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.]