Hold the (i)Phone, Apple

By now I’m sure you all have heard the news. An unfortunate Apple engineer left a next-generation iPhone prototype in a California bar, where it was promptly taken and sold to tech gadget blog Gizmodo, reportedly for $5,000. Gizmodo editor Jason Chen then blogged extensively about the phone’s new features in a Gizmodo exclusive entitled “The Next iPhone: Uncovered.”


Apple responded by obtaining a search warrant and sending sheriff’s deputies to Chen’s home, where they seized four computers, his digital camera and various external hard drives. In an account of the raid posted on Gizmodo, Chen says the officers indicated that the search was "a misunderstanding that could be cleared up if I answered some questions." The underlying implication being, of course, without his attorney present. Gaby Darbyshire, COO of Gizmodo’s parent company Gawker Media, went so far as to call the warrant and its execution a blatant violation of Chen's First Amendment rights as a journalist.

For those of us who work tirelessly to get our clients into the media Apple’s reaction seems a bit odd. Sure, Gizmodo stole some of the company’s thunder by previewing the newest iPhone’s features in advance of the planned launch, but doesn’t that only serve to create more buzz? I mean, isn’t that the whole point? As The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart put it (with trademark dry delivery): “I know that it’s slightly agitating that a blog dedicated to technology published all that stuff about your new phone.”

Did Apple not want the attention? Or was the company simply too overcome with the desire to punish Gizmodo and Chen to think about the lasting implications of the raid? As the New York Times’ David Carr stated in a column on the dispute: “Anybody with a kilobyte of common sense could have told Steve Jobs that the five minutes of pleasure that came from making a criminal complaint against journalists would be followed by much misery.”

I think Carr is right. Whatever Apple’s intention in filing the complaint against Chen, the company came away looking like a rigid institution embarrassed to have been bested by the smaller, more innovative Gizmodo. That’s a troubling impression for a company to make in this day and age, particularly when the organization in question is attempting to reinvent itself as a media company catering to the hip, technologically savvy consumer demographic. 

The old Apple kept the media at arms length—suing bloggers and blacklisting sites for publishing unflattering coverage—but the new Apple needs to make a few changes to fit into today’s media landscape. It will be interesting to see how the Gizmodo saga plays out, and whether Apple becomes any more flexible given the backlash it received for its aggressive response.

In either case, I think its time for Apple drop the Iron Curtain and move away from the culture of secrecy that has defined the company for so long. As always, your thoughts are welcome.

-Contributed by Kate Finigan. Follow her @PRKateFin