Why does everyone hate Apple right now?

Is there a media conspiracy against Apple and has Apple changed its media relations focus as a result?

When you write about Apple for a living you can't help but notice that the mainstream press coverage of the company over the past few months appears to have taken a turn for the worse.

You might conclude that the sentiment towards Apple follows the same pattern as Apple's share price. In its article 'Is there a media conspiracy against Apple' The Street suggests that: "When AAPL was printing $700, practically everyone was passing out party hats - Now, we're just operating in the opposite direction". Is this true?

Does Apple's share price follow the same pattern as Apple sentiment?

We've looked back at 2012 to see if Apple's share price is a good indicator of sentiment to the company.

Actually, October 2011 might be a better place to start. With the death of Apple's CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs. As reports were suggesting that Apple would cease to be creative without Steve Jobs at the helm, the share price was rising.

The stock continued to climb steadily from the beginning of 2012 until the beginning of April when it hit $624.46 on 5 April thanks to analyst claims that the AAPL share price could reach $1,000 and rumours about the iPhone 5.

It wasn't all good news in the April - June quarter of 2012, and Apple's share price fell back to into the $500s.

During that quarter Apple attracted attention for its tax practices, an antitrust lawsuit kicked off with the US Department of Justice, and news broke that 600,000 Macs had been infected with a Flashback Trojan horse being installed with the help of Java exploits.

July also saw Apple's share price plummeted amid concerns that Apple was too reliant on the iPhone.

However, the stock then began to climb back up in August as the US lawsuit between Apple and Samsung went in Apple's favour.

Apple's share price hit an all time high of $702.41 during trading on 21 September following the launch of the iPhone 5. But then the coverage became less positive as Apple became the laughing stock after it introduced the flawed Apple Maps. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook was compelled to issue a letter to Apple customers regarding maps in which he said Apple was "extremely sorry" for the frustration iOS 6 Maps has caused.

Through October to December Apple continued its decline amid the executive shakeup that followed the 'firing' of Scott Forstall over the Maps Fiasco.

When the iPad mini launched rather than excitement at the fact that Apple had entered the smaller tablet market, reports suggested that fewer people had queued to buy the new product (which turned out to be unfounded, and incorrect - given that Apple only launched the WiFi model at first).

The financial results in October were Apple's standard 'best ever' but analysts (as usual) were disappointed.The same thing happened when Apple released its financial results in January.

Incidentally, Apple reported $13.1 billion in profit and $54.5 billion in revenues for its first quarter of fiscal 2012 - Apple made more profit that quarter than any other company and yet analysts were still disappointed. Apple's so called 'disappointing' quarter doesn't look so disappointing when viewed in relation to the most profitable US companies. Apple made profits of $13.1b in the quarter compared to Exxon Mobile ($10b), Microsoft ($6.4b), IBM ($5.8b), Proctor & Gamble ($4.1b), and General Electric ($4b), as reported by Statista.

Does a pattern of positive and negative coverage suggest a connection with Apple's share price? Probably not. Looking back over a year that saw AAPL soar to $700 it's clear that the company was certainly not spared negative coverage.

We'd also suggest that the hedge funds that manage the vast majority of Apple stock pay very little attention to the media coverage of the company.

Apple's lack of positive coverage

So why does it feel that the coverage has taken a turn for the worse? And has it? Perhaps the coverage of Apple is just the same as it always was.

Is it positive Apple coverage that we are missing?

The Street notes: "Everybody hates Apple now. When the tide turns against a company and a stock like it has Apple, most people - except ultra loyal supporters - tune out almost anything positive." It has generally been the case over the past few years that using Apple in a headline guaranteed that lots of people would read the story. For sites like Macworld.co.uk this has left us competing with huge news organizations that wouldn't have given Apple the time of day just a few years ago. Now everyone is writing about Apple. But where it used to be the case that people wanted to read about Apple being great, now it appears that people want to read about Apple being bad. Or at least more people seem to want to write about Apple being bad. They say that success is a curse, it might look like some people have enjoyed building up Apple only to knock it back down, although we wouldn't honestly suggest anything so premeditated.

Alternatively, perhaps Apple just isn't one of the cool kids anymore. Is Apple losing it's cool as Wozniak was suggesting earlier this week?

We've certainly detected a trend of people who were early adopters of iPhones abandoning Apple for Samsung. We even observed that the lawsuit between Apple and Samsung made Apple, while victorious, appear to be the baddy, while Samsung became the rebel who's products were verified as being like Apple's.

Now a lot of the coverage is about how Apple is falling behind in the innovation stakes as Samsung takes its Android phones forward (expect to read a lot over the next few months about the Samsung Galaxy S4 compared to the iPhone 5).

What's really happening is that the competition is catching up. Apple is no longer the only innovator in a new market.

Another reason why Apple's attracting negative attention: it's got $137 billion in the bank. Seriously! To us that sounds like good management in difficult economic times - although CEO Tim Cook did recently say that Apple doesn't have a "Depression-era mentality".

Who hates Apple?

Despite coming to the conclusion that there isn't really more negative coverage of Apple than there has been, we can't help but observe that there are certain titles that are being more negative about Apple.

