Thursday, 21 October 2010
Stephen Fry is like everyone’s favourite uncle. A national treasure ™. The uber-gadget fan. But there’s one thing he’s not: a tech prophet. As he bounded onstage yesterday at London’s Windows Phone 7 event, I couldn’t help thinking: oh not again. I know he just can’t resist the lure of the shiny new kit, it’s an understandable feeling – everyone here at Electricpig HQ has experienced it. But Stephen Fry is turning into a PR tool in every sense of the word, rolled out by firms to deploy quips and that’s just a crying shame…
You can’t dispute Stephen Fry’s credentials as a gadget fanatic. He regularly rocks multiple phones, he (along with Douglas Adams) was among the first people in Britain to buy a Mac. He has been a fanboy since before the term meant anything. His tech columns for The Guardian showed a depth of knowledge and a geeky passion that would make many a tech journalist blush. But it makes us sad to see him out there used as a stamp of approval for Windows Phone 7.
Windows Phone 7 does look good. Our final judgements will be reserved for our forthcoming reviews (let us know what you want from the HTC HD7 review by the way). But cuddling Stephen Fry to itself and using his profile to sell its new OS is a smart PR trick from Microsoft and one that he shouldn’t fall for. It’s mortgaging his profile to a conglomerate that hasn’t earned it. Do an ad voiceover for cash, sure. But turn up for free to burble platitudes which will help sell handsets? There’s really no need.
When Stephen Fry says things like “I have felt enormous pleasure using this phone,” and “Microsoft [are] doing something they can be proud of”, he’s not making a considered review. Stood on that stage, he’s firing out the unfettered enthusiasm of a gadget fan given special treatment, VIP access to brand new tech. It’s a risk that all tech journalists face: the companies are so nice to you, so want to please you, it’s a struggle to remain objective, to see what most users will experience.
Stephen Fry should obviously be allowed to write about Apple. He’s a great writer, a man of phenomenal intellect, and that usually makes for a great read. But to put his name on a review byline as Time did with his iPad review is deceptive. Stephen Fry is great friends with Jonathan Ive, the man who designed the iPad, he is given special access to Steve Jobs at keynotes. When it comes to Apple, he cannot be a journalist, he’s an acolyte.
When a product was designed by one of your friends, when you have bought every product that Apple has ever released in the UK, you are understandably incapable of being impartial. If one of my mates created a product, would I be able to see the flaws or even ask the right questions? I can’t be sure that I would.
Stephen Fry has an opportunity to do something special. He’s a trusted voice for people who don’t trust technology. Popping up at numerous events evangelising for products (whether paid or not) undermines that. Stephen, I’m not here to hate but seeing you as unpaid pitchman for Microsoft just disappoints me. The same goes for shilling for Steve Jobs or hopping into bed with HP. We share your love of tech but don’t let the tech firms fool you: they’re tapping into your brand to buoy up their own stock. You don’t need to help them with that.
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