like Carrier IQ and Google’s Street View “spy-fi” debacle.
  • 11/28/2011: TV Screen Sizes: 30 Is The New 20 Now that flat-panel TVs have become a commodity product, the minimum size is creeping up–and some intermediate sizes seem to be getting squeezed out too.
  • 11/21/2011: Gadget-guide Guidance Why you shouldn’t put too much trust in all of those catalog-style “what to get” pieces that pop up around the holidays with well-meaning advice on giving tech gifts.
  • 11/15/2011: Fading Flash And Other Media Missteps With Adobe ending development of the mobile version of the Flash player, it looks increasingly like we’ll be stuck using apps to view name-brand video on mobile devices and other non-computer gadgets.
  • 11/8/2011: A Cord-Cutting Toolkit: What kind of video hardware can help you close your cable or satellite-TV subscription in favor of over-the-air and Internet programming. (This is an update of an earlier how-to by me.)
  • 10/31/2011: SOPA: Copyright Overreach, Version 2.0: My denunciation of the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” later turned into an op-ed in Roll Call.
  • 10/25/2011: Happy Tenth Birthday, iPod! Now Please Go Away: Now that the iPod is 10 years old, what are the odds of that entire category of music-playing hardware surviving for another 10 years in the market.
  • 10/17/2011: PROTECT IP, Latest Reason To Beware of Product Design By Congress: The Protect IP Act, the not-quite-as-awful Senate version of SOPA, fits into a long and sad history of legislation written without much comprehension of the underlying technology.
  • 10/11/2011: What’s Next for the Digital Camera? Four suggestions for digital-camera manufacturers hoping to stay competitive when smartphones take increasingly appealing pictures and allow quick and easy online sharing.
  • 10/3/2011: Decoding the demo: five sales pitches to doubt After you sit through enough new tech-product launches, certain arguments start to sound a) alike and b) unpersuasive.
  • 9/26/2011: The Flattening Price of Flash: The most important number in consumer electronics may be the average price of the flash memory used in everything from laptops to smartphones–and it’s about to get a lot cheaper still.
  • 9/19/2011: How Dead is the Disc? With Netflix increasingly anxious to get out of the DVD business, what sort of a future is there for physical storage formats–and should we be happy about this trend?
  • 9/12/2011: 3-D TV and 3D Technology Why 3-D technology hasn’t made much of a dent in the HDTV market, and how it might yet start showing up in more people’s homes.