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Should Apple Become Aggressive About Media Falsehoods?

On Monday, Apple’s stock price remained in negative territory, falling faster than the market as a whole. You have to think the company must be in bad shape for such a thing to happen. But when you read reports that Apple reported record revenues last year, that Mac sales reportedly increased 31% in the U.S. in January, it doesn’t seem as if the people in the financial community are listening. The highly successful iPhone 5 was even mistakenly characterized by one commentator as “tepid.”

Now through all this, Apple hasn’t said very much about this state of affairs, even though Apple’s market cap has lost tens and tens of billions of dollars. Clearly that’s a problem of the first order, and Tim Cook’s mild-mannered responses appear lame in comparison.

Sure, we know that Apple plays long ball, concentrating more on long-term success than short-term spurts. Sure, we know that Apple is very likely working on some cutting-edge gear for 2013 that may become iconic, but the critics will probably still complain.

Unfortunately, when Apple says little to nothing about all the false information, it is assumed, rightly or otherwise, that these stories must be true. If they’re not, where’s Apple’s denial?

Yes, I realize Apple will not say anything about unreleased products — unless it suits their marketing plans of course — but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t speak up. Yes, I suppose Tim Cook did some of that during the last call with financial analysts, when he commented indirectly about reports of a cutback in display orders for the iPhone 5. His comment, not widely quoted, was simply that you can’t use a single metric to gain an accurate picture about the overall supply chain. Policy wonks no doubt loved the comment, but most people heard nothing more about it.

In his remarks at the recent shareholder’s meeting, Cook broached the subject of Apple’s falling stock price, but not in a way that got headlines.

Since Cook clearly knows how to handle himself before the media, or maybe they are afraid to ask more than softball questions, he really should schedule a press conference to talk about Apple’s past, present and future. Speak to the public directly, in plain language explaining what’s right and wrong about the public perceptions about the company. He should explain why the launch of the iPhone 5 wasn’t tepid, and how analyst estimates may or may not have anything whatever to do with the actual financial performance of a company.

Sure, Apple can’t — and shouldn’t try — to answer every media critic. But when a false meme is being played out in the media, they need to get ahead of it. When the AntennaGate scandal, such as it was, arose over complaints about a serious degradation of reception if you held an iPhone 4 a certain way, after a brusk suggestion to hold the phone differently, Steve Jobs held a media event to explain what was really going on. iPhone 4 owners were even offered free cases in case they still had problems.

Now I realize that some members of the press were unimpressed. Consumer Reports erroneously claimed that the iPhone 4 was the only smartphone to exhibit reception problems when held in certain ways that covered the antennas, ignoring the fact that pretty much all mobile handsets can be induced to produce similar results. You may have to hold them differently, but it doesn’t matter. CR also ignored the existence of warning labels, and references in user manuals about the phenomenon. Evidently they didn’t believe in reading manuals, or had a different agenda, which is unfortunate for a publication that prides itself on being fair and balanced.

The fact that Apple went to a new antenna system, similar to the diversity scheme used in cars, clearly indicates they wanted to improve reception as much as possible. But that doesn’t mean the iPhone 4 necessarily had a flawed design. Besides, putting a case on a smartphone is always a good idea, regardless of the manufacturer.

In any case, it’s also true that, if Apple chooses to correct the falsehoods, or perceived falsehoods, some members of the media would label the company as thin-skinned, or regard it as a case of sour grapes. Sometimes you just can’t win, but that doesn’t mean Apple’s executive team should allow tens of billions of dollars to be shaved off the company’s market cap without responding.

At this point, it may well be that Apple is hoping upcoming product introductions will change perceptions about the company; actions speaking louder than words and so forth and so on. Perhaps, but if the current Apple-is-in-deep-trouble theme keeps playing out, new products viewed against those perceptions might still come up short. But it’s also true that the arrival of the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad were all viewed skeptically, but customers weren’t paying attention. They delivered record sales to Apple.

So if there’s an iWatch or an Apple connected TV coming real soon now, the media and industry analysts might just suggest it’s all too-little-too-late regardless of how well these products fare in the marketplace.