Apple Finally Buries Its Original Spirit and Moves On

Don’t take this as an rant against Apple. It isn’t. It’s just an acknowledgment that, in my view, Apple has finally and publicly admitted that like all corporate behemoths, it has moved on from the original vision on which it was founded. On Friday, Apple held a public funeral for that original spirit that attracted so many to the company and its products in the first place. The funeral was disguised as a press conference to address the “death grip” issues that plague the iPhone 4. Don’t get me wrong, Apple had thoroughly become the “take no prisoners” corporation it now is quite some time ago. But the press conference was the final shovel full of dirt being tamped on the grave of that whole “think different” thing, even though it was cleverly disguised.

Following the PR playbook, Apple did what it had to do during the press conference. It made good (free Bumpers, no re-stocking fees for returns) and it addressed the issue. But it did so by changing the language around the problem and deflecting those issues with the same deft skill that it creates the hysteria that greets any new Apple product these days. Love ’em or hate ’em, you have to admire the work and effort. After goofing considerably and uncharacteristically  in the initial response to the “death grip” issue, Apple regrouped and came back swinging. Let’s look at a few specifics.

Antennagate” is now the term for this entire episode. Funny, but there are very, very, very few mentions of “Antennagate” prior to the press conference that I can find. Apple effectively got everyone to move away from the more abundantly used phrase “death grip” by having Steve Jobs repeat “antennagate” over and over. The semiotics attached to that phrase help transfer the scandal away from the actual technology problem and over to the “overblown” coverage. Clever.

We love our customers.” Whenever a large corporation starts spouting “we love our customers” you know that what they really mean is “we love our shareholders.” Sure, Apple works hard to make “each and every customer happy,” a business can’t survive if it doesn’t. But, the reality here is that Apple, like any other public corporation pushing a product extends that love only as far as it affects the bottom line and market cap.

The problem is an industry problem. That may be true. But Apple has made it more true. Some, (especially the other companies Apple highlighted) are saying Apple is not playing fair here, and to Apple’s benefit, no one is going to reveal their own methods to refute this. This may indeed come back to take another bite out of Apple’s logo, if anyone or any company has the chutzpah to step up and challenge Apple and so it was the riskiest rabbit pulled out of the hat on Friday. But it may also be setting the stage down the road for Apple to continue to say we’re working on fixing the problem and others aren’t. At least the pictures of its super secret testing areas look cooler than anything else anyone else has been willing to show. That was a clever bit of theatrics.

When you’re on top everyone tries to tear you down. I love the sympathy card. Add this to “we love our customers so much we built them Apple Stores” and Steve Jobs was practically begging for an A for effort. The sad fact of life, that Steve Jobs knows all too well, is that once your reach the top of the hill, you’re an easier target than when you’re climbing it. History proves that we love a winner in all walks of life, but only so that we can knock them down a few pegs, and watch them take some knocks. I don’t know why we have this in our makeup, but we do. History, and mythology, also proves that those with too much arrogance someday will take a tumble. Ask Icarus.

Statistics. Apple trotted out some interesting numbers. But, anyone with any sense knows that you can make numbers mean what you want them to. There’s no denying that 3 million units sold is huge. But, if you parse the language on that 0.55% of calls complaining, or the 1.7% of returns, you can bet there are other numbers that didn’t get reported. Do they matter? Who knows. Apple took a moderate risk by saying that it responds to data, but it also gave itself some cover. If the data starts going the wrong way, then Apple can cover any future changes it makes due to this issue buy coming back to this statement. There’s nothing wrong with picking and choosing your numbers and data points. Corporations, governments, the media, etc…. do that all the time. We drink it in at the water cooler, and the numbers become truth.

So, in my view, the event was handled with the consummate skill of a funeral director who has laid many a body to rest. The family can now move on with some closure, even though some nagging questions about how the deceased met an untimely end still exist. But the real impact of this episode won’t be known until Apple’s next product release or a few product releases down the road, when we see if any lingering residue sticks. The telling point will be if journalists and bloggers who get granted access bring up the “antennagate” issue when they probe features of the next big thing Apple unveils. I’m betting that they don’t, as memories are short things. Apple is too.

