Thursday, July 15, 2010

Is Apple Repeating Others' Historical Failures?

For the past few years the world has been abuzz with the “breakthrough” device from Apple Computers known as the iPhone. Just last month they sold over 1 million of i’s latest incarnation known as iPhone 4. People stood in lines for hours just to be one of first to possess this miracle device. Yet as everyone knows, as soon as these phones hit the market complaints about it have quickly spread, all relating to the loss of signal and dropped calls.

I’m not going to go into the details as there are enough blog posts and news articles on it already, but I want to address how Apple is making the same mistakes companies have been doing throughout recent times.

Apple's first response was to blame the users for not holding the phone correctly. Excuse me Apple, do you actually have the unmitigated gall to tell users how they should hold their phone? Did you offer courses on phone holding as part of the purchase of this phone? What about all the usability testing Apple claims to do with all their devices? If it was truly an issue about how the phone is being held that surely would have come up during usability testing or did Apple only use left-handed people who would generally hold the phone in their right hand?

Next, they blamed a software glitch for reporting incorrect reception. Let’s see phone goes from 100% of the bars to Zero without the use moving. Oh yes, most certainly a software glitch.

There are now even reports of the iPhone overheating during the charging process and causing the phone to melt. Further throwing fuel into the fire, Apple just the other day started deleting all the negative comments from their user forums. Did they not think people would notice that their comments would be deleted? Do they not know that Google and other search engines have cached copy of the comments? Did they think the public would believe it was an accident or oversight like the Watergate tapes?

With this mountain of bad press the once irreproachable Apple is now facing a public relations disaster. Does this sound familiar? Earlier this year Toyota was faced with a problem regarding sticky accelerator pedals which they quickly blamed on incorrectly installed floor mats. We all know how that ended, and are waiting for the lawsuits to begin to find out what it really is going to cost Toyota.

I doubt Apple will face lawsuits over dropped calls (of course with the US legal system anything is possible); however the impact on Apple's brand and potential future sales of future iPhones is up in the air.

As we point out in the “Last Original Idea” those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. Apple may have thought they were infallible and they didn’t appear to have a contingency plan in place to deal with bad product press. Instead of looking at how others have successfully handled similar situations they went and repeaedt a classic mistake and blamed someone else (their customers).

All Apple had to do was look north of US boarder to Canada at how Maple Leaf Foods handled a listeriosis contaminated meat disaster where many people got sick and some even died. Maple Leaf Foods didn’t come out of the gate blaming stores or customers for how they handled the process meat. Instead they took ownership and launched a full recall and investigation as to the cause.

Once the cause was identified they took out full page ads in major newspapers, purchased air on both TV and radio all for the purpose of apologizing to the Canadian public. They stated the plant in question would remain shut until they could prevent it from happening again. It also pointed out that they were meeting all government regulations at the time, but those regulations proved insufficient and were now going to exceed them. This tactic proved successful and the company is back to virtually where it was.

While there is no proof (yet) that Apple knew ahead of time about the problems with the iPhone 4, their handling of it is proving to be a bigger disaster than the problems with the phone. People now know that Apple isn’t perfect (not that it ever was) and only time will tell what the total impact on their brand and future products will be.

1 comment:

  1. Bloomberg is reporting:

    "Last year, Ruben Caballero, a senior engineer and antenna expert, informed Apple’s management the device’s design may hurt reception, said the person, who is not authorized to speak on Apple’s behalf and asked not to be identified. A carrier partner also raised concerns about the antenna before the device’s June 24 release, according to another person familiar with the situation."

    "Apple’s industrial design team, led by Jonathan Ive, submitted several iPhone designs before Jobs and other executives settled on the bezel antenna, said the person familiar with the company’s design. Caballero, the antenna expert, voiced concern in early planning meetings that it might lead to dropped calls and presented a serious engineering challenge, the person said."