Categories: EditorialsHardwareMobile

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.

Warner Crocker

Warner Crocker is a professional theatre director, producer and playwright and also a Tablet PC enthusiast. He is also a Microsoft MVP for Tablet PCs. Send email to Warner. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+

View Comments

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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."

  • 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.

  • sniff sniff. Iphone 4 going back today. Too many dropped calls EVEN with the bumper. I'll be the one to "reassess" in September.

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