Is Apple Playing a Psychological Warfare Game?

January 24th, 2008

I know. You are going to think that I’m just playing my own game here, to get lots of hits with a lurid title, but I’m perfectly serious. If you examine Apple’s usual public relations ploys in handling new product announcements and other matters, you might even agree with me.

Let’s go back to last year, when Apple rolled out the new iPods and Steve Jobs announced that notorious $200 reduction in the price of an iPhone. In various interviews, he had rather a cavalier attitude about this unexpected maneuver, saying that customers have to expect the price of technology to change rapidly.

Yes, he was being brutally honest there, no doubt, but the reaction was quick and furious. How dare Apple cut the price of the iPhone so quickly without taking care of the early adopters? Well, one day later, Apple caved in, so to speak, by offering a $100 rebate to those who bought the iPhone too early to be eligible for dealer price protection.

So what happened here? Was Apple caught napping, and did Steve Jobs and the marketing team have to go back to the drawing boards to come up with a workable plan to fight off public condemnation, class action lawsuits and certainly negative press?

Quite possibly they simply miscalculated the public’s reaction, or forgot, for the moment, how much people have invested their hopes and dreams in Apple. Maybe Apple betrayed them accidentally, or was the price cut and the unfeeling comments from Jobs part of a calculated maneuver to get plenty of press, and even more when the policy was quickly changed?

Certainly, the iPhone reached its one million sales milestone within just a few days. Did all this extra publicity serve to boost sales over that magic threshold? Well, some marketing experts say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, just so long as they spell your name right.

In any case, Apple lived down that accidental or deliberate misadventure.

Then there is the issue of the iPhone SDK. Now if you look way back, Steve Jobs did say that Apple was working on a solution that would provide proper security protection. But that was lost in the pile as more and more independent programmers devised ways to install their own software without Apple’s official approval. Others managed to unlock the phone, so you can use it on another wireless carrier.

Now Apple’s cat-and-mouse game with the software crackers may have seemed to be an unfortunate activity, but you also have to remember that, by closing up security loopholes in the various iPhone updates, they were protecting you from exploitation. So what if it also had the side-effect of disabling third-party software. That’s just an expected if unfortunate development, and it is true that they were exploiting the security leaks to make their special installers function.

When Jobs announced during his WWDC keynote that Apple would let you build applications for the iPhone that opened within the Safari browser, many developers concluded “is that all there is” and were justifiably disappointed. Yes, there are such applications, but that’s not the point of this exercise.

Forgotten was Apple’s earlier promise about a software development solution that implied something more elaborate than a simple browser-based tool.

So when Apple finally announced the official iPhone SDK, many believed that this was done in response to the public’s clamoring for something better. Maybe that’s, in part, true. But that’s also the fulfillment of the promise Jobs made early on, the promise that was waylaid when a different scheme was presented at the WWDC keynote.

On the surface, it would seem as if the iPhone SDK was forced upon Apple, or maybe they put it on the backburner to see gauge public reaction and see what to do. You responded, and they reluctantly delivered the answer you wanted. But maybe it was all planned long, long ago.

Then there’s the new Time Capsule, a combo AirPort Extreme router and storage device, which will appear next month. It seems like a pretty simple product, which basically bundles two components and an internal power supply in one box. It’s designed for wireless backup for Macs running Leopard, but isn’t that something Apple previously promised to deliver for the AirPort itself?

That feature disappeared before Leopard was released, and there’s already chatter that maybe Apple did that so they could force you to buy their own storage device, even if you already have the router part. Does that conspiracy theory hold true? Apple isn’t saying.

I think, however, that they just wanted to keep you talking about it. In the end, there will quite likely be a software or firmware solution that will deliver that feature to the AirPort Extreme, so Apple can make good on its original promise.

And all of this, indeed, may be part of the great game to keep you talking about Apple and its products. If that’s true, they have succeeded admirably, as the mere existence of this commentary confirms.

