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  • They Forget that Things Change

    June 27th, 2013

    As many of you no doubt recall, Apple received lots of negative publicity in 2010 amid complaints that there were serious defects with the iPhone 4’s external antenna system. Touted as a unique feature, there was one critical defect: If you held the phone in a way that covered the lower left side of the unit, reception quality took a nosedive. Under optimal signal conditions, it might not mean much, but in marginal conditions, not uncommon on the AT&T network, for example, you might lose your connection.

    When Steve Jobs, perhaps responding early in the morning without thinking about the consequences, said you should just hold it differently, that sarcastic comment was the last straw. Well for some. It didn’t even matter that all mobile handsets exhibited similar problems in different ways. It was all Apple’s fault, and the company had to hold a press briefing, and allow a few journalists to visit their state-of-the-art antenna testing facility to understand how things really worked. But not Consumer Reports, which refused to recommend the iPhone 4, and continues to rate other smartphones higher than Apple’s for reasons not always backed up with facts.

    Yes, other handset makers put warning signs in their user guides and sometimes with stickers on the device itself warning not to hold them the “wrong way” because of the possible impact to reception quality. Yes, subsequent iPhones had a revised antenna system, a diversity system similar to what you have on cars, where the antenna that gets the best signal receives priority. But Antennagate will not be forgotten.

    First impressions count.

    Take Maps for iOS 6. It surely had teething pains, resulting in some heads rolling over at Apple Inc. and a promise to make things better. Indeed, published reports indicate that Apple has fixed many of the ills for which they were rightly criticized. But the initial missteps aren’t being forgotten. The tech media still treats the Maps app, and the potential for the one that will debut in OS X Mavericks, with the same level of disdain. Once broken, never fixed and frozen in time.

    It doesn’t matter that Google’s mapping apps come with beta notices, and warnings that they aren’t responsible if you get lost while using their navigation instructions. Google has been working on mapping longer than Apple, and thus they have to be better at the game. They seem to be, but the gap has narrowed. Things have changed, but some still believe it’s the fall of 2012 when Apple’s mapping troubles were discovered and viciously attacked. Curious that the existing problems with Google’s mapping service are seldom mentioned, even though they can be annoying. I’ve seen problems even when getting directions to nearby locations in a fairly large metropolitan region, where up-to-date mapping software really shouldn’t screw up.

    These days, it only takes a casual rumor about something going wrong at Apple, whether real or imagined, for the stock price to fall. Apple surely met expectations during the WWDC keynote, and most of the announcements were praiseworthy. Sure, the new interface of iOS 7 has been regarded as controversial to some. After all, it looks a lot different, even though the basic functions should work mostly the same. But maybe there is a developer revolt, because Apple must set things in stone and never, ever change. How dare they? This comes after Apple was criticized for having an aging and boring mobile OS that never changed. You can’t win!

    Well at least you don’t hear as many complaints about OS X Mavericks except, of course, that it doesn’t seem to be near as significant an upgrade. At least the Finder is getting some sorely needed attention, what with tabs and all, though it’s not certain if the inconsistent behavior, such as frequently failing to remember resizing and positioning, will ever be fixed.

    Then there’s Tim Cook. He’s the operations guy so therefore he knows nothing about products, and therefore is not regarded as a right and proper replacement for Steve Jobs. What about Jonathan Ive, the designer, who has never demonstrated the ability to manage an entire company, despite the brilliance at what he does? Did Cook just arrive at Apple on the day Jobs resigned as CEO? Obviously not, since he had been an acting CEO on several occasions and clearly demonstrated his ability to run the company. Besides, he’s been working there since the mid-1990s.

    But it all comes down to the products and, aside from the refreshed MacBook Air and the forthcoming Mac Pro, the questions aren’t answered yet. The “real” rollouts will happen this fall, with the promised arrival of iOS 7, OS X Mavericks, and no doubt new iPhones, new iPads, and maybe a few more Mac upgrades to accompany the 2013 Mac Pro. But what about the iTV or the iWatch? Do such products exist beyond the test labs? Is Apple going to release some “real” game changers? Then again, what about Samsung? Where’s their game-changer? Doesn’t anyone ever ask that question? Does anyone even care?

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