Is this what’s changed?

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All through the twitter coverage of Steve Jobs’ press conference, I wondered what would have happened if this issue had emerged with the media as it was in 2000 or 1990. Users may have noticed the antenna issue. Random ones may have brought the issue to the attention of media outlets but it would have taken more than 22 days for it to have become a story. In that time, Apple could have adjusted the problem and also, given away free cases — not as an apology as they have now — but as a promotion. The marketing issue would never have emerged.

But that didn’t happen. Thanks to the Internet, the problem flared up in 22 minutes (I’m being poetic here). It was too quick for the company to react with a counter-strategy by stealth while that issue simmered in the media for all that time. Had Apple done what they had done to react today — namely, a fix of the algorithm and free cases — without anything else, their reputation would be damaged. The Internet changed what they had to do.

And what they did was provide information. They told us about their own investigations, data from AT&T and so on. Pretty much all of the information is verifiable and the verification process will be public. But not to admit fault was no longer an option for Apple. And not to be ahead of the game — to some extent — on data provision was not an option for them. The new media has brought with it, the end of stealth and patience as a business strategy in the face of a quality issue.

But what is interesting is that their competitors are now on the back foot. They were silent and now Apple has challenged them with their own antenna issues that others will verify. In the past month, they could have come out with this first and preempted Apple but they did not. And what is more, I reckon iPhone cases sell more than other smart phones. I’ve never see a Blackberry with a case. What bodes for them now? I think a bit of ‘raising rivals costs’ has occurred.

[Update: It looks like the great Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) agrees with this.]

3 Responses to "Is this what’s changed?"
  1. This story was brewing as I covered product recalls in Product Management. Apple tried bluffing by misdirecting attention to other sources, e.g. the customer isn’t holding it correctly or the infamous and spurious assertion about faulty algorithms.
    Anybody with an electronic engineering background understands that Apple’s external antenna design is ‘problematical’ (to use a tactful term). The human hand is conductive. It can and sometimes will attenuate a signal. Based on an article by Bloomberg, it seems that Apple’s engineers understood this issue during product development. Other design, production or marketing trade-offs may have gotten in the way.
    As for other competitors, so what? More misdirection by claiming that the other kids do it too. (It is Apple’s promotional machine now claiming other manufacturers have the same issue. Hardly an objective evaluation, even if true.)
    I remember something in the class about corporate arrogance, lack of communication, and not harping about customer behavior as lessons learned with respect to product recalls.

  2. It’s interesting the way this issue has played out. It seems the users have gotten the upper hand, holding the power so to speak. Apple were slow on the uptake, but i believe they’ve handled it well. Curiously, i didn’t hear any reports of the signal / bar loss being connected with dropped calls.

    It’s strange that Apple would make such a simple error in the design – after all, conductivity is a very basic factor in electronic design…

  3. Refer to point about arrogance. Apple fans are particularly loyal but you have to love the irony of a mobile phone that can’t hold connections reliably – sacrificing the product ‘core’ for all those whimsical enhancements

    Interestingly, their upgrade problems with OS4 for the current model has hit the news. (My wife lost all phone contacts and photos following the upgrade, and current apps run like a dog.)

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