What the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs, by author Walter Isaacson, confirms is that Apple’s late co-founder was both a genius and a jerk. While the details are far more extensive, and no doubt more accurate, than what you read in those unofficial bios, the same overall picture emerges of the amazing creativity, and equally amazing flaws of this era’s most famous corporate leader.
Sure, there are surprises to be found, such as the fact that Jobs put off critical cancer treatment for nine months in a foolish quest to focus on exotic treatment methods, such as colon cleansing schemes and exotic diets, all because he didn’t want anyone to open up his body. But whether such delays shortened his life is anyone’s guess, as precious few people survive pancreatic cancer for any length of time anyway. I remember my late mother-in-law, who succumbed within weeks after her condition was diagnosed.
But the new meme in the media, at least a small portion of it, has it that, now that the public realizes that Steve Jobs was not such a nice person, maybe they will somehow rebel and embrace other products instead. Besides, isn’t Apple going to lose its mojo now that their mercurial and micromanaging co-founder is no longer around to keep things on an even keel?
For this theory to have even an iota of credibility, you have to consider whether the new revelations about Jobs would necessarily come as a surprise. Even though Apple has received over a million messages of condolence from people around the world, I think few of them had any illusions about Jobs. But they didn’t have to live with him, associate with him as business colleagues, and, except for a small minority, they didn’t have to work for him either. Their exposure to Apple came in the form of Macs, iPods, iPhones, iPads and so on and so forth. If they didn’t like the products, they wouldn’t buy them and keep on buying them. And I hardly think knowing that Jobs’ true personality was more extreme than they might have suspected is going to dissuade them.
I suspect that, of the tens and tens of millions of Apple customers, few know or care about the intimate details of the life. Sure, many people know who he was, and perhaps have a broad sense of his personal quirks, but it still comes down to the quality of the product. If they didn’t like the stuff Apple builds, they wouldn’t keep buying gadgets with the Apple brand on them.
What’s more, I do not see why, except in the minds of some ill-informed bloggers, that knowing the alleged truth about Steve Jobs would dissuade people from buying Apple products, or convince them to sell off what they have. Well, I can think of one blogger, but Apple will, as always, have to market their gear on the merits, with no guarantee of success in the court of public opinion.
Also remember that, for quite a number of months since Jobs was first diagnosed and treated for cancer, Tim Cook was in charge. Sure, you can bet that Jobs was calling the shots in many cases, but not when he was under the knife, or otherwise incapacitated. The Isaacson book also makes it clear that Jobs heavily relied on Cook to do the right thing. Certainly Apple’s ongoing performance shows that the company is in good hands. And, after a curious drop in the stock price because inflated expectations of iPhone sales in the last quarter weren’t realized, I see the price has gone up again. Reality appears to be setting in.
At the same time, it is interesting to see where Jobs’ head was at over the years, that, for example, his views about life and death influenced the way off switches, or the lack of clearly-defined off switches, found their way into Apple’s product designs. From pressing the power button on a Mac and having to wait for five seconds for it to turn off, to having to pull the plug on an Apple TV, it’s clear that Jobs didn’t want you to ever switch that stuff off. Idle (or sleep mode) was fine, but you had to work a little bit more to stop things cold.
Jobs’ feelings of betrayal in the way that the Google Android OS mimics the iOS in a number of ways clearly influenced Apple’s decision to file lots of lawsuits against alleged patent violators. That Apple has been more and more successful in some of those actions only goes to show that Jobs was right. Then again, it may well be that the bigger threat to Android is the fact that Microsoft has coerced many of the handset makers who build gear powered by Google’s OS to pay license fees. One report had it that Microsoft has signed up 50% of the Android OS licensees so far. Once it becomes evident that this supposed free OS isn’t free, you wonder how many handset makers will try to roll their own, or go to Microsoft and license the latest and greatest Windows Phone system instead.
But now I want to get back to that Steve Jobs bio. He was definitely a character, and I expect there will be more intriguing revelations beyond those in that book in the months and years to come.
