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  • Problems, Problems, Problems All Day Long!

    July 7th, 2010

    It seems as if Apple can’t escape bad news these days. Most recently, it was all about the alleged antenna shortcomings of the latest and greatest iPhone. If you held it the right way — or the wrong way depending on your half-empty/half-full point of view — sensitivity dropped seriously.

    Apple’s claim, after a few non-start explanations, is that they were displaying too many bars all along, so a marginal connection would deliver nearly the same visible signal strength as a good signal. That assumes you actually live somewhere in AT&T’s reach where a good signal is to be had.

    Before I get on with this discussion, you have to wonder about those AT&T ads a while back proclaiming more bars and fewer dropped calls, knowing that it wasn’t just the latter that was false, but that they conveyed the illusion of a stronger signal than your mobile handset really acquired. When Apple says they are switching to AT&T’s current sensitivity algorithm, that seems a tacit admission that AT&T was previously lying about the number of bars displayed, and Apple just followed the same routine in total ignorance of the consequences.

    Or, as many believe, it’s all just a clumsy spin control effort resulting from Apple being caught utterly flat-footed over the iPhone grip controversy. Yes, we all make mistakes, but I find it difficult to believe that the brilliant engineers at Apple Inc. let three years go by before finally being forced to respond to this issue as the result of being inundated with highly-public complaints about the serious loss of sensitivity of the iPhone 4 if you hold it the “wrong way.”

    But that wasn’t all. You have all heard about the ongoing FTC probes into some of Apple’s business practices, such as blocking Flash from the mobile platform and severely limiting the use of third-party development environments to build software for the App Store. And I haven’t even begun to address privacy issues growing out of iAds and other matters.

    Even if Apple emerges with a clean skin — or only slightly dirty — from these investigations, it’s a curious turnaround to see a company once given up for lost suddenly being respected as a fearsome competitor in several tech markets. Curious indeed!

    There’s also the news this week that a reported 400 iTunes accounts have been hacked, resulting in customers being charged loads of money for non-existent purchases. The revelation comes at the same time as one developer was summarily ejected from the iOS SDK program after attempting to game the system, though it’s unclear if the two events are somehow related.

    Of course, with over 225,000 apps available, even though Apple must examine and approve every entry, they are still apt to make mistakes. At least they can unapprove an app, something very rarely done in the Android market, although I gather it is possible for Google to pull the plug for the worst offenders, but has it ever happened?

    What about the potential for downloading a malware-ridden piece of junk on an Android phone? How are you protected, or is Google so involved in the job of attracting more eyeballs for targeted ads that they occasionally overlook such issues?

    In any case, when it comes to credit cards, I’ll cut Apple some slack. There is really no way to guarantee 100% security. That’s why credit card companies will, or should, reverse or chargeback transactions that are reported as bogus. It happens to many of us; my son once found his debit card overdrawn as the result of a fake transaction, and his bank didn’t hesitate to fix the problem. But the right to dispute is mandated by law, so it shouldn’t be a large issue. Besides, with over 150 million accounts on file, you can well understand that Apple isn’t doing so bad, if the 400 figure is accurate.

    If there’s a downside to all this news, it’s the fact that no company, even one as iconic as Apple, can endure endless bouts of bad publicity without consequence. Right or wrong, customers will take notice, and sales will be lost. This isn’t to say that the iPhone 4 will become a failure because of this antenna issue, however it is ultimately resolved. But it’s a highly competitive market out there, and, if you’re willing to put up with a less-finished OS, there is far more hardware variety to be found on an Android OS phone.

    Sure, they won’t have a retina display, a video conferencing app to match the ease and reliability of FaceTime, or any of the other flourishes that are typical of an Apple mobile product. There’s no mystique and no prestige about a smartphone from HTC or Motorola. They might have some wonderful features, along with less elegant ones of course, so they are very much the equivalent of generic Windows PCs in the scheme of things.

    But it’s not the Mac versus Windows platform wars all over again. The runaway success of the iPhone should, assuming no more serious missteps, keep Apple’s massive profit machine rolling for years to come.

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