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Is Apple Losing its PR Edge?

There’s a lot to be said about Apple’s famous marketing machine. They have managed to grab the world’s attention big-time, with a laser-like focus on the company’s important products and other announcements.

On the other hand, you have to wonder whether or not they are beginning to lose their mojo, because of recent glaring missteps. While nobody’s perfect — even if Steve Jobs would probably like us to believe otherwise — there have been a few important strategic miscalculations that Apple ought to have foreseen.

Take the recent $200 price drop for the iPhone. Overall, it was a clever move. Despite the wrongheaded claims by some tech pundits and financial analysts, the iPhone was selling quite well when the 8GB version still cost $599. Indeed, Apple was just days from attaining its real goal of selling one million before the end of September.

Yes, I know that Fox business commentator Neil Cavuto and others had the wrong idea that Apple somehow expected to reach that number in a single weekend.

But consider the attitude Steve Jobs took when the new price was first revealed during the introduction of a upgraded family of iPods. He casually brushed it off as something early adopters should expect. It’s the way things are, and you just have to live with it.

Now you and I understand that $200 is chump change for Steve, since he’s a billionaire. But he supposedly has his hands on the pulse of Apple’s customers, so he should have realized a firestorm would erupt. Sure, his apology the following day seemed honest and heartfelt, and the writing style was awkward enough to have likely emerged from his own hands, rather than Apple’s corporate spin-meisters. But it was so unnecessary.

Had Apple thought this move through a little more carefully, it would have emerged as a positive event, and the rebate program would have been part of the initial story. Instead, Apple ended up playing catchup with incensed customers and a press just aching for bad news and appropriately-lurid headlines.

You see, today, the press is all tabloid, regardless of the size of the printed page, or even whether the content is restricted to online presentation.

Then there’s the iPhone 1.1.1 upgrade. Again, Apple spun it as a potential catastrophe, early on. If you’ve unlocked the iPhone, forget about it. Your fun-filled gadget would undergo a tragic metamorphosis into an iBrick. Shame on you for daring to jailbreak an iPhone!

I’m not saying that warnings are a bad idea. Certainly customers need to be made fully aware of the consequences if they attempt to hack their phones to add new features, or make it work with unsupported wireless carriers.

What Apple might have done — and I don’t presume to be a marketing guru or to know anything about marketing at all — would have been to take a more proactive and less-negative stance on this issue.

They could have made a bigger deal of the positive features of the update, including improved volume capability. Then put out an FAQ for people who have unlocked the phone. Maybe they should have been considerable enough to offer a tool of some sort to revert the phone to factory condition, assuming that the firmware update couldn’t accomplish that task.

Next, tell the public they are free to do what they want, but they have to understand that making unsupported changes has consequences, but Apple would be happy to help then get their phones to function normally again with an enhanced restore application. Even though they might have voided the warranty, be nice and fix the phones anyway. Announce that they are going to do this just one time, and, in the future, if your phone is rendered inoperable by an unsupported thirty-party hack, it’s your problem.

That’s the beginning and end of it.

After that, I don’t think there would be too many complaints. I would also submit that the folks who develop hacks of one sort or another must take on a little responsibility too. When they build jailbreaking utilities, they need to also offer the capability of restoring the phone to factory issue ahead of installing an Apple update, or before you take the phone to your dealer for warranty service.

Could they be held legally responsible otherwise? That’s an intriguing question that would likely depend on the sort of user licenses they post with their software. However, I’d think it would be a good idea, at the very least, to have those things reviewed by lawyers just in case.

However, would anyone really sue an iPhone hacker because of a damaged phone? Would it make any difference, since most of these hackers are individuals or small companies who couldn’t afford to defend themselves or pay damages anyway.

Better to sue Apple. They have deep pockets, but they also use some of their cash to hire smart attorneys who know how to defend the company against such lawsuits.

As far as Apple is concerned, I think they’ve overcome the consequences of the bad PR moves of recent weeks. But the public isn’t always so forgiving, so next time they do something that may have unfavorable consequences for at least some customers, they ought to find a better way to handle the situation.

Remember, Apple, the vultures are circling and they’re hunting for blood.