As for me, I’m basically content with the iPhone 4. The Bumper case, so far, has eliminated my “death grip” issues. The iPhone 4 is a good phone and one that I’m content to use at the moment. It has a flaw, (maybe several) but then most of the other hardware I’ve used in my lifetime has had flaws as well. Since this episode has become such a hot potato, I’ve been shopping around and seriously looking at other options, mostly in the Android vein. I haven’t found anything yet that makes me want to jump platforms, and the reasons for that are the subject of another post or two. I long ago gave up on seeking perfection, just like I long ago gave up on expecting companies to do anything beyond what the PR/Marketing mavens and lawyers tell them to do. In my book, anyone who expects a public company to do anything else, needs to, well… think different. But then that, like all things in the end, was just a passing fad.

28 Comments

  1. Olukayode

    07/18/2010 at 8:47 am

    Very good and objective article. You are not like jkontherun who salivates on anything apple, he has completely lost his objectivity.

    Reply

  2. GoodThings2Life

    07/18/2010 at 8:56 am

    The whole think different campaign is why I haven’t liked Apple for the past 15 years. In elementary school I had access to and enjoyed playing on Apple IIe and earlier Macintosh computers. Truly wonderful at the time– innovative and different and it wasn’t IBM PS/2 and Compaq computers of the day; but then over the years they became the same flat, boring, cloned creations that we see today… that one-size-fits-all mentality. I realized that it was really Steve on the screen in the commercial, and the Mac users were the ones staring at the screen. I’ve always wanted to be the person running down the aisle with a sledgehammer (well, a bit more masculine, but you get the point, lol)!

    I literally had an argument with a Mac user a few weeks ago, and they said– I kid you not, “Why would I need more choices? Apple gives me everything I need.” Words I have NEVER uttered about Microsoft, and I was absolutely stunned by that mentality. I was speechless. I had to walk away, because I literally got a migraine from thinking about it.

    Reply

    • A Site Reg

      07/19/2010 at 7:52 am

      GT2L, I’ve been reading your comments over the past few months and have gone from really enjoying your input to the site over the years, to getting a bit fed up with your constant Apple bashing and sniping. If someone says ‘Apple gives me everything I need’, why would you not accept that at face value? Clearly we all have different needs and you as an MS tech have your own ones.

      Many of your Apple comments have been barely above that of a troll and it’s a real shame as you’ve always been one of the more intelligent and positive commenters.

      I find your admission that you have had this 15 year dislike of Apple and think their designs are ‘boring’ to be really odd tbh. They’re just a Company, no better or worse than any other ‘enormocorp’, and I don’t understand how you equate fairly decent, consistant design to being boring? And for a grown man to ‘hate’ a certain tech company. Really?

      Also it is clear that this antenna issue has been blown out of all proportion with ridiculous ‘opinions’ from all parties.

      When did we all stop enjoying the amazing technology we have today and start going off on one about who uses what and why, and criticising them for their choices? It’s a very sad state of affairs and the gadget blogs over the past few weeks have been an embarrassment of sniping, rudeness, name calling, personal attacks and FUD.

      Also, minus 20 internet points for the unnecessary use of ‘literally’. Twice! ;-)

      Peace.

      Reply

      • acerbic

        07/19/2010 at 11:52 am

        “They’re just a Company, no better or worse than any other ‘enormocorp'”

        That is incorrect. Apple and Steve Jobs use lies and propaganda much more stubbornly and aggressively than any other electronics manufacturer, as demonstrated by relentlessly insisting that the problem with the iPhone 4 antenna is the same as with any other cellphone when anybody who has ever handled any radio device with an exposed metal antenna knows that actually touching the metal causes quite a different phenomenon than holding your hands near or around it.

        Granted, if you were to compare Apple to companies like BP or Halliburton, you could say they are no better or worse…

        Reply

        • TabletTeacher

          07/19/2010 at 1:45 pm

          There you go with your “Conspiracy Theory”. Come up with REAL proof that they have lied. At least there wasn’t the usual “Fanboy or Applecrap” quote you usually spout. That is an improvement.

          However, come up with REAL proof they knew about it. That is all speculation. If a sampling of people are having issues, that is far from saying ALL have problems. I know a few people who have had no problems with their iPhone 4. In addition, I have a friend who loaded the new OS on her 3G phone and had no problems.

