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Apple and the rest of us

Sure, there was the MacBook Air and the buzz around "thinnovation." But wasn't that--pun intended--too "thin" for a big media splash, especially compared with past years?

Seattle Post Intelligencer

Is Apple's PR wearing thin?

Sure, there was the MacBook Air and the buzz around "thinnovation." But wasn't that--pun intended--too "thin" for a big media splash, especially compared with past years? Now that MacWorld is over, pundits are reviewing Apple's PR efforts, and when the expectations are so high (and a company is so good at it), it is not too surprising that some are disappointed with what they've seen this year. Frank Shaw, a PR professional at Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft's lead PR agency, is one of them, and you have to give him credit for being so vocal in public despite his affiliation with the Apple rival. (It would be easy to dismiss his criticism as just a Microsoft cabal.) Shaw is wondering whether Apple's shock and awe, event-focused product launch PR philosophy has lost its relevance in a time of always-on communications:

"The concept of holding news, building expectations, and then unveiling a massive surprise has been super effective, and no more so than last year with the iPhone. It was a tour de force from a communications standpoint. This recent Macworld? Not so much."

He refers to the Feiler Faster Thesis, which states that people's ability to retain and process information has accelerated, resulting in significantly faster news cycles:

"So in this world, is a twice a year news bang sufficient? The answer could be yes--but there is little room for events like today in that world. Apple stepped to the plate today, IMHO, and hit...a single. The company won't be up to bat again for a while...if you are only up a few times a year, you better hit some home runs."

He admits that he's a proponent of "small ball" rather than "home run ball," and it's hard to judge whether that makes him old-school or PR avant-garde:

"I've never been a big fan of 'giving up control of the message' or 'information wants to be free' or 'user generated content will rule the world' or 'it's all about the conversation.' But I'm a huge believer in the value of ongoing communication, to the right audiences, about the topics they care most about, in a regular, sustained way."

iPhone guilt

But Apple products raise more than just PR questions. On the O'Reilly blog, Dale Dougherty takes Apple's 1984 slogan "The computer for the rest of us" as a starting point to meditate on the "rest of the rest of us"--those excluded from our high-tech frenzy and without the means to participate in the Apple universe of godly gadgets. He does so because he feels "iPhone guilt":

"Taking the iPhone out of my pocket in a public place makes me uncomfortable. Some people ask nicely about it: 'How do you like it?' But I'm keenly aware that others don't have what I have and they notice it. The iPhone is a great phone but I'm conscious that it's helping to define 'the rest of us versus them.'"

Dougherty's moral treatise poses some uncomfortable questions:

"Is the high-tech world indifferent to the problems of the poor? Do we have any competence that matters in helping them find a better life? Or are we just making 'the happy few' that much happier? What is a social network if the people facing the toughest problems are not part of it? They don't need more signs that tell them that they are on their own. The have-nots don't do networking. It doesn't get them anywhere."

"Whether it's the latest from Web 2.0 or Apple Computer, do we need to ask what it means for those who aren't able to take part? Does it help them catch up or put them further behind? That calculation is part of the social cost of any new technology. We might think of it like we're starting to think about our oversized carbon footprint and its impact on the physical world. Is there any way to offset the negative social impact of the technology that we're so busily developing?"

"It's a challenge for the 'best of us' to address."