Re: the iPhone 4 antenna hubbub, Apple held firm in the face of constant coverage from tech blogs, a class-action lawsuit, and vocal customer complaints. So it’s interesting that the company finally blinked in response to an old school media outlet: Consumer Reports.
In large measure, the article in Consumer Reports was devastating precisely because the magazine (and its Web site) are not part of the hot-headed digital press. Although Gizmodo and other techie blogs had reached the same conclusions earlier, Consumer Reports made a noise that was heard beyond the Valley because it has a widely respected protocol of testing and old-world credibility. Mr. Jobs acknowledged as much, saying: “We were stunned and upset and embarrassed by the Consumer Reports stuff, and the reason we didn’t say more is because we didn’t know enough.”
Consumer Reports got taken seriously because it’s so different than other media outlets. It’s been around since 1936. It’s part of a nonprofit organization. It has a mission (“to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves”). It doesn’t allow advertising or accept free samples. It doesn’t go for a snarky tone. It does tons of extensive lab testing. It doesn’t focus just on glamourous products (for every iPhone it tests, there are tons more mops, air conditioners, and other “boring” products it examines). It doesn’t rely on page-view-pimping bloggy business as its bread and butter. Instead, it sells thoroughness and trustworthiness.
And that’s why when CR raised its red flag, it was taken seriously.
Consumer Reports’ approach is working too. It’s one of the top-ten-circulation magazines in the country. And its various outlets have a combined paid circulation of 7.2 million, up 33 percent since 2004.
Reminds me a bit of how Cook’s Illustrated thrives while other food publications are going down the drain. Everyone’s wringing their hands about the fate of media outlets, but these two publications show how a strong philosophy and a willingness to buck trends can lead to success.
Tangent: The CR site has a neat archive of vintage photographs showing its tests of consumer products over the decades.
Sammyon 19 Jul 10
I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and take on the tone of Matt’s post.
Where you see “snarky tone,” I see an editorial voice that resonates with the readership. It’s hard to do “extensive lab testing” when you have a staff of five, if that. Tech blogs’ “page per view pimping bloggy business” is a far cry from the allegations that were levied at Jezebel – at worst, it’s gadgeteer fanboi-ism.
In short, the things you’re criticizing many of the larger tech blogs for are exactly the sort of things you’d have been lauding them for if they’d produced a different result.
DRosson 19 Jul 10
The whole antennae thing is so overblown and really bothers me that so many morons keep going on and on about it. Get a friggin case, which 95% of people do anyways, and your phone’s fine plus it now has better reception than it ever did before.
This whole antennae thing is nothing more than jealous haters looking for the smallest thing to complain about. Apple does everything so well that when one, goddamn tiny thing happens people are in cahoots.
Any Microsoft/Droid fans out there? This antennae thing would never of made any news due to the 100 other mistakes each phone has that get noticed first that the iphone doesn’t have.
Wayyy overblown and anyone talking about it is a jealous fucking Apple hateboy.
Dan Goslingon 19 Jul 10
For all it’s strengths, consumer reports is not perfect. For example, it only does one crash test for each infant safety seat tested, which really isn’t definitive, and only runs new tests and publishes results every few years.
Considering the amount of money that is impacted by its reviews/ratings, Consumer reports’ methodology can result in an undeserved tarring and feathering of products, or the undeserved crowning of a “best product” which really isn’t.
Further, Consumers Reports adds all sort of attributes to the testing procedure which may not be important to most consumers, while leaving out others which may.
All this means that the #1 product is most likely not all that superior to the #2 product. Further, when price is taken into consideration the ratings can change even more drastically. Is it a big deal to spend $50 or $100 or $200 more on a dishwasher that will last 5+ years? To consumer reports it is, which leads the magazine to dismiss across the board most diswashers at the middle-high price point.
@Sammyon 19 Jul 10
“Where you see “snarky tone”? C’mon… really
Rudigeron 19 Jul 10
Looks like “old media” still has some life left in it.
StCredZeroon 19 Jul 10
Bill O’Reilly’s tone resonates with his viewership as well. I also happen to think that his tone doesn’t always do much for informed debate. Often what passes for “snark” is just a sarcastic confirmation of a certain group’s world view. It’s often much more cathartic than informative.
StCredZeroon 19 Jul 10
The Consumer Reports business model has some resemblance to 37signal’s.
G. Gueston 19 Jul 10
As much as I love Cook’s Illustrated TV shows and web site, their cookbook arm is 100% trouble. They use every scam tactic in the book to try and force you into buying their books. “We’re sending it to you Free!” But, really if you don’t return it, they invoice you. They also auto-enroll you for cookbooks every year expecting payment just because you bought one version; they have STILL sent me books after refusing every offer over the phone (and their incessant phone calls) and even refusing delivery of the cookbooks. They try every semantic trick in the book to hide the cost and other catches in their offers. “OK, I’ve removed you from our cookbook list, and now you will receive a free issue of Cooks Country magazine.”