          So, in an essence, don’t waste our time with your diatribe unless you intend to prove it.

          Reply

          • acerbic

            07/19/2010 at 2:31 pm

            Where exactly did I say anything about “they knew about it”???????? You seem to have some problems…

          • Eprime

            07/20/2010 at 7:40 am

            You said: “However, come up with REAL proof they knew about it. That is all speculation.”

            I am a validation engineer. I can tell you two things about their knowledge of problem(s): A) the knew about the “death-grip” problem; B) if they did not know, then they are doing an absolutely terrible engineering job (the part of engineering call validation and verification).

            I worked for Intel producing their top-end processors. Every processor has billions of parts. They all need to work perfectly (defined as 99.999999% perfect, literally). Intel cannot afford to recall products, so they need to get it to a level of perfection that no consumer electronics, or software company (or airplane mfgr) can come close to.

            They had their equivalent of this problem back in ’95 (the infamous FDIV bug) when they released a processor that had a problem. They knew of the problem before it was released. They had a fix in place for the next production of the chip (even before the 1st production line product came to market). BTW, that problem had no real-world affect on anything (unlike the ‘death grip’ problem), for anybody, except for 1 in 10-million customers.

            So,if Apple is not aware of their problems, they are, without doubt or question, doing an extremely poor job of engineering, and that demonstrates a lack of care for it’s customers. Of course, I believe this for some time about most of their products.

  3. TabletTeacher

    07/18/2010 at 9:21 am

    Great Article Warner.
    What many others on the board are forgetting in their total “bashing” of Apple and its approach to computing is that this CLOSED policy is made the machines more stable.

    It is more difficult for someone to create a malicious program to attack the OS. Furthermore, the end user experience is much better when you think of restoring a system. You can take a set of System DVD’s from ANY Mac on the same OS and get your system up and running. Try that with ANY PC. (You have different drivers, hard-drives, memory, sound, etc…..on the SAME model…say from Dell.) I personally have had less problems with my MacBook Pro in the 1 1/2 years that I’ve owned it than I did with my Gateway and Dell computers.

    As for iPhone, there is a flaw, as you stated. I think they offered a “fix” and if people want to return their phones, then so be it. But, from what I’ve seen it is a minor inconvenience. Any smartphone these days will have flaws of some sort in regards to what their owners need. When all is said and done, it will be up to the owner if they can live with it.

    It would be nice for a change to have people see this issue with an “Open Mind” and not an Apple Conspiracy.

    Reply

    • Nameless

      07/21/2010 at 1:56 pm

      “You can take a set of System DVD’s from ANY Mac on the same OS and get your system up and running. Try that with ANY PC. (You have different drivers, hard-drives, memory, sound, etc…..on the SAME model…say from Dell.)”

      I don’t know how this was handled in the Classic Mac OS era, but gray Mac OS X discs bundled with Macs as restore media most certainly do not work that way. They only boot on whatever Mac model they were bundled with, though you can get around this limitation somewhat for installation if you use FireWire Target Disk Mode.

      As for drivers: NOT FUN. I’ve been through my fair share of Windows driver finagling to eliminate or at least minimize many small quirks that make everything run less than perfect, such as non-native resolution scaling, sound artifacts, pressure sensitivity, etc. It’s especially irritating in notebooks/tablets where I have less control over specific hardware configurations than I do desktops.

      But with Macs, it’s either that it just works…or it doesn’t work at all, because there are no drivers. There may not be many peripherals out there without OS X drivers nowadays, but they are out there.

      Reply

  4. Joe

    07/18/2010 at 10:07 am

    Warner – Great piece! I still run into professionals who use Apple computers exclusively because of that “think different” mentality, which in all honesty a large corporation just can’t sustain in the long term.

    TabletTeacher – It sounds like it’s been a while since you’ve owned a Windows computer, most built in the last several years come with a recovery partition on the hard drive so you don’t need ANY DVD to restore. Sounds like an improvement over borrowing one from a friend to me…

    Reply

    • TabletTeacher

      07/18/2010 at 10:31 am

      Yes, I still have a PC at home Sony Vaio and it does have the “Recovery Partition”. It is not all it’s cracked up to be either. I still had to download all drivers, etc. when using it.