- Apple, the WWDC and the Wacky Run-up After quite a run, and ahead of a 7-to-1 stock split, Apple's stock price had declined slightly before the WWDC keynote on Monday. I suppose this was to be expected. The event was presaged with optimism, skepticism and silly claims about what the company must do to survive. Some weeks back, for example, one online pundit who doesn't deserve to be named or linked suggested that the company would be toast if the iWatch wasn't released in 60 days. When that date passed, and Apple was still here, it merely represented yet another example of commentators lying through their teeth or making downright foolish claims to generate online traffic. Having a respect for facts and logic played second fiddle. There was also the "Apple must" meme, that the WWDC keynote must be filled with new hardware and new product categories, even though it was ostensibly for developers. Thus, we know there would be news about iOS 8 and OS 10.10 because Apple said as much. But expectations that there would be new hardware weren't met. There was no Apple TV or iWatch demonstration for developers, but the people who build apps for Apple gear still got plenty to consider, including a new simplified programming language known as Swift. But OS 10 Yosemite? What about that Looney Toons cartoon character? Clearly Apple isn't taking that into consideration with OS 10.10, which will sport the rumored flatter look and feel, reminiscent of iOS. The improved transparency effects and cleaner text and windows seem interesting enough if a new OS X skin appeals to you. While Mavericks was heavily laden with hardware improvements to use RAM and power more efficiently, Yosemite is heavily disposed towards improvements for Mac users. Front and center is Continuity, which greatly simplifies the passage from Mac to iPhone to iPad, and back again. Email and messages can begin on one, and be completed on another. You can also use your Mac or, with iOS 8, your iPad to make and receive phone calls on your iPhone. Of course your iPhone has to be active on the same Wi-Fi network for this Handoff process to work. SMS messaging is also supported; again with a networked iPhone. You can also use your iPhone to set up an Instant Hotspot, though that would appear to require support from your wireless carrier, as Apple indicates on their site. Clearly Apple's critics will complain that Continuity is yet another way for Apple to rope you in to depending on their ecosystem. But there's nothing wrong with that. Other companies and their sycophants in the tech media are probably jealous. So iCloud becomes iCloud Drive, since you can now use it as an online repository for all your files, and even set up a traditional file/folder hierarchy that can be accessed on all your Apple gear, including your iPhone and iPad, along with a Windows PC. In a sense, Apple is going after Dropbox and the cloud storage systems from Microsoft and Google to set up seamless ways for you to store and easily transfer larger files. Mail for Yosemite, with the promise of greater speed and efficiency, has a new feature, dubbed Mail Drop, which lets you use your iCloud Drive as an intermediary for file attachments of up to 5GB. This will help you avoid the usual problem of sending large files to a recipient. Email services traditionally limit attachments to less than 20MB. Windows users will simply receive a link in their email to retrieve the file, which definitely rains on Hightail's parade. Since iCloud now plays a larger role in storing your stuff, new storage plans are coming. You'll still get 5GB free, but 20GB is just 99 cents per month, and 200GB is $3.99 per month. For small businesses, or families with loads of photos and other files to store and back up, the latter plan is the sweet spot. You'll be able to get up to 1TB of storage once all the options are in place. Spotlight has been enhanced to include both online and local searches, which is something you can already do under Windows. I suppose Apple is hoping you'll move away from Safari searches and rely on Spotlight to find everything. Here's why: While Google search is still supported and remains the default on Safari, Spotlight uses Microsoft Bing. I wonder how Google will react when they get the memo. As with Mavericks, OS X Yosemite will be available this fall, probably between late September and late October, as a free download and is reportedly compatible with the very same Macs that can run OS 10.9. While developers are already downloading the first Yosemite preview, up to one million Mac users will receive access to Yosemite betas this summer. So be prepared to sign up as soon as possible. I expect they will want to get a few releases out before letting non-developers gain access to the seeds. While iOS 8 also comes across as a compelling release, Apple has yet to say anything about