Wednesday, July 14

Causing Commotion: Apple Made One Mistake

Sooner or later, it happens to every company. And for Apple, it's not the first time. The Newton was a disaster in 1987, even if the concept has somewhat redeemed itself as being the possible first step toward developing the iPhone and iPad.

The challenge this time around is barely a blip by comparison. The iPhone 4 reportedly has a problem with the antenna design. Or, maybe it's a problem with the reception reporting formula. Or, maybe it's all in how you hold it.

There has always been some push and pull with Apple. For every five loyalists joining the Cult of Apple, it creates one, um, Whig. And today, the Whigs feel pretty proud plugging Consumer Reports' call for a recall. Despite having the highest rating in its class, the consumer watchdogs want a fix.

There is also the drama about Apple forums, which have always maintained a strict policy that they are for tech solutions and not customer complaints. (The policy is unpopular, but understandable. When I search for solutions, I don't need gripes.) And then there is drama over the small stock dip yesterday, with Apple shares already recovering.

The Public Relations Misstep Was Speaking Too Fast.

Apple clearly mismanaged public relations this time around, giving those who want to make mountains an opportunity to do so. The 30-day return policy, software problem admission, and home remedies don't seem to be enough to appeal to the media, even though there are people who are reporting they wouldn't trade in their phones because their reception has never been better. Most of this could have been avoided had Apple and Jobs, specifically, not spoken to soon.

And yet, the Whigs, if you will, seem very loud in comparison to a quieter majority without issue. In fact, there are enough unaffected people that have some people wondering whether the problem is overblown or not. But this, unlike other issues, makes for a much more dangerous game.

On one hand, Apple could recall the product (probably without an immediate replacement if it is a hardware design flaw). The cost could be between $900 million and $1.5 billion. On the other hand, no one has put a price tag on potential brand damage should the "arrogant" moniker eventually mean something. Is there any middle ground? Maybe.

• Apple could readdress the issue, specifically addressing Consumer Reports but not defensively.
• Apple could recap all the fixes to date, including a reinforcement that people can return the phone (30-day limit).
• Apple could give consumers the option once a solution beyond rubber Band-Aids becomes available.
• And, if there a hardware problem, it could offer a trade-in option on a new release rather than a recall.

In the meantime, there is no denying that people are still buying the product. That has to mean something. Most people don't dismiss an avalanche of attacks and run out to buy a product. But with the Apple iPhone, that seems to be the case. (Side note: You don't need an influence measure to see that all those people talking smack about Apple have almost none.)

The Greater Public Relations Landscape Around Apple.

Most, but not all, of Apple's problems can be likened to people being obsessed about whether Steve Jobs can be likened to the character in The Fountainhead or the one in Heart of Darkness. Specifically, he could be the embodiment of the human spirit and his struggle represents the triumph of individualism over collectivism. Or, he could be a god among natives embarked on brutal raids across cyberspace.

Personally, I lean toward the former depiction. While most media is reporting doom and gloom for Apple over the iPhone 4 as if this is the first time Apple ever encountered a problem, the reality is that this once underdog company has been attacked every time it has launched a new product. Seriously. Have you ever seen a company generate more "I spoke too soon" retractions over everything they've ever launched? It's not possible, unless they really are making products that inspire.

Compared to other companies, which seem to have piles of problems with every launch, Apple is still miles ahead. It can stay that way too, but it might have to offer a trade-in option in an effort to minimize the Whig wackiness.

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