      My main point is that I’ve used both OS and as of now prefer what Apple is doing with their MacBook Pro line. I’ve had a lot less hassle, crashes, etc. than I did on MS OS.

      I think the iPhone thing is a big deal, but at the same time being overblown. Plenty of WinM phones have issues, etc. Either way, Apple is offering returns for people unwilling to deal with the issues. I personally like the Android OS for phone vs. the iPhone, but as for a laptop I’m staying with the “closed management” experience as it is more stable in my situation.

      Reply

    • dstrauss

      07/19/2010 at 5:26 am

      I am a long time Windows user (Win7 is the best yet) but I have to say that recovery partitions are the WORST IDEA manufacturers and Microsoft ever came up with. Even “recovery dvd’s” are a joke, but at least they survice your average hard disk failure. I can’t tell you the number of users who NEVER burn their recovery DVD’s from teh partition, and set dead in the water when uncle hard drive starts pushing up daisies. I know it is a piracy issue as well, but give the user what they paid for, a complete set of OS disks and base drivers.

      Rant off…

      Reply

  5. Ace

    07/18/2010 at 10:15 am

    What surprises me is that people are still surprised by this. I mean, most of us could write down a list of complaints about Microsoft, but that’s because most of us know Microsoft well and have used their products for decades. A lot of people, especially iPhone buyers, have no idea what Apple is all about or what their history with their own loyal customers has been. However, just because you’re ignorant about a topic doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or isn’t important. Are these people just being emotionally enthusiastic in making their purchases rather than well-informed purchasers? It’s not like this is a new thing. All we have now is new people making old complaints.

    So the question remains: Why are we still making such a big deal about Apple’s stance against its own fan base? Let’s be perfectly clear. Apple is no better or worse than any other tech company. They’re all just different. With each, there are certain tradeoffs that you have to accept. There are specific pains that you’re going to have to endure to enjoy their specific pleasures. With Apple, this customer antagonism is just part of it. It comes with the territory of signing over your computing experience to their micro-managed “walled garden”. Few consumers have fewer rights than those who buy Apple products. However, every vendor that promotes a heavily proprietary solution is banking on vendor lock in. It’s part of the business model, but it cuts both ways. Sometimes you get seriously burned, and there’s nothing that you can do it. It doesn’t make Apple bad or wrong. It just makes you ignorant if you didn’t know or unlucky if you did know and got burned anyway.

    As others have pointed out, I think a big part of the problem is consumer ignorance. It seems like people who haven’t actually been attached to the Apple platform for the last 20 years seem to believe that Apple is in fact still the platform for the “rebellious” or “creative” computer users. Of course, this is the 80s or 90s, and that’s not true anymore; all of their popular products are gadgets for content consumers. However, if you flee to Apple with no experience with its history and believe it to be an ideal computing haven in which to lick the perceived wounds inflicted on you by other companies, then you are headed for a giant tantrum and a soiled diaper. I mean, there’s a reason why at the same time iPod-fascinated, mainstream consumers were making the “switch” over to Apple computers, many high-profile, influential figures in the tech world were fleeing from the platform because they were fed up with this very same mistreatment.

    Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what your personal preferences are in terms of technology companies, we don’t do ourselves or anybody else a favor when we pretend like the bad parts of a company (Apple, Google, Microsoft, HP, etc.) don’t exist or don’t matter. I think we’re all better off if we try to be a little more educated and a little more responsible. To that end, I applaud your article for implying that the latest episode of Apple “under-treating” its customers is exactly that, the latest episode. It’s not a bump in an otherwise smooth road; it’s the road.

    Reply

  6. Chad Essley

    07/18/2010 at 10:22 am

    Well spoken. I’ve purchased the Iphone twice and returned it, moved to Android and love the freedom and flexibility it offers. And now for a C. Essley anti-apple rage rant ™ and accompanying cartoon..

    :-D

    (Just kidding)

    I really don’t like the direction or tone Apple has taken in recent years. App store content censorship, banning flash as a whole on their mobile platform, or the iphone os “upgrades” that end up slowing older phones to a crawl each and every time. It gets a bit tiresome having someone stand on top of a mountain, handing down their version of perfection, and expecting you to just eat everything they feed you without question.