I love the Cooks Illustrated products (the 2006 cookbook is great), but hate the organizations and tactics that they employ. There’s a huge disconnect there.
Timon 19 Jul 10
I think it’s also interesting that Consumer Reports online charges just little enough that it’s not worth cancelling. I wonder if they’ve done research on it.
If i was building a subscription website I’d definitely try to make it work on $2.20/month subscriptions. It’s an amount that never shows up as a line item in a home budget.
ericon 19 Jul 10
Actually CR rates effectiveness independently of price, and additionally gives products “best buy” rating where they try to combine price and effectiveness in choosing the which product in a category provided best overall value. By presenting their finding this way you can see clearly which product performs best; if you are willing to pay more for that performance you can choose that. If you are trying to find a balance between price and performance you can choose that too; those are the ones that get their “best buy” rating. Also they often present items in groupings that are either feature based or price based. So even say, in the dishwasher category, you can often find the “best buy” for the ‘high end’ grouping and a different “best buy” for a ‘mid-range’ grouping.
Drockon 19 Jul 10
I’m compelled to comment that Consumer Reports, despite being popular, is a crappy magazine. For example, they once gave a Saab very poor ratings and then it was revealed that they never tested one. What is the definition of lowest common denominator? A magazine that “tests” washers , cars, and computers. Don’t think they are unbiased, they are not. Unfortunately, their “opinions” are just that with millions of people blindly following them. Repeating them here at SVN dumbs down this blog. I want to read expert thorough reviews not a bunch of goons who decide they will print their reviews of everything under the sun. They can’t recommend the iPhone? What a joke. They have sucked for years.
Ken jacksonon 19 Jul 10
@Drock, can you link to the story about SAAB and CR?
Feralon 19 Jul 10
I agree with Drock.
Cr is a joke. John Gruber nails it. http://daringfireball.net/linked/2010/07/19/consumer-reports-recommended-list
they are not the consumer canon law they used to be.
just saying …
Atenuationon 20 Jul 10
It’s a phone. A phone’s primary function is ‘reception.’ Imagine that. If people who otherwise love the 3G are saying something’s wrong, they hardly seem like “jealous fucking hateboys.” But it does seem some Hitler-youth-style anger on this thread can be construed as unwarranted hero worship.
Chuckyon 20 Jul 10
Wow. You’ve got some pretty stupid commenters here.
The crucial thing about CR is about how they are funded. The lack of advertising and free samples means they are responsible only to their readers, which is a damn good thing.
It doesn’t make them perfect, but it at least removes 95% of the built-in wrongness in other reviewers.
If you want to understand a reviewing organization, follow the money. Following the money shows why Yelp is useless, for example.
Joseph Futralon 20 Jul 10
“It doesn’t make them perfect, but it at least removes 95% of the built-in wrongness in other reviewers.”
And simply replaces it with a whole new set of “wrongness”. The amount of self-importance and arrogance that CR and their reviews emanate far out weigh any Jobs can be accused of. Wrong is wrong regardless of who pays for it. And CR is just flat out wrong about the iPhone antennae and Apple’s need to “fix” it.
Personally, I think CR’s comments were only given weight in the sense that it was the straw that broke the media camel’s back, not due to any intrinsic “authority” of CU. Else, Apple would have called press conferences long before now from their inane reviews about Apple/Mac products in the past. Apple paid little attention to them in the past (positive or negative reviews) and no doubt really pays little attention to them now.
The only thing CR/CU did was “validate” the confusion and obfuscation being published (nothing to be proud of). Jobs essentially said that CU hasn’t a clue what it is talking about when he showed the pictures of and talked about Apple’s testing process and facility.
To Jobs, the customer is who is most important, not some self-aggrandizing magazine. If actual customers were doing the bulk of the complaining and returning their iPhone 4s, you bet the iPhone would be redesigned in a heart beat, probably even recalled. Apple has produced actual clunkers before. Remember the Cube? Consider how quickly that drifted off into oblivion.
Magazines and bloggers don’t count as the bulk of Apple’s customers. Talk about following the money. If this hasn’t generated web clicks for most of the industry and you don’t see that, then you shouldn’t start a company depending on the web for revenue.
Apple has not done anything design-wise to “fix” the problem because the over-whelming majority (over 98% or over 94% depending on which metric you want to use—returns or fielded complaints) of the customers don’t think there is a problem to fix. But he is NOT ignoring that 2-6%. He wants them to be happy customers, too. And if he can’t, he is willing to give them a full refund.
Apple’s customers are the people who have Apple’s attention. And that’s how it should be.