side-by-side multitasking for iPads. I suppose that could come later. Meantime, in addition to the Swift development language, Apple is moving towards giving developers more flexility in building and selling iOS apps. There is, for example, support for Touch ID and third-party keyboards. So, although the new QuickType predictive keyboard scheme may appeal to most users, those who want a Swype or another third-party keyboard to replace Apple's will get full system support. Would that were true with other apps, and it would be nice to be able to pick something else as the default for such tasks as email and browsing. As predicted, HealthKit will be designed to allow developers of health and fitness apps to seamlessly communicate with your iOS device and the new Health app. Such major medical institutions as Mayo Clinic have announced full support, which means you'll be a tap away from monitoring your physical condition, and your doctor can receive immediate updates should test results require their attention. Apple, by the way, promises what appears to be bulletproof security for Health and also for HomeKit, a tool for developers to build apps to better integrate your connected home. The HomeKit feature is called Secure Pairing, which supposedly means that only a registered iOS device can unlock your home, adjust the lights, turn on the microwave, or perform many other functions in your home. Developers will be able to bundle apps at a special discount and offer beta testing functions via the App Store. A new "Explore" feature will make it easier for you to discover the more than 1.2 billion apps now available for iOS users. While iOS 8 won't look altogether different from iOS 7, and thus isn't apt to be quite as polarizing, that can't be said for Yosemite. Right after the initial announcement appeared in the tech media, one of my friends, who has already had a love/hate relationship with Mavericks, responded with just one word, "YUK!" Her concern is that it looks more like iOS, but I reminded her that it's still OS X and her Mac will still run like a Mac despite the changes. Oh, and by the way, the iPhone 4 is not on the iOS 8 compatibility list. It was hit or miss with iOS 7, so it makes sense it has been retired from future iOS updates. In any case, Apple's stock price resumed its upward climb Tuesday morning. Evidently Wall Street was impressed.
- Apple and the Media’s Death Wish Typical of any publicly-traded corporation, Apple's stock price has had its ups and downs. This reminds me of the time I met a friend, his name is Mark, at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. He accompanied me and my son, Grayson, to the Steve Jobs keynote. My press pass accommodated extra "helpers." After experiencing the famous Steve Jobs "reality distortion field," Mark called his stock broker and ordered up a few hundred thousand dollars worth of Apple stock, which were trading for over $23 a share at the time. He said he sold it some months later for a decent profit. But imagine if he hung onto that investment for the full decade. Don't forget the recent seven-for-one stock split. His investment would have appreciated nearly 35 times over the original purchase price. His stash of Apple stock would be worth millions. Regardless, there is the delusion these days that Apple's stock price didn't actually crater until after Tim Cook took over as CEO. But if you examine the trends, that is just not so. But the media often considers only the most recent stock price slide that began after the iPhone 5 shipped in 2012. Despite record sales of five million units on the launch weekend, tech and financial analysts insisted Apple must sell up to 10 million, thus the results were erroneously perceived as disappointing. It didn't matter that Apple couldn't meet demand. Maybe they should have built phantom smartphones or something. Over the next few months, there were published reports claiming that Apple had reduced orders for iPhone 5 components, thus creating the impression of poor demand despite record sales. In the next quarterly conference call with financial analysts, Cook said you cannot gauge sales from isolated supply chain metrics. This ought to have been obvious to anyone who pretends to understand the tech industry. Besides, it's normal for a company to reduce orders after the holiday quarter, since sales would naturally be expected to decline for most consumer products. That's only logical. But logic and reason didn't calm the market, and Apple's stock price continued to dive from record levels. At the same time, some members of the media demanded Cook's head. They said he wasn't up to the job. He was a supply chain geek and not the visionary who could step into the shoes of Steve Jobs and keep Apple running. They seemed to forget that Cook had worked at Apple since the 1990s, and had stepped in for