Not that this is a new thing. Last year The New York Times published a nine-part series on the 'iEconomy' and seven of the articles were focused on Apple. iEconomy had a glaring problem, wrote Fortune. "Never mind that Apple's competitors all outsource work, sidestep taxes, use patents as weapons and turn an even blinder eye to labor abuses in the Asian supply chain. The fact is, Apple - always a draw for readers - made a big, fat, easy target. "

More recently an article in Bloomberg caused some speculation that that title might have an anti-Apple agenda. The article written for Bloomberg by Jun Yang, Anand Krishnamoorthy and Jungah Lee seemed to, as Roughly Drafted put it, attempt "so desperately to distract from Samsung's looming crisis that it bends facts backwards and rewrites history with the careless abandon of a North Korea state reporter, drawing attention instead to the curious lack of reality that the company's defenders exude."

"By its fourth paragraph, it's clear the authors are instead trying to create a vast smokescreen of preposterous nonsense to glorify the firm's supreme leaders and revile Apple as a ugly Western blight on civilization," writes Roughly Drafted, noting that the article is based almost entirely upon soundbites from Samsung's investors.

It's also "factually incorrect", notes Roughly Drafted. The Bloomberg report gets its facts completely wrong in what Roughly Drafted describes as a "ridiculous version of history makes it sound like Apple copied the Altar with the Macintosh (gasp), but was then clobbered by the IBM PC that actually arrived in 1981 and was well entrenched before the Macintosh even appeared."

Speaking of factually incorrect stories, there was also the flawed Wall Street Journal report that appeared to spark a decline in Apple's share price back in January (a month after the same story broke and was deemed incorrect).

The Wall Street Journal story was based on a report on Japan's Nikkei that claimed that Apple asked its display manufacturers including Sharp and LG to cut orders by 50%. According to the report Apple's original order was for 65 million, this is one of the details the Wall Street Journal later removed from its report, along with the claim in its headline that the reduction was down to slow demand.

So that's the New York Times, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal all going a bit Anti Apple post Steve Jobs. The post Steve Jobs bit is valid - Jobs famously maintained relationships with what he considered to be key journalists. These included Walt Mossberg of Wall Street Journal/AllThingsD, and David Pogue of the New York Times.

While Steve Jobs was hardly famous for a love of the press, he did focus attention on these key titles, and perhaps it paid off.

What is Apple doing about it?

It appears that Apple has woken up to the fact that it may have lost some of its shine with regard to these titles. As a result it has been suggested that it has been leaking information to the press in order to gain more positive headlines.

For example, Forbes speculated that in an attempt to prove it was innovating, Apple leaked the iWatch story to Bloomberg. "Rumors about what's ahead usually originate in Asia from checks with Apple suppliers, but recent rumors about iWatch were a departure from the past," writes Forbes. Bloomberg reported that Apple has a team of 100 designers working on the watch. Bloomberg even had details of the Apple executives heading up the project.Then we had news from the New York Times that Apple is experimenting with wristwatch-like devices made of curved glass. Coincidence?

Apple's public relations team is pushing back in wake of bad press, suggested Apple Insider, pointing out that Apple issued 6 press releases within a matter of weeks. This is uncharacteristic, especially since the company would never normally produce a press release for a point update to iOS 6. "Such events do not usually garner a dedicated press release from Apple," wrote Apple Insider.

The Wall Street Journal has also noted that Apple's communications staff "recently sent reporters more favorable third-party reports about the company."

"Rather than a big shift, the latest moves represent a recognition that competition is heating up, a person familiar with the matter says. Apple also has more to cheer internationally, with growth in countries like China very strong. Apple CEO Tim Cook gave an interview to local Chinese media during a trip there earlier this year", wrote the WSJ.

Apple's media relations twist

This is more mysterious than you might think, because traditionally Apple makes little effort in its relationship with the press. Apple doesn't court the press, the press courts Apple. Where other companies plead with us to attend events we get a call from Apple the day before with little information other than a request for us to be at its offices at a particular time the next day. They often don't even tell us why.

The idea that Apple would leak information to the press is all the more strange to me (having worked on PR campaigns for the company between 2000-2003) because in my experience Apple doesn't leak information. But maybe things are different in the US.

That said, we have detected a change in the PR team in the UK, who do appear to care a lot more about what the media perception of Apple is now. It's as if the recent spate of negative coverage has awoken them.

If you want evidence that Apple is upping its PR game, note that the company has just installed a new corporate communications director for Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa. In the newly created role Josh Rosenstock, former Director of External Communications for Rolls Royce, will report into Apple Europe Senior Director of Corporate Communications Alan Hely, according to PR Week.

That title's source suggested that the hire was a reflection of Apple's desire to grow its corporate affairs capabilities as it becomes increasingly drawn into global regulatory and political issues.

Rosenstock has been at Rolls-Royce for over four years. He was previously head of communications at both Misys and Thames Water. On his LinkedIn profile he lists the following specialties: branding & corporate identity, M & A, integration, media relations, internal communications, events, web development, and public affairs.

Follow Karen Haslam on Twitter / Follow MacworldUK on Twitter

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