Christopher Mims

John Gruber on Apple: Damned if they do, damned if they don't

December 29, 2013: 1:23 PM ET

What has the New York Times -- and the rest of the tech press -- got against Apple?

Illustration by Kelsey Dake for the New York Times

Illustration by Kelsey Dake for the New York Times

FORTUNE -- "There's a nihilistic streak in tech journalism that I just don't see in other fields," writes Daring Fireball's John Gruber in 2013: The Year in Apple and Technology at Large. "Sports, movies, cars, wristwatches, cameras, food — writers who cover these fields tend to celebrate, to relish, the best their fields have to offer. Technology, on the other hand, seems to attract enthusiasts with no actual enthusiasm."

What set Gruber off on a 1,900 word rant Friday was Christopher Mims' characterization in Quartz of 2013 as a "lost year for tech" in general and Apple (AAPL) in particular:

"The most that Apple could think to do with the new, faster processor in the iPhone 5S," Mims wrote, "was animate 3D effects that make some users feel ill and a fingerprint sensor that solved a problem that wasn't exactly pressing. Apple's new iOS 7 mobile operating system, which felt "more like a Microsoft release," crippled many older iPhones and led to complaints of planned obsolescence."

Gruber almost didn't know where to start with what he termed "a sad pile of piss-on-everything cynicism."

Where he settled -- and where he spent 1,000 of those 1,900 words -- was on the "pernicious lie" in the last sentence: The conspiracy theory promoted in the New York Times by Catherine Rampell and promulgated by Mims himself, that Apple has booby trapped the iPhone so that older models slow to crawl and stop holding a charge just before new ones come on the market.

"The whole 'planned obsolescence' thing was a pile of horse sh**," Gruber writes, pointing readers to Brian Barrey's debunking in Gizmodo. ("You think your iPhone 4 is slow? Try a Samsung Fascinate. Batteries degrade over time. Software capabilities improve. Saying Apple plans the obsolescence of iPhones is like saying Dole plans the obsolescence of bananas.")

To which Gruber adds his own evidence against Rampell's so-called Apple Trap theory:  "Used two-year-old iPhone 4S's can be sold for $300; three-year-old iPhone 4's still sell for $200 or more. What other companies make cell phones that retain any value at all after two years?"

"It's a damned if they do, damned if they don't scenario for Apple," he writes. "If a three-year-old device doesn't qualify for an iOS upgrade, one could argue that Apple is excluding it out of spite, to pressure the user to buy a new device just so they can run the latest software. But if Apple does provide an update for a three-year-old phone, and the upgrade proves problematic for some of them, then they're accused of booby-trapping it, suckering users into upgrading their iPhones to a version of iOS that makes them run worse, so that the users will run out and buy a new iPhone."

For a more comprehensive indictment of Apple's press coverage this year, see Daniel Eran Dilger's editorial in AppleInsider: 2013 was a terrible year for both Apple's competitors and its media critics.

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