Steve Jobs several times when Apple's co-founder took sick leaves. Maybe he wasn't quite the product visionary, but he had other talents, and Apple had a smart executive bench to handle the other chores. Remember that Jobs wasn't a supply chain wizard; he had to hire someone else to get that job done. Apple's perceived roller coaster ride didn't end. Any time sometimes inflated revenue and profit estimates were missed, or appeared to have been missed. Apple got hit between the eyes. Now Jobs famously told Cook before the former's death not to ask what his predecessor might do, but to move forward and do what he thought was right. That didn't stop the media from assuming that Jobs would have acted differently when it came to various product and strategy moves. So Jobs would never have approved production of an iPad mini, since he denigrated small tablets. But that skepticism once applied to mobile phones before the iPhone was launched. Jobs was famous for attacking a product one day and launching Apple's version the next. I remember when Apple executives said they'd never build a cheap Mac in late 2004. The following January, they introduced the $499 Mac mini. What's more, Steve Jobs reportedly didn't exactly jump at the opportunity to produce the iPod when the concept was first brought to him. He often attacked an idea only to embrace it later on. In short, there is no way to predict how he might have reacted to any decisions Tim Cook has made. That Cook has made the company more open may seem anathema to the Jobs approach, but things change, and making predictions is a fool's errand. These days the demands that Cook be dismissed are no longer as loud. On the other hand, while Apple reports record revenues, and the market cap is now hovering in the $700 range ahead of Thanksgiving, one online publication has tried to make hay of the company's perceived recent failures, referring to them collectively as another "tech turkey." So non-original. Consider the fact that a number of entertainers with iCloud accounts were hacked, and their explicit photos revealed, is attributed to Apple's failure. But Apple made it clear at the time, and the statement has not been disproven, that those compromised accounts were hacked by the usual methods, such as guessing usernames and passwords. It doesn't mean Apple couldn't make their systems more secure, and they did expand two-factor authentication capabilities. But that doesn't let the victims off the hook. Knowing they were targets, they should have been more careful in their online behavior. Apple continues to be blamed for the abortive iOS 8.0.1 update that killed cellular access and Touch ID on 40,000 new iPhones. Remember that Apple is not the only company to have issued a faulty software update, and it was withdrawn in a little over an hour. The fix came out the very next day, and those impacted were given simple online instructions on how to restore their gear. So, yes, Apple has goofed from time to time, but don't tell me Google and Microsoft are perfect. Still, Apple is huge, and even a minor failure or perceived failure must be a big deal, particularly for people who wish Apple would just go away.
- 2014 — The Year the Sky Didn’t Fall for Apple At the start of 2014, even the most diehard Apple fanatic might have wondered about the future prospects of their favorite fruit company. Sales didn't always meet Wall Street projections, and profits were flattening. The stock price was way down from historic highs. To no surprise, some members of the mainstream media were calling for CEO Tim Cook to take a hike. Could it be that Steve Jobs' handpicked successor was a monumental screw up, or was there a long-term plan in place that would set things right before long? Questions, questions. Many of the particulars are ably recorded in a no-holds barred editorial from Daniel Eran Dilger, a frequent guest on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, over at AppleInsider. So I will be brief about some of the details. Now understand that the perception that Apple was on the rocks was largely manufactured. When Steve Jobs introduced iterative upgrades to Apple gear, that was part of the standard upgrade cycle. When Tim Cook did the same, there must be something terribly wrong with Apple's mojo, and the company clearly lost its power to innovate. After all, Cook was the supply chain expert. What right did he have to operate a company known for its amazing innovation? You'd think that Apple was supposed to upend a market every year. The critics forget the years that passed between the first iPod, the first iPhone and the first iPad. Miracles don't come every day, but where were the trendsetting products from Tim Cook's Apple? This didn't stop iPhone sales from climbing, at a time when Samsung's sales began to falter. The claim that Samsung had it all over Apple when