Adapted from a column that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on March 26, 2012
by Larry Magid
To say Apple is no ordinary company is a gross understatement. With a market capitalization (the total value of its stock) hovering around $560 billion, it’s now the world’s most valuable company. But even before it acquired that rare distinction, it was special in many ways, especially the way it introduces products and the way the public and the media react to those products.
For example, months before Apple announced its latest iPad, the tech press and even general interest media were speculating on what it might do, and that’s been a pattern with Apple products for years. I’ve never been sure how this happens, but there are always bloggers or analysts that seem to have enough inside information about the “secret” product to tantalize the curious.
When the product finally comes out, just enough of the rumors turn out to be true to have made the game interesting, yet not 100 percent predictable. The media loves all the speculation — and not just the tech media. In my role as a tech analyst for CBS Radio News, I was asked to do numerous interviews for general interest programs about what Apple might announce. And once they announced the new iPad, everyone wanted to dice it, slice it and analyze it.
There were even companies that bought iPads with the express purpose of tearing them apart to try to determine exactly what’s inside and how much they cost to build. For example, iSupply.com took apart the new iPad and concluded that the $499 16-gigabyte Wi-Fi-only model has $364.35 worth of parts plus $10.75 in manufacturing costs. They estimated that the new high-resolution “Retina” screen costs $87, compared with $57 for the screen used in the iPad 2.
For some reason, many people are fascinated by these tidbits, yet I can’t recall ever seeing similar articles for other consumer goods. Do you have any idea what your refrigerator cost to build? For that matter, how many people do you know who salivate over every new home appliance that comes to market? Even news about new cars — which fascinated earlier generations — fails to get a lot of attention these days.
And why do so many people feel compelled to upgrade to a new model for what amounts to an incremental improvement? Sure, the new screen looks better than the previous model, but have you looked at some of the new high-definition TVs these days? I bet you’ll find some that look better than the one in your living room, but very few people spend much time stressing over whether the TV they bought in the past two or three years is as state-of-the-art as the latest models.
When an Apple device comes out, it makes the front page of many newspapers, and there is huge interest in the early reviews. That’s one reason just about every reviewer who can get their hands on the products wants to weigh in as soon as possible. Most gave the new iPad well-deserved rave reviews and I’m no exception (my review is at LarrysWorld.com/ipad3). But along with all the excessive praise for Apple products, comes excessive criticism when even the tiniest flaw is discovered.
Like most people who reviewed the iPad before or on the day of its release, I didn’t point out nor notice that the device can get a bit warm if you use it to play certain types of processor-intense games. But once the word got out that some people did notice that the device could get a bit toasty, there were a slew of articles and broadcast segments including some with the word “heatgate,” as if this were a national scandal along the lines of a president sanctioning a break-in of the competing party’s headquarters.
Consumer Reports, which in 2010 refused to recommend the iPhone 4 because of a flaw in its antenna (some called that “antennagate”), tested the new iPad and found that it could reach temperatures as high as 116 degrees — 13 degrees hotter than the iPad 2. That seemed alarming at first, but in its article, complete with thermal images, the writer acknowledged, “When it was at its hottest, it felt very warm but not especially uncomfortable if held for a brief period.” On its Web page, the publication says that it’s “not likely” that its findings will affect its decision to recommend the product.
Even after reading the Consumer Reports story and all the other articles, I still haven’t noticed the iPad getting particularly hot. Admittedly, unlike Consumer Reports, I’ve never used the iPad to play “Infinity Blade II uninterrupted for about 45 minutes,” but I have used it for nearly two hours to watch a Netflix movie and used it to surf the Web for nearly four hours straight as I flew across the country last week on a Wi-Fi equipped plane.
But then, I also never really noticed that antenna flaw that got so much attention two years ago that Steve Jobs cut short a Hawaiian vacation to hold an emergency news conference to address the issue.