Friday, July 16, 2010


This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

Apple’s iPhone4 certainly looks good, but the controversy over the new model’s allegedly faulty antenna design has turned downright ugly. And maybe therein lies a lesson for the darling of the technocrat set. As soon as the new phones went on sale after their June launch, a litany of customer complaints came in that the darned things just didn’t work right – the reception dropped whenever you covered a certain portion of the phone with your hand. First, the company told customers that, basically, they were holding the phone in the wrong way. (Patient to doctor: “It hurts when I walk.” Doctor to patient: “Then stop walking.”) Then, Apple laid the blame on a software error that made the on-screen reception level indicators make the signal look stronger than it actually was – and that this was a problem on all iPhones from the beginning. That’s an explanation you might think is so unflattering to the product quality protocols at Apple, it must be true. But not according to Consumer Reports, which has challenged Apple’s explanation and has alleged the fault lies in bad hardware. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal cited “people familiar with the matter” in a story that claims Apple knew about the signal glitch before the iPhone 4’s release. The subtext of the WSJ story is that the decision to go forward anyway was based on Apple’s (and CEO Steve Jobs’) love of its design, whatever the performance problems. If that’s the case, it might explain the company’s apparent reluctance to admit a mistake – after all, great design is where Apple lives, right? But if so, that’s misguided. For consumers, Apple’s design excellence is a proxy for quality. Without that perception of quality, all the great design in the world won’t protect the brand. For any company facing allegations of shoddy products, the key is first to be seen to take the complaints seriously, then to be seen to be doing something to find out what’s wrong, and then coming up with one – and hopefully only one – fix for it, even if that means a product recall. By those measures, mighty Apple has fallen down to earth.

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