How do you balance timeliness with meaningfulness?
I've been thinking a lot about product reviews lately. In general, we're going to be doing a lot more reviews in the future and I want us to do them as well as we possibly can. More specifically, I don't think the tech community, iMore included, has been doing a great job with them so far.
For my part, I've often let a desire to go deep keep me from getting timely reviews to our community when they matter most. For many of the reviews I read, a mix of sensationalism and superficiality renders some of them significantly less valuable than they might otherwise be.
Too late too little
First cases in point — it took me entirely too long to get the iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Pro, and Apple TV reviews done. I'm happy with how they turned out but, in taking as long as I did, I failed to serve everyone who was interested in buying those products sooner rather than later, and was looking for help making the big-as-in-pricey decision.
It's like that old story about a jalopy and Ferrari. If you're stranded on the side of a road, and a jalopy gets to you first, the Ferrari might as well not even exist. Now, I want to make timely reviews that are far better than a jalopy, and I'm not quite yet deluded enough to liken my work to a Ferrari, but the point stands. If there's nothing there when people want or need it, there's nothing there.
Second cases in point — many of the iPhone Smart Battery Case reviews that hit the web in the first few days following its release were, to be blunt, embarrassing. People who know better became fixated on the "hump" on its back and, instead of investigating and explaining to readers why it was that way, and the relative pros and cons of the case as a whole, they got mired in irrelevant milliamp-per-dollar breakdowns and "design" critiques. (Same, in part, for the Apple Pencil charging method.)
It's forced, misdirected schadenfreude, and it's my own personal greatest fear in this job. I'm hypersensitive to it because I commit it myself all the time, which is why my real-life editor's desk has so many head-shaped dents in it.
Third cases in point — iMore's sibling site, Android Central, aside, how many of the recent Samsung Galaxy S 7 reviews bothered to point out the current situation with security updates? That's incredibly vital and important information that anyone considering buying a phone needs to weigh into their ultimate decision. Yet for many, especially those who review something new every week, the here and now eclipses the longer life cycle customers really spend with a product.
Increasingly, what we hold in our hands aren't just the bits and atoms that come in the box — they're how those bits and atoms are serviced and supported over time.
The one-two punch
If neither quick reviews nor in-depth reviews are ideal, what can we do to really serve the best interests of our readers? What we've been thinking is — both.
Here's the gist: when a new product is launched, we'll use all the many tens of thousands of hours of hard-earned experience we have to give you the best first-look possible. If we had a week or more with it under embargo or a weekend with it after it hit the stores, we'll tell you exactly how long we spent testing it and exactly how we came to the preliminary conclusions we came to.
We'll make sure we talk to manufacturers about any perceived problems so, even if we truly believe they're problems, we can at least understand and present them in an informed way. If a product is public, we'll also ask you, our readers, in the iMore Forums so, as a group, we can do a far better job getting the essence of the products than any of us as individuals.
The important thing is, we'll get those first impressions to you as soon as inhumanly possible. That way, if you're tempted by whatever the latest and greatest product is, and you want to get it right away, you'll have as much information as we can possibly get to you to help you make the best possible choice on how your time and money.
Then, for major new products, we'll follow up with the in-depth review.
It's not a completely new strategy — for a few years now we've been doing launch reviews, three month later reviews, and six month later reviews. We feel it's important for people to know not just how a product works when it's brand new, but how it holds up over time.
We'll keep on doing those as well, we're just going to get started sooner now.
The things more changed
Truth be told, we've been tweaking how we do reviews here for a while now.
Last year I saw the new MacBook get some bad reviews because, essentially, some people didn't understand that the hot new computer could be intended for a customer that was different from them. They might want or need a ton of ports and external support where the intended MacBook customer did not. I wanted to take them gently by their hands and walk them over to the MacBooks Pro, instead it inspired us to switch from simple lists of pros and cons in our reviews to more meaningful lists of who the product was for — and who it wasn't for.
Most recently we've been putting a lot of effort into getting our video reviews up as fast as possible so, while we're slaving away at the keyboard, our audience has a way to see, hear, and hopefully feel something about the product in the meantime.
Next up, in addition the above-mentioned changes, I think we'll also be adopting some of what our Android Central colleagues have been doing — stating the conditions of the review up front, and ending with a strong "should you buy it?" recommendation at the end. Both better for readers and potential customers.
It may not end up being the best of both worlds, but it feels like it'll be better than either of the worlds we've been jumping between so far.
We want to make all of our reviews better for everyone. So, please let me know what you'd like to see going forward!