Apple Prioritized YouTubers Over Mainstream Tech Press for iPhone X Reviews

iPhone X Review High Snobiety
Courtesy of High Snobiety

iPhone review day has arrived: Early Tuesday morning, dozens of tech and mainstream media outlets published their reviews and first impressions of the new iPhone X. It’s a well-timed ritual that repeats every year, a few days before Apple’s latest flagship phone reaches its stores. Except, this time around, a few YouTubers had a head-start on the news, and were able to publish their first-impression videos the day before.

Among those out early with their reviews were UrAvrgConsumer, Booredatwork, Soldier Knows Best and video bloggers from the sneaker blog Highsnobiety — four channels that together have some 2.5 million subscribers on YouTube.

Not all of these early reviews came from YouTubers: Apple also allowed veteran tech reporter Steven Levy to review the device for Wired’s Backchannel blog a day before most other outlets, ostensibly because he was among the first reviewers of the original iPhone ten years ago. The company allowed Axios to publish a first take on the device Monday, and Fashion Magazine was able to shoot a first-impressions video and release it Monday as well.

Companies like Apple often give select outlets extra time to review devices, which the company also did this time around. The Verge and Wired received their review unit of the iPhone X on Monday, whereas Buzzfeed, Mashable and Techcrunch got their devices a week earlier. Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment on its review policies.

At times, companies also grant a small number of outlets the opportunity to publish their reviews or behind-the-scenes looks at certain products before everyone else. Journalists at outlets with shorter lead times tend to complain about this kind of cherry-picking, but grudgingly accept it as to not lose access altogether. (Full disclosure: Variety was offered a review unit of the iPhone X as well, but declined because we don’t review phones.)

However, usually, all of this happens in a small universe of tech publications, where everybody knows everybody. Apple deliberately chose to go outside of that circle this time around, which didn’t go over well with everyone. Well-known Apple blogger John Gruber took to his blog to express his displeasure about those early reviews, sarcastically calling the High Snobiety video bloggers “these insightful critics” and hurling an expletive at another early reviewer.

Not everyone agreed with that. New York magazine associate editor Brian Feldman for instance remarked on Twitter that “Gruber is grappling with being replaced by a new breed of online influencers in a mature way that involves insulting a kid.”

In the end, the move may be less about Apple picking favorable voices, and more about a shift in the power dynamics of media. A move away from traditional outlets, and to YouTubers with millions of devoted fans.