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9 Responses to “Is Apple Playing a Psychological Warfare Game?”

  1. gopher says:

    I think Apple is playing that. I mean how many devices has Apple “announced” at Macworld, only to be delayed till a month or two later. I even had the concept Apple was going to do something special with AppleTV. I really needed another router. Now Time Capsule is here, I want it badly, but I have to wait till it is released. I was particularly infuriated when the iMac G4 got delayed by an extra month over the scheduled release date. Glad I didn’t fall for the gimick of the iPhone. I’d be paying a monthly premium of $70 a month just to have it.

  2. DaveD says:

    Or, it could just be….

    (1) That Apple didn’t have the development resources to pull off releasing a major OS upgrade, a new AppleTV OS which only uses a remote, an iTouch device OS… and still release a solid SDK in the same year.

    (2) It could be that they found a bug where the AEBS receives the data being sent it, and instead of reporting back to the device that it was properly written to it, it merely reports that it has received it.

  3. mark says:

    The simplest answer is likely the primary answer.

    – For the SDK, that would be what DaveD said, plus the iPhone software was barely ready (based on the low-level changes being made with each iPhone update), and the SDK should be based on Leopard.

    – For the Airport Extreme hard disk issue, it’s likely the data integrity issue as reported, where an interrupted backup can’t be guaranteed to be good.

  4. jlo says:

    IMHO, the iphone price cut, Jobs’ ‘tough-cookies’ stance, and later announcement of the $100 rebate waffling was all about getting the majority of early adopters to happily swallow a $100 rebate. If the price cut and $100 rebate were announced at the same time, the screams would’ve been much louder.

  5. Dana Sutton says:

    I think a lot of this “mind games” theory has its origin in an inability to face the simple fact that, like any other corporation, Apple occasionally screws up. Maybe one of their weaknesses is that in the Apple book there are two ways of doing things, Steve’s way and the wrong way. By this I mean that he seems to simply dictate what he imagines people want, or at least what he believes people ought to want, and (as with setting prices) what he imagines people will tolerate. A lot of the time he gets it right, but sometimes he doesn’t, and once in a blue moon, as with iPhone pricing, it blows up in his face. Apple doesn’t seem to do much if any market research. Mind you, relying too much on market research can be a very bad idea — that’s how the Edsel got designed — but paying some attention to consumer feedback (and being seen to do this) wouldn’t hurt. At least it would create a more trusting environment in which theories like this would be harder to spin.

  6. John says:

    I believe you are over thinking it. Apple does pretty well but they struggle with issues just like everyone else. It all looks so clear in hindsight but before the release of anything the world is quite different.

  7. Dana Sutton says:

    John’s right. Just today there’s another example of Apple fixing a screwup because of hindsight (and consumer pressure): now they’ve backed off the 24-hr. time limit on movie rentals (but again, if they had gotten some customer feedback before the original release this wouldn’t have happened).

  8. BobS says:

    I do not think that Apple’s backing off the 24-hour time limit on movies was an Apple screw up. Rather, I think Apple took what it could get from the studios knowing there would be a groundswell of reasoned criticism that they could then present to the studios. To me, it is the studios, who desperately want movie rentals to succeed, who blinked even if Apple appears to take the fall.

    I am unsure why people think that Apple does little market research and instead relies solely on Steve Jobs intuitions. Jobs, when introducing new products, frequently uses phrases like “our customers tell us” and refers to other outside polls, research and statistics.

  9. Emmett Kelly says:

    Apple isn’t perfect – like any corporation, they make mistakes. Add an extra drop of too much success on multiple fronts, a tablespoon of seeming invincibility, and the consumer might suddenly appear a little of of focus.

    The market will speak to Apple with it’s usual immutable voice.

    I don’t think any of this is a case of “…the company for a moment, forgot, how much people invested their hopes and dreams in Apple.” I’ve owned Apple and Mac computers since 1985, and am a stockholder, but this is over the top.

    Overthinking and too much free time are not good for anyone.

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

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