One of the curious features of yesterday’s rush of iPhone X reviews was the amount of time that most reviewers were given to come to grips with the iPhone X and write up their experiences. With four exceptions who had over a week with the new handset (three reporters in the US and one in the UK), Apple provided the majority of writers review units on Monday lunchtime, with an embargo lifting on Tuesday morning.
That left very little time for these publications to author a detailed iPhone X review. Almost all of them acknowledged this as an issue before continuing with what are arguably ‘very first look’ articles rather than ‘reviews’ that follow extensive testing and personal use.
Apple is well within its rights to implement this incredibly restrictive policy – it is their phone and it is not yet publicly available – but it flies in the face of what has happened in previous years, casts a long shadow over the value of these reviews to consumers and limits the ability to make informed purchasing decisions.
The decision to offer review units to low trafficked YouTube channels rather than tech journalists with a long track record of in-depth reviews was highlighted by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber in multiple posts, including “Thank god Apple seeded Fashion [Magazine’s YouTube Channel] with a review unit.”
The Wall Street Journal covered the reviewer choices, with Tripp Mickle stating that Apple was: “prioritising early access to the iPhone X for YouTube personalities and celebrities over most technology columnists who traditionally review its new products.”
Dan Frommer also noted the practice at Recode: “…this is entirely different — Apple is front-running the Real Reviews with Early Looks, right before the Real Reviews, while the Real Reviews are still under way.
So why did Apple do it? Trying to hedge tepid reviews?”
What could be going on here?
Firstly, Apple can send review units where it likes, and there is an argument that getting the handset promoted on new media channels is a valid strategy (as is making sure it appears on the Ellen show in the US), I personally would have targeted channels with more engaged audiences. The problem here is that this approach isn’t an either/or case. There was no need for the YouTuber handsets to be appropriated from the tech press samples. Apple is planning to ship millions of these devices on Friday, surely the PR team could have had another twenty or so handsets seven days earlier?
Secondly, instant reactions would likely focus on describing ‘whats new’ in the handset and these new features would dominate the online discussion. Looking at what has fundamentally remained the same on the iPhone X – the iterative approach to updates that Apple still follows – was pushed aside for the new and shiny features. With a limited time to write up thoughts before the deadline, the new is highlighted and anything which is the same when compared to older iPhone handsets – or even last month’s iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus – is left for a later date.
First impression reviews become biased towards a narrative of ‘brand new’ when the truth is the iPhone X has much more in common with previous iPhones than the hyperbolic opening salvo of coverage suggests.
Finally, and putting aside the chosen few who had a week with the handset, consider the impact that having less than twenty-four hours with the iPhone X has on the content produced. The articles will be little more than a first impressions look at the hardware, and only snap judgements would feature in the editorial.
Key areas where consumers would appreciate feedback, such as battery life, cannot be addressed much beyond Apple’s own claims being reiterated. Long and involved examination of the camera in various environments, perhaps in head-to-head comparisons with other leading smartphone cameras cannot be completed. Comparisons of the A11 chipset against the Snapdragon 845 also have to be put aside for a later date, with potentially fewer views and reach.
If there are flaws in the handset, then these will not be discovered in the critical to Apple pre-launch window just before the handsets reach Apple Stores around the world. I’m not suggesting there are flaws, but with iOS 11 already proving to be more bug-ridden than previous releases the interface of software and hardware on the iPhone X remains untested.
There are also hints in some reviews that the iPhone X is running hotter than normal when under a large computing load (such as HD video recording), but without more time to test, it’s nothing more than a little note of a potential seed of a problem.
Restricting reviews is a practice that Hollywood has become accustomed to when there is a fear of the critics’ words damaging an opening weekend. As Apple approaches the launch weekend of the Phone X in the retail market, it would be very easy to start from the reticence to have the iPhone X reviewed in depth by some of the worlds most skilled tech writers, and end up with a suspicion that Apple was and is scared of what negative impact detailed reviews would have.
Once the iPhone X reaches the public, issues with the smartphone (if there are any) will become clear. But by that point iPhone X sales and orders will have been progressing for some time. The later reviews with more comparisons and a more forensic approach will have less of an impact on the demand for Tim Cook’s “future of the smartphone”
Was that the goal?
Apple has been approached to comment on its selection of reviewers for the iPhone X. This story will be updated with any reply received.
Three Reasons Why Tim Cook Restricted The iPhone X Reviews – Forbes