An Apple By Any Other Name…

People following my Facebook status updates already know that I finally got my mitts on an iPhone 4. No yellow spots on the screen. No reception issues that I didn’t have before. Using a Bumper, but that’s because it’s best “thin” lightweight case I’ve seen so far. One tiny scratch on the front already – before I left the house, in fact – and I have no idea how it got there… but with all things iPhone, you never notice the scratches once the screen is on and I really hate losing screen crispness with a screen protector. I’ll just resell it in 11.5 months as “relatively used”.

In other news, I’m watching the “reception issue” fallout with a good amount of amusement because it’s beginning to effect the stock price, which I know is going to confuse Apple’s leadership. You see, Apple is handling this PR problem just like they have every other one – “ignore it because we are right and people will forgive us! – but the difference this time is that the public they are expecting forgiveness from isn’t the same that they are used to.

Ho boy, is that a mistake.

The first thing that popped as a PR problem for me was the complete debacle that was the launch event. Part of that is Apple’s fault, for not coming out with their official policy, but the rest of the issues were AT&T. Because Apple wasn’t clear about their policies, it allows AT&T to blame Apple for contract issues or inconsistencies… sure, AT&T sets all the policies, but Apple let them play this game. Either way, there was a lot of chaos around pre-order day that extended to launch day and beyond.

The next thing that popped as a PR problem is the “reception issue”. Some people have it and some people don’t. That either means that some people have an unusual amount of lead in their hands or some handsets are defective. It is a known fact that putting human tissue on an antennae will block some transition power. A lesser known fact is that the plastic antennae that they used to put on StarTac phones never helped reception at any point in time during the 90’s. Either way, we have two antennae on the iPhone 4 that don’t like being covered or bridged. Having to use a case? I like the Bumper, but a lot of people are pissed off about needing a case. Or that the Bumpers are out of stock regularly and cost $30. Did Apple make Bumpers to prevent antennae contact? I don’t think so. I think Apple saw how much money they made from the iPad case – the first case made by Apple that wasn’t an iPod sock – and went after the additional revenue. More power to them.

Apple’s response to this was the next best thing to me: Hold Differently. This cause a huge backlash for Apple, especially when people responded visually, showing tons of screenshots of Jobs and Company holding the phone in the way they are telling us not to.

Add to that the whole “Oops, we’ve been calculating the bars wrong” snafu and Apple looks even dumbed. An even lesser known fact is that each wave of firmware tweaks the bar calculations so it looks like service gets better. I’ve seen this happen with all handset makers from the late 90’s to the present days; Apple just came clean about it, for whatever reason, and called it a bug.

My phone? It’s fine. Out of the Bumper it has the same coverage as it does in. I like the all black look, so I’m keeping it until I find something else that’s shinier. Either way, the whole antennae thing sounds like faulty hardware. I can’t see how software will fix a bridging problem and it’s common sense that a covered antennae causes issues… either they need a design change or there’s defect lot or two running around out there. My thought is defective lot. I figured that once Apple fixed the software there will quietly be a hardware fix for impacted customers.

Next black eye came from software bugs, proving that Apple is mortal rather than untouchable perfect diety. There’s a bug in iOS 4 that causes all sorts of hangs/timeouts on the phone and/or the Exchange server… I forgot which but it’ll interfere with regular email usage. It’s not an Exchange issue, either; Apple confirmed this with a support post… you go to their support site and download a Profile for your phone. Shortly after that, people reported errors in Mail where it tries to send a message, can’t send it, and then eats the message. This I have seen on my 3GS running iOS 4; haven’t seen it on the 4 yet. Rumor has it that Apple knows about that too and it should be fixed in a future release (4.0.1, I’m assuming.)

Shortly after that hit the streets, Consumer Reports comes around and caused ripples in the Apple pool by saying they can’t recommend the iPhone 4 with this reception issue. HO SHVIT, that’s pretty damned serious, when you consider Consumer Reports’ reputation for people over 35.

What has followed that is what I call typical Apple: stoic silence and forum censorship. Apple will not say a word about any of this until they are forced to. They will stick to the stance of “What Issue? There is no Issue.” when talking to consumers. They will continue to look internally for a fix; if they find one they will quietly roll it out. They will continue to comb their support forums and remove complains/comments about the Consumer Reports report because they have always censored their forums. Always. This is how Apple politely manages its image on the forums.

So if it’s business as usual, why all the press? Because Apple’s market is not what it used to be.

Apple is no longer the underdog. They may want to be, but they simply aren’t anymore. They now have mass appeal across the mass populous. When you look at the personal media space, they are the Evil Empire they claimed they never wanted to be. They can no longer shit all over the customer base and expect customers to continue to love them for it. The rabid collection of MacHeads is in the minority of the iPhone/iPad/iPod customer base. MacHeads are used to being shafted by Apple and thanking them for it because they liked the v.Next product or they are just sadists; the mass populous doesn’t like being screwed, even if you buy them dinner first. That the mass media is shocked that Apple would censor their forums is also telling; it’s as if this is the first time that Apple’s true colors have shown through to so many people.

But yes, this is how Apple has operated for years. Apple tells you how they want you to use their products. If it doesn’t fit what you are looking for, then don’t buy their stuff. You want to use Hulu via the web on an iPad? Jobs says you can’t have Flash, so no Hulu for you. Unless you want to pay for Hulu+ – suddenly that’s OK, but you get no extra features for that: just the ability to stream it to a platform that should support the Flash player in the first place. You want to have a choice of carriers for your iPhone? Not if Apple doesn’t want you to. Multiple video formats? Nope. Want Blu-Ray drives? Tough shit, you aren’t getting one. Got a problem with a product? Come to our forums but don’t piss us off because we’ll kill the thread without warning. And for years, people have just rolled over for all of the peccadillos and thanked Apple for the experience.

It’s the Flash thing, though that gets me most of all, because it’s the most insidious. People want to be able to view videos, play games, and just… use the Web. If my sister wanted to go look at the Red Mango website while sitting in their store, why does she have to care that she can’t see the site due to Jobs not wanting to support Flash? That’s what’s happening here: the It Just Works people are going out of their wait to make sure It Just Doesn’t Work. People should be furious: this is all about politics and fictional limitations on devices we are paying top dollar for. Consider the example I’ve mentioned before: what if Jobs decides that he doesn’t like GIF. Hates it. Screws up his universe so he says “Safari will not support GIF anymore – only JPG and PNG.” Can you image that? It can happen. It has happened once with the Flash thing and it’s repeated itself with the Hold Differently thing. It can always happen with a closed ecosystem. It always comes back to “Hey you – you customer! You’re doing it wrong! We told you to do this!” and they honestly believe that.

The drama continues and will continue to do so. Some people are now talking recall of hardware. Others are saying software can help. Others are demanding free Bumpers and planning class action lawsuits.

Should be a fun ride either way and I’ll be watching the Godfather in near DVD quality on the bus in the meantime.

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