Martin Edicon 20 Jul 10
I would like to see their ‘extensive lab tests’ applied to the other phones mentioned at Jobs’ press conference including a phone I own, the HTC Eris, which actually has a diagram in its manual explaining how to hold the phone to improve reception.
This was nothing more than a PR stunt for Consumer Reports and undermines a great deal of their credibility IMHO.
Atenuationon 20 Jul 10
It was dedicated iPhone users themselves who raised this issue to the level of disaster, not Consumer Reports. They felt the amount of outcry justified moving forward. Don’t see how you figure this is a PR stunt, Apple plainly tried to pretend noting was wrong, flailed around like carp creating his excuse then that one, and finally admitted they were wrong. They are the arrogant ones, not CR. Not thinking that you are too big to fail or can do no wrong (hubris) is the first rule of business, and Apple took a shit where they eat. By the way, 37s is always cautioning against self-involvement and cockiness carrying ideas forward. If Apple wasn’t so hungry to “be out in front” they would have seen their reception error. There is no excuse for a phone to have bad reception, especially a phone from the foremost developer of phones. “Put a case on” is a lame, aftermarket excuse for a fix. If this fixes the “non-problem” then why wasn’t it just built WITH the case…if the case is so crucial to a phone’s reception, it should have been a feature not an option. Think about it. You buy a car, go to drive it away, and the engine is missing. Oh, the engine’s optional…quit crying and buy the optional engine. The antenna is a phone’s engine.
Joseph Futralon 20 Jul 10
“It was dedicated iPhone users themselves who raised this issue to the level of disaster”
BS. It was the likes of Gizmodo who started the flames, no doubt in retaliation. And it was the media by and large who continued to raise the issue, not users. iPhone user have raised no issue. Again, over 95% of users have no problems and certainly none that require a case.
CR is the only company in this discussion risking hubris. They refuse to admit their testing was, first, incomplete (as at least one independent engineer published), and second myopic since they refuse to hold all cell phones they test to this same kind of scrutiny, which would actually be smart. The reason is because they would bring to light the flawed design of their process.
CR needs to fix this problem!
Consumeron 20 Jul 10
CR reviews contain valuable info but it is not, in my opinion, completely unbiased or particularly complete. It can even be mildly entertaining but it’s not the end all be all.
MathewMon 20 Jul 10
Bottom line is that Apple and more importantly, Steve Jobs needed a kick in the ass. Whether or not you like Consumer Reports or have read a review of theirs in the past ten years is not the point. Apple has been a media darling for a few years now and in the view of a lot of “old school” Mac users, they are beginning to lose touch with their base. Of course most of their base now are recent Mac converts who bought an iPhone and a 13” Macbook.
Drockon 21 Jul 10
the Consumer Reports and Saab fiasco was in the 1980s so I don’t have an internet link without researching it online – but it happened. And that’s not the only time CR has rated something without actually testing it.
The source of their funding is not ads? So what. They claim some “practical” vision to rate any and all products despite sometimes having no training in an area and no long terms testing of an item (if tested at all)? Their comments on the iPhone are typical. Obnoxious. I don’t read CR and I don’t care about their opinions on anything.
How did Honda get so big in the US? Ask CR. Is Honda a good car maker? Sure, but my wife’s Honda has to go to the shop for things just like any other car I’ve ever had. Its not perfect at all. CR is a joke.
Paulon 23 Jul 10
I find it quite amusing the defense that has arisen over Steve Jobs and Apple. All the folks who are crying “foul” over CR’s “not recommending” (mind you, it’s NOT a flat out “don’t buy it” Ratings.. just it’s a phone with GREAT FEATURES—that MAY have DIFFICULTY in making and holding on to calls!!!) the iPhone 4, fault the magazine because its testing was “incomplete.” (That’s the usual, “polite” term being thrown around by haters of the magazine!)
And then they go out and say Apple and Steve Jobs are MUCH MORE “authoritative” and “credible” in their testing, pointing out Jobs’ smoke and mirrors about Apple’s multi-million dollar anechoic testing facilities.
Well, if Apple’s testing facilities and engineers were so great, how come it took a NON-PROFIT organization such as CU - who DO NOT “specialize” in phones or have the FUNDING for such high-falutin’ facilities - to definitively say, “Hey, look here… All those complaints from iPhone 4 USERS who say they’re dropping calls? Yeah, here’s the spot/reason why it happens and we’ve PROVED IT—WITH NUMBERS. And because it may not function reliably as a phone, we can’t recommend it”????
What’s more, think about this… I personally find it HIGHLY suspicious that when iPhone 4 came out, Apple themselves started MAKING (and selling… at $30 a pop!) a “case” that just so happens to go AROUND the phone and cover JUST that metal band where the antennas are??? And until the whole mess with CR came up, they were PERFECTLY HAPPY to KEEP users thinking, “Oh, I’m ‘holding it wrong’” or “It’s that damn AT&T network…
This discussion is closed.