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The credulity of most Apple coverage

Over my cornflakes this morning, I read Ben Hoyle’s interview with Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, in The Times Magazine.

This was one of those interviews which is sort of interesting but doesn’t really say much. Though I was quite taken with this description of Apple’s canteen where the cutlery is hidden from view in an illuminating example of form over function:

You can’t tell what the chefs are cooking because there are no menus on display (the options are on your phone if you’re an employee). You don’t seem to be able to pay cash for anything and there are no sauce sachets or eating utensils to be seen unless you know where to look (they’re with the other unsightly essentials like bottled drinks and napkins, sunk out of sight in smooth, curved central islands reminiscent of giant iPods).

What really struck me about this interview was the weird cognitive dissonance in the tenth paragraph. In this paragraph, Hoyle points out that:

Apple’s App Store is “curated” to the extent that you (and your children) won’t find hate speech or pornography on there.

That is, Apple – for better or worse – prioritises its values over the freedom of its customers to easily use the platform for activities which meet with disapproval from Apple. I wish this (puritanical?) attitude had been used to challenge in this bit of the same paragraph:

Apple has regarded privacy as “a basic human right” for a long time and “built the company around” that belief. The sprawling, intimate personal data profiles that companies like Facebook and Google compile “shouldn’t exist”, Cook thinks.

Cook claims that Apple is built around privacy. Yet, while Apple is happy preventing access to hate speech on the App Store, it actively promotes the Facebook app despite it asking for user permission to build data profiles which Cook says are antithetical to everything Apple stands for.

This seems a really odd moral position to me: if your company is reputedly built around one “basic human right”, why allow apps which violate that fundamental belief and ban apps which contravene less dearly held standards? The answer seems fairly obvious to me: the Facebook and Google apps are among the most popular, and are core to the iPhone experience. But can you really claim something is a cornerstone value if you ignore it to sell more phones?

I was also a bit riled up by this ludicrous comparison:

On cybersecurity … the company also protects its FaceTime and Messages apps with end-to-end encryption unlike, say, Google’s standard Gmail.

Why compare a closed messaging system, where end-to-end encryption is easy, with an open standard like email? That reads like a line supplied by Apple. It should have been challenged by asking if Apple’s iCloud email service protects messages with end-to-end encryption, which of course it does not.

There are a lot of things that Apple does extraordinarily well. It is evidently one of the corporate success stories of our time and has inspired phenomenol brand loyalty among a huge population of users. But it isn’t perfect.

Much of the media, and Hoyle’s article is no exception, seems far too credulous when it comes to Apple. Coverage of Apple would be much more satisfying if it showed a degree of balance or at least an attempt at challenging some of the more outlandish media lines rather than simply repeating them verbatim.

The picture of Tim Cook at the top of this post was uploaded to Flickr by Fabio Bini, and is used here under its Creative Commons licence.

This 2,439th post was filed under: Media, News and Comment, Posts delayed by 12 months, Technology, , , , .

Political polls are getting more accurate

An interesting article by Will Jennings and Christopher Wlezien in today’s Times Red Box pointed me in the direction of their recently published paper in Nature Human Behaviour on the accuracy of pre-election polling. Their conclusion, in a nutshell, is that polls are becoming better at accurately predicting the outcome of elections.

This gave me pause for thought: are polls designed and intended to reflect the outcome of an election? Or are polls about reflecting the views of the population at a point in time?

My hunch is that they are more often designed for the latter purpose. Most polls ask how people would vote if there were an election today. I’m not aware of any polls that attempt to correct for the typical post-election “honeymoon” nor the typical midterm “slump” in their efforts to better predict the next election result.

If my hunch is right, then it’s probably unfair to talk about poll “error” when the results of polls conducted well before elections do not match the election results. More importantly, it puts a different spin on their findings.

Assuming all other things are equal (which they are most emphatically not), then late polls better reflecting the outcome of an election suggests that they are better reflecting the views of voters. Assuming that this increased “representativeness” carries across the election cycle and that polls are measurements rather than predictions, then mid-cycle polls more accurately reflecting the final outcome suggests that the population’s views are becoming more intransigent. (In truth, I’ve no idea whether or not this fits their data, it just seems like it might.)

