By Jason Snell
February 28, 2019 2:46 PM PT
A few episodes back on Upgrade, the weekly tech podcast I do with Myke Hurley, I answered a question from a listener about how Apple loans hardware to reviewers. It’s not a subject that gets talked about a lot, because it’s the most insidery of inside baseball1. Writing about inside baseball stuff is generally self-indulgent and beside the point, and my journalism professors warned me against it, but if you’ll indulge me…
Generally when Apple releases a product they will ask members of the press to come back later that day or on a different day to get a briefing about the product. This is a 30-minute long session with at least one Apple product marketing person, as well as a PR person, who will run through all of Apple’s talking points about the product in detail and answer questions. Generally the talking-points stuff is stuff I already know, because it’s geared for a more general media audience who isn’t as laser-focused on tech and Apple as I am. The best product marketing folks know this about me—and let’s face it, we’ve probably done this dance several times before—and will be extremely receptive to going off script and diving deeper into areas based on questions I’m asking.
That’s where you can occasionally get interesting tidbits about a product that haven’t emerged publicly, which is not to say that they aren’t tidbits that have been pre-approved for discussion with the press—they are things Apple has chosen not to talk about in detail unless asked. I love it when there are tidbits or shadings or a little more detail than was available during the event or appears on Apple’s website.
Once all is said and done, I usually will end up walking out of the room with a bag (the same kind you’d get from the Apple Store) containing the product and potentially some accessories. Before leaving the premises, there are documents to sign—once on paper, now generally done electronically. If there’s an embargo—a time before which I’m not allowed to publicly post about the product—I’ll sign a document agreeing to it. There’s always a hardware product loan agreement, too, with a return date and the specifics of the products that I’m being loaned for evaluation purposes.
Sometimes Apple product loans will come in different ways. When I’ve been briefed on a macOS public-beta release, Apple will often send along a MacBook Pro with the macOS public beta preinstalled. This can be helpful for a few reasons, including the fact that I don’t own any Touch Bar-equipped MacBooks and that I don’t really want to test a beta operating system on my main Mac.
Apple’s approach to taking back editorial loans can vary. Some stuff—cases and other small accessories—they don’t seem to care about. Macs have a very limited loan policy, usually lasting a few weeks, after which they must be returned. iOS devices have a longer return window, and frequently are eligible for an “extended loan.” I try to take advantage of the extended loan when available, especially on products that I don’t own myself, so I can keep them around to test accessories and compare to other Apple products when they come along. (Eventually the loan comes due, regardless—I mailed a pretty large box of stuff back to Apple in December, in fact.)
In the meantime, I’m also buying Apple products myself—it’s the nature of the job. I got a loaner of the 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro and not the smaller 11-inch model, so I went out and bought that one. My family and I buy iPhones and I keep those around so even when I send back extended-loan iPhone models, I’ve still got examples of old hardware on hand to use for photography or reference. And since getting out on my own I have been a bit more liberal in buying Apple hardware for the family, since it can double as a product I can use as reference. My daughter has a 12-inch MacBook and my wife just got a new MacBook Air. Those aren’t my computers, but I do know that if I need to test something about the Touch ID system in the MacBook Air, I have one on hand. It’s a good feeling. My wife is also currently using the previous-generation 10.5-inch iPad Pro model I bought for reference back in 2017.
If Apple didn’t loan me hardware, I’d have to spend more on it myself, but to be honest the most important part of the editorial loans process is that it lets me have access to the hardware a little bit earlier than everyone else. Waiting in line on day one to get new hardware is a pain, as most of you know, and it certainly helps my ability to speak and write about these products to get even a day’s head start on testing them.
I learned a long time ago not to count on Apple’s good graces. If the company decides to stop giving me briefings and loaning me hardware, I’ll be sad about it, but I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. For now, though, I am happy to be a part of the process, because it helps me do my job better and makes it a bit easier.
- For those not in the know, “inside baseball” is a term that means it’s about the behind-the-scenes business of a thing, not the thing itself. ↩