    Reply

  7. Philip Seyfi

    07/18/2010 at 10:29 am

  8. Paul Harrigan

    07/18/2010 at 10:43 am

    The irony of Apple’s 1984 ad has struck me ever since I saw it the one time it ran.

    Apple has always been a dictatorship. The argument, made this time by TabletTeacher, of stability has been the argument for dictatorship for millenia — that was the reason for them in ancient Rome and it is the reason for them today.

    Even in 1984, the Mac was a black and white machine (like the big brother picture), while IBM introduced its first color monitor that same month in 1984. IBM may have been the evil empire in the corporate IT world of the time, but its open PC architecture — it even published the source code of its BIOS, in many ways becoming a precursor of today’s open source movement — was the true revolution of the early ’80s. (Of course, once the corporate IT part of IBM saw the value of little independent division down in then remote Boca Raton, they took it over, but that often is the fate of those seeking freedom.)

    I have nothing against Apple. I use an Iphone. I probably will buy an Ipad soon. Apple has been a revolutionary company. However, its revolution has always been about replacing one dictator with another.

    Reply

  9. Benz145

    07/18/2010 at 10:44 am

    Great article Warner.

    Reply

  10. The Mind Doctor

    07/18/2010 at 12:57 pm

    Great piece Warner!

    I agree that essentially, taking account the whole experience, no phone can beat the iPhone 4 at the moment. May be at a feature list competition, but not on the whole experience. My search for an alternative has led me too to explore Android. Sadly, I am left wanting (for my needs).

    I currently use the BB bold, and like it very much for my work needs. I previously owned the iphone 3gs, couple of windows mobile devices, Nokia E series , and Palm Treo. I miss my 3gs the most.

    I like my BB. It’s true multitasking is great. I dont know why but the autotext feature is something I will miss the most if I switched back to the iphone.

    I suppose Warner is right. There is no perfect phone.

    Reply

  11. DNel

    07/18/2010 at 1:31 pm

    Am I missing something?? In most of the comments, the people are blurring the difference between hardware and software. Isn’t the iPhone4’s antenna problem a hardware problem? I know the displaying of the signal strength was a software problem, but isn’t the real problem the physical location of the antenna? Other articles have implied that Apple knew of the design flaw and went ahead anyway. This isn’t something a software patch or OS upgrade can fix. I’m glad that Apple is providing bumpers, as they should. Comparing OS’s, apps, etc. I think is a little off base for discussing the stated antenna problem. Thanks Warner for a well put together story.

    Reply

  12. Paul

    07/18/2010 at 4:03 pm

    Runnng on Android here and the choices I have found on my android are not really big and nice choices, not to mention my phone has to be rooted hence my warranty is voided to have these choices. Also hate the big lack of quality (apps for once) an open system offers. So yes, a closed environment is somewhat a better option in my opinion.

    Also the death grip can be applied to many phones (my nexus loosing wifi strength and signal when held horizontally.) Planning to get an iPhone as soon as its available in Malta and i’ve sworn i wouldnt get another PC either.

    Reply

  13. Mickey Segal

    07/18/2010 at 6:33 pm

    I don’t think that the switch to the term “antennagate” counts as a victory for Apple. It is too evocative of Watergate. And in the same press conference, Apple referred to the silent majority who like Apple products and don’t protest, an argument made famous by Nixon.

    Jobs is old enough to remember Watergate. Why is he making analogies to Nixon? It doesn’t make sense to me.

    Reply

  14. Greg

    07/18/2010 at 8:39 pm

    Great piece, Warner. Can always count on you for some thoughtful and insightful analysis in the wake of the news.

    Reply

  15. tivoboy

    07/19/2010 at 1:44 pm

    Great article, you must have had to WALK AWAY a couple times while writing it though. :-)

    Mine is going back this week. I MAY have a really bad copy, but even WITH the case I find that while driving or in poor coverage areas I either cannot get data or drop calls MUCH more than I used to. This doesn’t work for me. I am CERTAIN there will be some v1.1 attempts to make it better over the coming months, I’ll wait for that product to make an appearance.