I don’t know whether that is true or not, but it certainly feels like it might be. I feel like things are reaching a point where people are no longer willing to engage with alternative political views, let alone change their own view. On social media, in particular, I see people who didn’t have had a clearly defined political view five years ago now suggesting that those with differing political views necessarily have malintent. This goes for both sides of the political debate. This never seems a particularly good strategy to me – I don’t think many people have their views changed through the hurling of insults!

The picture at the top is by RachelH_ on Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence.

This 2,411th post was filed under: Politics, Posts delayed by 12 months, , , , , .

iPad App Review: The Times

I used to be a regular newspaper reader, and had The Guardian delivered daily for some years. But, in 2007 I moved to my current house and couldn’t find a newsagent who delivered. Being a lazy git, I can’t be bothered to take the hundred or so steps from my front door to the nearest shop to buy a paper, and so my readership lapsed.

Instead, I turned to getting my news online more and more. Especially via the Guardian website, where I could keep up with the writing of my favourite Guardian columnists right up until most of them left the paper, when my interest waned a bit.

Someone once said that from the outside, The Guardian looks like an exclusive club, and hence it struggles to build it’s readership. I think there’s some truth in that. I don’t feel the same connection to The Guardian that I once did. Nancy Banks-Smith’s TV reviews, Guy Browning’s columns, Anna Pickard’s columns, Gareth McLean’s thiny-veiled gossip columns, Emily Bell’s MediaGuardian leaders: These (and others) were the skeleton on which I hung my consumption of The Guardian, and once they evaporated there was nothing left but a mass of unstructured news I could get anywhere else. Heck, it’s not been the same since they axed Ros Taylor’s Wrap, and that wasn’t even a newspaper feature.

I guess what I’m trying to describe is my descent from Guardianista to media tart, moving from news outlet to news outlet depending on the news stories that were being hawked at any given time. And that’s pretty much where I am now. Google Reader gives me selected news from across the web, Twitter fills in the gaps, and I’m out of the habit of reading a single organ’s daily summary.

But then my iPad came along, and the opportunity arose to download The Times on a daily basis. And it is The Times – not some sliced and diced hint of the news, but an actual full-fat version of The Times formatted for the iPad, even including the crosswords and sudoku. And it is great.

One of the most important things about it is its release time. The Times has been available to download every day when I’ve woken up. I believe it’s released around 4am, but I’ve never bothered to wake myself up to check. Essentially, being there for the time I eat my cornflakes is what this app requires – and actually beats the paperboy who used to deliver.

20110329-080501.jpg I didn’t used to like The Times’s journalism much. I used to read it quite a lot when it was a broadsheet, but when it switched to tabloid it seemed to simultaneously switch to picture-led storytelling, which is a danger of the format. It gained ‘silly’ page three features, true tabloid style, and lost a lot of the genuinely interesting Times 2 human interest stuff. I don’t know if / when any of that changed in the print version, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case so much in the iPad edition, which feels much more like The Times of old.

In iPad terms, the experience is great. Landscape viewing tends to work best for me, with my iPad propped up in its case. News articles cross pages, swiping from right to left, whilst more in depth features tend to have the header on the right-left swipe, with a downwards pagination for the rest of the article. Pictures are often linked to videos or slideshows, accessed with a tap. And a ‘contents’ pop-up bar allows jumping quickly to any part of the paper (or a quick review of the headlines). Like most descriptions of user-interfaces, that makes it sound awfully complicated. It’s really quite intuitive.

The nature of the beast is that copy tends to lag behind current events, but articles are sometimes updated over the course of the day, and on heavy-news days, an additional 5pm edition is published. Brilliant.

20110329-080754.jpg Another benefit is the price… An online subscription, which includes access to the pay-walled website and the Sunday Times app costs £2 per week – bizarrely cheaper than the £9.99 subscription to the Times App alone.

But it’s not all good news. Because The Times is paywalled, there’s no social features. No ‘share this’, no ‘this is what others liked’, no ‘leave a comment’. It’s one-way communication, and feels a little out of step with modern life.

There’s also no search, which is a little bit of an odd omission, and there are ads – I’d estimate about five full pages per edition – though they’re easy enough to flick past and ignore.

Overall, I think the iPad experience of The Times is great, and I plan to stay subscribed. Whether that will change when The Guardian’s app is released later this month remains to be seen, but it will take something very impressive to blow The Times out of the water.

This is the first in a series of posts reviewing iPad Apps. Check back tomorrow for my review of the iWork Apps.

This 1,431st post was filed under: iPad App Reviews, Reviews, Technology, , , , , , , , , , , .

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