it came to high sales and meeting the needs of a variety of customers was shown to be shaky. Yes, Samsung still sold loads of mobile handsets, but far too many were cheap, with little profit. While Apple continued to make huge profits from iPhones, Samsung's margins continued to shrink. Tepid response to the latest Galaxy series didn't help. Apple moved far more iPhones. Amid rising sales, Apple's first maneuvers for 2014 were financial. Stock buybacks and the seven-to-one stock split pleased Wall Street. But was Apple just stalling, avoiding the question of what innovative products were in the pipeline? Yes, Apple made promises, but when were they going to deliver? WWDC came, as usual, in June. The critics said it was all about the software, but Apple added an amazing number of new features to iOS and OS X. The bill of particulars was far larger than what Google and Microsoft were promising. True, some suggested Apple bit off a little too much this time, but the bugs are being vanquished, and the end result presents many new opportunities for developers to make a profit and to benefit customers. For regular people, the real significant event came in September, with the introduction of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, a phablet with a 5.5-inch display. The critics had been long clamoring for Apple to enter the larger smartphone space, but Apple, as usual, took its sweet time about developing the right product. Certainly the public embraced the new gear, with record sales the very first weekend and chronic shortages through most of the holiday season. But some people realized that the romantic ideal of the larger smartphone wasn't quite so compelling after you spent a little time with one. One-handed operation meant something, and the larger handsets could be difficult to fit in a smaller pocket or purse. And don't forget Apple Watch. An early production model was demonstrated, and delivery was promised in early 2015. October brought new iPads, but the flagship model, the iPad Air 2, thinner than its predecessor, was the lone compelling upgrade. The iPad mini 3 was little different from its predecessor aside from Touch ID, and it still cost $100 more. It wasn't such a great deal, and the jury is out how well tablets sold this holiday season. But the iPad Air 2 is, as my friends across the Atlantic are apt to say, a marvelous piece of kit. It will be hard for my wife to give up the one she is using when the Apple editorial loan expires in February. The other product intro in October, the iMac 5K, was simply stunning, particularly the picture and the technology that makes it happen for a price that even Dell couldn't match. Last I checked, Dell's 5K display is just about the same price as the 5K iMac, but Apple gives you the computer as part of the package. None of this means everything went perfect for Apple. Don't forget the missteps — or alleged missteps — depending on your point of view. So those celebrities whose nude photos, stored in iCloud, were hacked and circulated online have only themselves to blame for poor password choices. Why did they have those pictures there in the first place? But the iOS 8.0.1 update was the worst sort of failure, fixing most iPhones, but causing some to lose their cellular connections and Touch ID capability. Apple pulled the update in little over an hour, and released a fixed version the very next day, but the publicity fallout continues. Yes, Microsoft has done worse, far worse, but this is Apple. Please don't get me started about iTunes 12. The complaints haven't been stilled, and I wonder whether Apple needs to get back to the drawing board to sort things out. Some alleged scandals were just nonsense. An iPhone 6 Plus was no more prone to bending than other large mobile handsets. No, Apple didn't suddenly out of the blue sneak a security update onto Macs with OS X Mountain Lion, Mavericks and Yosemite. That particular update came using the App Store update mechanism, the successor to Software Update. Where there's an automatic install option, as there is in Yosemite, you can switch it off. Besides, the NTP security flaw, impacting the time syncing feature of OS X, Unix and even Linux distributions, could allow a remote attacker to gain control of your computer. Even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security got in the act to report the danger, so was it wrong for Apple to protect you in a way that did no harm? For 2015, we know the Apple Watch is coming, but there is no consistency on how well it'll do. And what about the fate of Apple TV? Is there an Apple TV set on the horizon? An iPad Pro, a version with a display that's 12 inches or more? Is there something out of the blue in store? And what will Apple do to flesh out the features for iOS 9 and OS X 10.11? And I will not speculate on the code name for the next Mac OS.