    That said, I think APPLE is the one here doing it wrong. I think their response is going to hurt them in this case more than help them. If they lose or fail to capture just 1% of the potential iphone 4 sales, they will have lost the revenue (profit actually) battle. I think that is definitely possible based on people with whom I have spoken to, people who are going to return the device and those who were going to GET the device but now won’t. In the grand scheme of things, it sure isn’t going to bring them down, but that shouldn’t be the point. Just WAIT till we get some anecdotal story about someone who was on the phone with 911 and the call dropped, and then they couldn’t get through again. GAME OVER! at that point.

    I’ve been an apple CUSTOMER for over 30 years now, and this is the first time that I am really not satisfied with the product or the companies response.

    Reply

  16. stilwed

    07/19/2010 at 4:46 pm

    Great article Warner. But I wouldn’t say that “think different” was a passing fad. I think it was almost an essential part of that early creativity. Unfortunately (or not depending on your point of view) not everything scales. I’ve always thought that Steve Jobs came back from NeXT with a little less idealism and a little more business savvy. The reality is that most of us have benefited more from a successful Apple than we did from the idealist Apple. The new Apple realized that success required compromise. The purists hate it but it’s a fact. As long as the Apple’s and Google’s keep driving the industry forward I’m happy they’re successful. Personally I can work around the mistakes.

    Reply

  17. Tai-Pan

    07/20/2010 at 2:58 am

    For me its not the products, its the corporate culture that is turning me off Apple.

    Antennaegate is an example of a product having a problem… which all companies do… but Apple’s solution and handling of it seem to be indicative of an attitude of somewhere between lack of respect and outright disdain for their own customers and potential customers.

    The buck stops with Steve Jobs and the solution they are offering they could have done so the first time the problem was even mentioned, but he turned it into the fiasco it is with his suggestion that his customers change the way they hold their phone… from their its spiraled out of control.

    That’s Apple’s fault, they should acknowledge it, solve it and move on. The rest of this 3 ring circus just makes them look bad and those pictures of the anechoic chambers are cool but an insulting non-solution. We’re not interested in Apple’s testing procedures. We want a solution.

    Reply

  18. Eprime

    07/20/2010 at 8:02 am

    A good article. You have stated much of the same opinions that I have been saying. When I first read about the term “Attennagate” from the “Jobs” PR conference, I thought “brilliant!” They are very deliberately attempting to steer people away from the term “iPhone Death Grip” – Steve at his best. Then to say, “see, everybody else has the same problems”, was again, “brilliant”. It is not accurate, but it is PR-wizardry at its P.T. Barnum best.

    Also, thank you for publicizing the “1984” commercial analogy. The Apple of 1984 would have mocked the Apple of 2010, without a doubt. I was recently telling my wife the same kind of thing. It would be funny to see an Android phone company use that “1984” footage to mock Apple.

    Finally, my best friend worked at NeXT as a robotic engineer for the production line. When the mfg equipment showed up in “White”, Jobs had a tantrum on the mfg floor, and demanded that it be sent back, and replaced with one in black. They did. When my friend was showing me the “line”, I recalled seeing two exposed hot-rails, and I commented “that cannot be safe to have hot-rails exposed like that? Where is, at least, the yellow-and-black tape, or a warning sign?” My friend replied, “Steve didn’t like the way it looked, and told us to remove it.”

    Reply

  19. everbrave

    07/20/2010 at 9:05 am

    First, we all must admit that the ideal “efficient” market; where no marketing is necessary but objective representation of the product is given by the producer; does not exist.
    Having acknowledged that, let’s take it like that “if I don’t like it, I don’t buy it”. So, the market decides and the competition should be happy about that. May be Apple comes back with a better solution to this or other technical problem and that’s how technological developments are.

    On a side note, one can always minimise the risk by sticking to “proven” solutions; the presence of an issue is an indication that Apple has not done that; and that’s good because it speeds up the development.

    Reply

  20. tivoboy

    07/21/2010 at 8:13 am

    sniff sniff. Iphone 4 going back today. Too many dropped calls EVEN with the bumper. I’ll be the one to “reassess” in September.

    Reply

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