Reflections on Hissgate

Last Saturday — September 17 — I noticed something as my iPhone 7 Plus was completing a restore from iCloud backup:

After picking the device up from my desk, it was clear the sounds are coming from back of the phone, possibly from the CPU. It seems to get worse if the iPhone is under load. It’s loud enough to be heard even if the iPhone is just sitting on the table. I don’t have to put it up to my ear to hear it.

In addition to the short blog post, I posted a clip of the sound to YouTube.

Before I recorded the sound coming from my new iPhone, I searched Twitter for people complaining of the issue, and hadn’t seen much. I posted the video and blog post on a Saturday morning thinking that people who were experiencing the same thing I was would be able to find it and feel a little less crazy about calling AppleCare.

What happened next was … weird.

Very quickly, several Apple news sites picked up the article. Most simply posted the video and recounted my story and left any opinions out of their posts.

Some people began tweeting they had noticed the same noise from their new phone. Others blogged that they could hear it, but only if they held their iPhone up to their ear.

Some sites reported that the sound was completely normal, and that all devices make it. While coil whine — the probable cause of the noise I heard — is something I have come across before, I’ve never heard it on the many, many iOS devices I’ve handled over the years.

Others suggested I was exaggerating or fabricating the story entirely.

This writing didn’t line up with the experience I had when I called AppleCare after publishing my post. My call was quickly escalated to a supervisor, who sent me to my local Apple Store to replace the phone. They agreed that hearing a whine or hiss from an iPhone sitting on a desk was unusual and unacceptable.

I’d like to clarify that I never claimed that the iPhone 7 Plus had some widespread or even critical flaw; I simply reported on what my device was doing.

Last weekend, the Internet didn’t care about my intentions. The video was going viral and it didn’t matter how comfortable I was about it or how fair the replies were.

As someone who reports on Apple here and on my podcast, I’m not interested in painting Apple in a good or bad light. I’m not in the business of being an Apple cheerleader, or bashing them. My job is to report and comment on my experience with their products and the ecosystem that surrounds them.

By the next day, the video and blog post were really taking off. The video was getting hundreds of thousands of views.

(As of this writing, it’s approaching 1.5 million views.)

Here are the my YouTube channel’s stats for the month that really show the impact it had:

YouTube Stats

By Saturday night and into Sunday, I felt completely overwhelmed. A 13-second video that I recorded and uploaded in just a few minutes was suddenly bigger than any other single piece of content I’d ever created.

By this point, almost every big tech site had written up the story. Popular YouTubers were making videos about it. My Twitter replies were a dumpster fire of people accusing me of trying to stir up trouble for Apple for my own personal gain. Most importantly, I felt pretty beat up by those who had rushed to the “other side” of the story.

I took Tweetbot off my phone for the weekend and turned off YouTube comment notification emails.

At this point, I briefly thought about taking the video down just to avoid any future attention. I decided not to for a pretty simple, but important, reason: I stand by the reporting.

My iPhone 7 Plus was acting in an unusual way, and I felt the need to share that. While some didn’t react very well to the story, it didn’t change the facts.

As uncomfortable as it may have been to see the story spin up into a thing, it didn’t change the situation I was in. I continued to update the post with my interactions with AppleCare, and just tried to avoid the avalanche of feedback it was getting.

On Monday, the story crossed from the tech media to the mainstream. I was contacted by Good Morning America. The NBC Nightly News did a story that my grandmother saw. I got emails from people saying they had seen the story in papers and on the news from the United Kingdom to the Netherlands and even Dubai.

Since then, things have quieted down. People who had a similar experience are having their devices replaced. My replacement phone is here and is silent. As far as I know, Apple didn’t make a comment on the story, even to me. Unlike Antennagate, Hissgate seems to have been short-lived.

I’m glad it is over. It’s not because I am afraid it damaged Apple’s brand, or my relationship with Apple. My job is to report on my experiences using its products and living in its ecosystem, and that may put me — and many others — at odds with the company from time to time.

While it was wild to see that view counter climb so high, it came with a price. Seeing the replies from people who just wanted to jab at me and reading articles that took my honest accounting of what happened and twisting it to defend Apple at my expense was hurtful.

The whole thing was just … exhausting. I’m happy it’s already out of the news cycle. I don’t regret reporting my experience, but had I known things were going to get so far out of hand, I’m not sure I would have done it.