- About Terminating iTunes with Extreme Prejudice So iTunes hasn't exactly received the love in recent years. Some say it's bloated, although technically that's not quite true. Others are just overwhelmed by all the features that are regularly added, without taking steps to simplify the interface so the power of the app is at your beck and call. Others fret over stability and reliability issues, and reports that music databases may be borked with iTunes 12.2 and Apple Music only make matters worse. Now my history with iTunes goes back to its origins as SoundJam and later SoundJam MP Plus from a now-defunct publisher known as Casady & Greene. In 2000, Apple made the smart decision to buy the product, and bring along its developers, including Jeffrey Robbin, now a VP of consumer applications at Apple. In addition to being lead developer of iTunes, Robbin is credited with helping to create the software for the iPod, and was, several years ago, reported to be a part of the development project to create an Apple TV set. Of course, that project appears to have been discontinued, but it's notable how Apple has put Robbin in charge of significant projects. I've known him for years, and he's a real talented guy and deserving of his success. But something's gone real wrong with iTunes, and it's in need of serious repair, or Apple needs to start over and rethink the app. Before I go on, don't assume that starting over is anything new with Apple. Ask users of Final Cut Pro, for example. Although the new and far cheaper version, Final Cut Pro X, got a whole lot better over time, some loyal users chafed at the changed interface and lost features, and went elsewhere. Still, Apple is not shy about changing thingsy, and it's high time that iTunes go under the knife. The latest version, 12.2, was released to introduce Apple Music. It's otherwise substantially the same as the previous cluttered version, only it's more cluttered. It only adds new layers of inconsistency and unpredictable behavior to an app that was already breaking at the seams. A major change of version 12 was the use of a context-sensitive navigation bar that totally confounds muscle memory. So when you move from Music to Podcasts or to Movies, the options and the width of the nav bar labels changes. This may make sense from a logical point of view, but it means that you have to stop and think before you click. Apple Music merely adds extra labels for the Music section. There's no Apple Music icon, since the feature integrates with existing music features. All right, that's part of it, and I suppose most of you have gotten used to the poor implementation of this feature. There's more, however. With Apple Music, context menus usually don't work, and the ellipses that are usually placed next to the titles of albums and tracks don't deliver consistent context results. Select an album in the For You page and the ellipse will only allow you to share the album. When you click on the album to open its playlist, you have additional options to share an album, but none to tell Apple Music you want that thing off your list post haste. To make matters worse — and more confusing — if you tap and hold an album title in the For You list in Music for iOS 8.4 (and now the 9.0 beta), you not only have extra choices, but one entitled "I Don't Like This Suggestion." Why isn't that readily available with iTunes? Tell us Mr. Robbin! I realize that iTunes is very much a browser, meaning that the content you access can be instantly altered. I suppose that adding more context options is something that could be done on-the-fly without updating the app, and maybe it'll be fleshed out over time as the service is refined. For now, however, the interface and the layout are poorly designed, as if it was perhaps thrown together to meet a deadline with the hope it'll be fixed later. Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," and my go-to expert on such matters, suggests that Apple's marketing people are being given too much power to drive the look and feel of iTunes. It's more about turning visitors into paying customers, but it doesn't even succeed on that level. If they hope you'll buy a track you're enjoying in Apple Music, the process is definitely not easy. Or perhaps Apple really does believe that we are all destined to rent music, and this is only guiding you into that direction. Remember, when you rent music, you own nothing other than the tracks you've previously purchased. Anything you've downloaded from Apple Music stops playing when you stop paying. If you decide one month you have other priorities, and you've spent days fine-tuning your custom playlists, will Apple allow you to suspend your membership for a while, and allow you to pick up where you left off a month or two later? Just asking. The reason I suggest Apple should kill iTunes and try over is that the app has moved in the wrong direction. It doesn't mean it should be split up into separate media apps, as is done in iOS. Having a single place to get play and acquire content on a Mac or PC is probably the more efficient idea. But that shouldn't keep Apple from starting over and devising a better way. It's not that there is better competition out there, particularly if you are accustomed to the Apple ecosystem. But how long will Apple allow this messy situation to continue before taking action?
