There’s been quite an uproar over Apple’s review embargoes for the iPhone X this week.
The consensus, from what I can tell, is that more established and traditional voices in the tech community are rather upset that younger and lesser-known reviewers and YouTubers were given access to the phone and able to publish their reviews on Monday. The more established, mainstream crowd was able to publish on Tuesday, with most outlets having had the phone for anywhere from a week to as little as 24 hours.
The upset, although I’ve not seen it written explicitly, seems to be that the traditional crowd feel better equipped to provide a critical analysis of Apple’s new flagship, product-line altering product.
And, although that’s true, it’s worth bearing in mind that Apple’s goal isn’t for you to produce a multi-thousand word treatise about the Face ID mechanism for your audience of people who are statistically most likely to have already pre-ordered the product.
Rather, looking at the past year or so — and particularly the past month and a half — their goal has been to accomplish the following:
- Create a multitude of reasons for consumers, of all types, to justify spending $1,000 on a phone. Although it’s a subsidized cost, many consumers have not considered the true cost of their iPhone ever. Now, with many press outlets leading with the $1,000 total cost angle, Apple needs to combat that perception.
- Assure users that Face ID is better and more secure than Touch ID.
- Emphasize that the “notch” is not the dealbreaker that the tech press (and its audience), primarily, overhyped around the iPhone X announcement.
- Combat the theory that the phone is going to be next-to-impossible to purchase. Combining the elements above, they need to show that it’s going to be available to normal people.
- Finally, show some of the fun of the device, rather than the technical prowess and industrial design.
How would Apple go about accomplishing these goals?
Simply put, they’d create a crashing wave, of sorts, of press around the product, which would enable them to control and manipulate consumer perception of the news, regardless of how more technical reviewers may feel.
Lesson learned from the Apple Watch Series 3 launch, the tech press created a huge amount of uproar about the device being unable to maintain an LTE connection. Although this was explained within hours of those reviews being published, it was already too late for the average consumer.
I recall seeing many non-tech enthusiast friends commenting with their disappointment about this perceived issue. It’s a phenomenon that harkens back to the iPhone 4 antennagate non-issue, amongst others. And, for Apple, they've simply been burned too many times by this level of scrutiny that many others are not subject to in reviews. (In retrospect, that sounds like a very "I'm an Apple fan!" statement, but I do think Apple's track record with Consumer Reports and the like speaks for itself, objectively.)
So, if you look at your launch week opportunities as Apple, what do you do differently? How would each day look?
- Monday: You lift the embargo for a new group of reviewers, who’ve been given fleeting, PR-team-assisted access to the iPhone X. These folks are excited to be there early. They’re excited to see the new product. And they’re not there to be sold on the technical components, but can be wowed by the fun of the device, the design, and the functionality. With this embargo lifting, the narrative of the week is initially set at Blindly Optimistic. Reviewers are excited and proud. Consumers — particularly those who aren't the type to reflexively pre-order prior to reviews — are interested, if not already sold.
- Tuesday: You lift the embargo for the traditional press, allowing the initial thoughts posed on Monday to be expanded upon. Although these folks will find issues — or maybe even hint at a potential antennagate-esque issue — the reader/viewer will already have seen the phone in action in an excited and positive light. They’ll be much more forgiving and forgetful, as their first taste of detail has already been satiated.
- Late-Tuesday/Wednesday: The deep nerd crowd begin publishing longer-form content about the device (e.g., podcasts, in-depth reviews, etc.). The people who are motivated to learn as much as possible — the ones most likely to have preordered — dig into everything. And the nerds who were on the fence begin to second-guess themselves.
- Thursday: Tips, tricks, and things missed are posted. Even deeper cut nerd articles are published and the folks with the 24 hour review time from earlier in the week are able to expand upon their thoughts. Excitement builds for all.
- Friday: Phone. Excitement. Any negative reactions are drowned under waves of people lining up and sending animated shits to each other.
In adopting this approach, Apple is able to mitigate a lot of threats to its PR for their new flagship product, in addition to getting unabashedly positive thoughts in front of the average consumer who would’ve been apprehensive about a $1,000 luxury phone. Although there may still be real issues, Apple's helped control the narrative and ensure perception is initially positive.
Although it doesn’t pay respect to the folks who’ve thoughtfully and insightfully followed Apple for years, it likely allows Apple to have a much more successful week. It reduces noise about supply shortages. It makes the technical features seem more straightforward and comforting. And, as the week progresses, it allows the tech crowd to become more and more excited (and granular), as opposed to being, potentially, initially upset.
And so on.