- Apple and Customer Good Will As a business, when you have a loyal base of customers, you usually can be assured that they will tolerate failures or defects from time to time, usually if you level with them about what went wrong. Corporate spin control is a fine art, but quite often it's all about honestly admitting a problem and explaining to the customer in clear language what's being done to set things right. Unfortunately, corporate communications departments do not always understand the concept of being simple and direct. You get half-baked apologies, usually signed by a corporate executive, which might as well have been written for a race of robotic creatures. Within the morass of corporate speak, there's often very little of substance to be found. An apology is far less than an apology. When the issue at hand can impact the health and safety of a customer, getting the truth out becomes paramount. Lives may be at stake. This is true whether the defective product is a drug or a car. But when it comes to recalls to fix a defect in an auto or other consumer product, quite often the message is lost in legalese, and the consequences of not fixing what needs to be fixed aren't always clearly explained. It may even take months to realize there's even a problem, and that trouble reports aren't just random isolated cases that may not have any real connection to a defective product. With Apple, you have reason to expect a higher standard and prompt fixes when stuff goes wrong. While customers of the iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac usually register higher satisfaction rates than customers of most any other tech company, it's up to Apple to keep them happy. Some believe the Apple mystique or halo is sufficient to keep customers pleased as punch even regardless. But there are limits to how much abuse a customer will take before they go elsewhere. Now I'm now saying Apple has abused customers, but sometimes they have treated them with less respect than they deserve. Take the original iPhone, which went on sale in 2007 at $499 for the 4GB version and $599 for the 8GB version. The price may have seemed awfully high, but it was unsubsidized, so you weren't saddled with a wireless service contract if you bought one. Within just a few months, the 4GB version was discontinued, and the 8GB version was repriced at $399. As you might imagine, loads of iPhone users were upset. Price protections would apply for people who bought their iPhones 14 or 30 days earlier, but that wasn't enough. In a questionable corporate move, Steve Jobs made one of his typically snarky offhand remarks that it was the price of being an early adopter. But it didn't take long for him to walk back that comment, and agree to give those affected iPhone customers a $100 credit when buying new Apple gear. Maybe it wasn't all they could do, but the furor quickly died down. Segue to the summer of 2010, when the iPhone 4 was saddled with complaints about poor reception if you held the unit the "wrong" way. So hold it differently said Jobs, and you wonder if he didn't come up with such an insult in the wee hours of the morning while his mind was otherwise occupied. Regardless, the excuse didn't last long. While it was perfectly true that all mobile handsets could be made to suffer from poor reception if your hands covered the antennas in some fashion, Apple got the brunt of the complaints. After all, the iPhone supposedly had a superior antenna system. It didn't take long for Apple to come up with a new excuse for Antennagate. It was a problem of perception, because the signal strength display algorithm was off. Apple released the update, but having a more accurate indicator didn't change the fact that poor signals would result in unacceptable call quality, slow Internet access and disconnects. So Steve Jobs finally held a press conference, where some members of the press were invited to a guided tour of Apple's $100 antenna testing facility. This time, Jobs said it was all about the laws of physics, as he revealed that other popular smartphones had similar problems when a so-called Death Grip was applied. Without admitting any fault with the iPhone 4's design, Apple nonetheless offered free bumpers and third-party cases to shield the phone, and prevent possible signal loss. In retrospect, Consumer Reports magazine, never a fan of Apple, refused to recommend the phone because of perceived antenna defects, and even refused to admit the other phones experienced the same symptoms if held "appropriately." This year, Apple has another big customer relations problem, but it was resolved differently. When the new Maps app debuted in iOS 6, customers quickly realized something was wrong. Landmarks might be misplaced, 3D views revealed melting or missing bridges, directions might be off, and if you wanted information on public transportation, you had to install someone else's app. At first, Apple PR merely promised things would get better as customers reported problems to Apple. A few days later, CEO Tim Cook issued a textbook apology that seemed at once heartfelt and descriptive. Apple was sorry, Apple was working hard to do better and, by the way, if you can't wait, feel free to go online and or download someone else's mapping app. He even offered a short list that included apps from Google and Microsoft. I won't blame Apple for making a home-brewed mapping app. Clearly they weren't getting the love from Google to deliver a turn-by-turn directions and vector graphics. But if Apple had simply put a Beta label on Maps, you'd understand that it was a work in progress and might have bugs. Yes, the marketing message is more subdued than it used to be; maybe Apple believes things will get better in a few weeks. Will that be enough? I expect that it will, but I still think Apple should have anticipated the fallout, and presented a more honest expression of the limitations of Maps before the complaints became viral. Meanwhile, it has been reported in several places that there are already improvements to the rendering of images, particularly 3D views, in Maps, including the Statue of Liberty. I checked out a few places in Brooklyn, NY where I lived as a child, and, yes, they look a whole lot more realistic.
This article was posted on Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 at 12:00 AM and is filed under News and tagged with: Android, Android OS, Apple, Apple Inc., Apple Tv, Google, iOS, iPads, Iphone, Macintosh, Microsoft, Microsoft Windows, Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, Walter Isaacson.