Welcome to the Latest Applegate Controversy

October 1st, 2013

As I’ve said in previous columns, it seems that Apple can’t catch a break. Just when things seem to be going well, the media says it’s all bad news.

Take the announcement that Apple sold nine million 2013 iPhones the first three days they were on sale. No other mobile handset company has come close, but something must be wrong. In this case, a few suggested Apple was merely stuffing the channel, which is something other companies do all the time. But that doesn’t explain why you had difficulty getting an iPhone 5s. Sure, some were available on launch day, or perhaps for a short time the day after. But if you ordered one from Apple online the second they were available, you still had to wait one to three business days. Add the usual delivery time and you’d wait a week to 10 days for yours.

Does anyone honestly believe Apple held back the iPhone 5s rather than rush them into the hands of millions of waiting customers? What about Apple’s modified earnings guidance which they, in an unprecedented move, filed before the S.E.C.? It was reported that earnings would be on the high side, and they can’t earn more money unless they sell more product.

And that’s before we get to the alleged corporate scandals. No, I’m not referring to the stock backdating issue involving shares issued to Steve Jobs that occurred in 2006. It didn’t hurt anyone’s ability to buy a new Mac or iPod — there were no iPhones or iPads back then — but it was an issue that the S.E.C. investigated, although probably one no more serious than what other companies do. It was hardly a scandal as scandals go.

What was perceived by some overeager pundits as a real scandal at the time was AntennaGate, involving the 2010 iPhone 4 (which is still being sold in a few countries, by the way). Seems that some users complained that they got disconnects when holding the thing in a certain way. Steve Jobs didn’t help matters when he said, “don’t do that,” which sort of echoes that old vaudeville joke. In any case, this is was sort of thing that filled up YouTube videos at the time, and caused some bad press, so Jobs had to call a press conference to explain how Apple had a $100 million antenna test lab at corporate headquarters. You can’t break the laws of physics, he said, but if you still had problems, Apple was happy to send you a free bumper case to protect the phone. And eliminate the problem.

It didn’t matter that pretty much every other mobile handset on the market had a similar issue when held in a certain way. Sometimes the product manuals mentioned it, or maybe there was a warning label in the dangerous spot. Consumer Reports didn’t help matters by ignoring this nasty fact and damning the iPhone 4 with a refusal to recommend. However, it’s not as if sales were hurt.

But maybe Jobs should have held his tongue — or his keyboard — and this is the sort of thing that Tim Cook would simply never do. His moods appear much more centered.

Since then, Apple has revised the antenna scheme to something similar to the diversity antenna used in cars these days. You have multiple antennas, and the one that gets the best signal is favored. So you didn’t hear complaints about reception so much in an iPhone 4S or later, unless you were in one of your wireless carrier’s dead spots.

In 2012, Apple stumbled into yet another scandal, the infamous Mapgate. Apple wanted to dump Google from as many iOS services as possible, and they clearly invested a bundle in building Maps for iOS 6. But it should have been labeled a beta, since it was extremely ragged at the start. Wrong locations, wrong directions, and bad 3D pictures with melting bridges or statues. Regardless, Cook made his apologies, fired the offending executives, and things have supposedly gotten much better since then.

But Apple still hasn’t quite lived down the mapping issues, even though Google Maps isn’t exactly perfect.

This year’s presumed scandal is MotionGate. So some people, apparently susceptible to vertigo, are complaining that iOS 7’s parallax effect and other animations may make some people dizzy. Now I don’t know if this is a real problem or not, so I’ll let the physicians have their due.

Certainly there is a partial fix in the iOS 7 General>Accessibility settings. You can switch on the Reduce Motion option, which minimizes parallax and other special effects. You can also stop using dynamic wallpapers, which eliminates that element of the problem entirely.

Now maybe these fixes aren’t enough. Maybe Apple has to have more options to totally switch off any animated effect. I’m not prepared to say, since I don’t find any of these activities to be at all intrusive, and I suspect most of you would agree. But if even a few percent of the population suffers ill effects, and if the current workarounds aren’t good enough, Apple ought to consider a more thorough fix.

I do not, however, think it’s worth a major scandal. But this is Apple, and the rules are different.

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5 Responses to “Welcome to the Latest Applegate Controversy”

  1. Ponter says:

    No, this year’s major scandals involve security, and the latest is this: http://blogs.computerworld.com/mobile-security/22903/anonymous-claim-apples-touch-id-linked-us-surveillance.

    The “scandals” highlighted in your column are mere product performance annoyances, easily rectified by the manufacturer. And Apple get more attention than the issues warrant because they have been enormously successful in garnering the major portion of mindshare in the computer industry. Hoist on their own petard, in a way.

    In real life, as opposed to some synthetic iTunes world, the security scandals are potential life-and-death issues which affect the very notion of human freedom.

  2. immovableobject says:

    I don’t know if the biometric “scandal” to which Ponter refers has an real basis, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. Apple and many other major tech companies have been already shown by Snowden’s whistle-blowing revelations to be cooperating in secret with the government to strip away our privacy.

    Here though, the blame should not be placed on Apple. The true culprit is our own government using its power of coercion to gain unbridled access to every scrap of information about each of our lives. There probably isn’t any need for the government to have your fingerprint on file, as they can already access your educational, employment, medical, and purchase history, your social network, voice communications, internet activity, location history (through license plate and cell phone tracking), and more.

    Google and Microsoft, for example, were giving the government access long before Apple caved in. Don’t think for a minute that any company doing business in the US has the power to resist their demands.

  3. DaveD says:

    With exception of Maps, I would categorize the other “gate” issues as “tacky fouls.” A phrase borrowed from basketball’s great player, Bill Walton, and now a commentator on questionable calls made by the referees.

    When you are at the top of a mountain, some folks want to push you off. I think it is fine to do so if what took you to the top were deeds on the nefarious side which Microsoft and Google are prime examples. Hey, I’m still upset when Microsoft swiped Bungie from under Apple’s struggling feet for the then-new Xbox. But, Karma may step in to sweep away the gaming consoles for iDevices on the go.

  4. A little reality check here, in case some of you haven’t heard. The fingerprint data is reportedly stored in the A7 chip; it isn’t sent into the cloud nor available as a separate file. So if it were to be used for surveillance, one would have to have access to the individual iPhone, I suppose.


  5. AdamC says:

    Anonymous can claimed anything but the point is can they prove it.

    Your fingerprint is known to every government agency and if you didn’t do anything wrong why be afraid of the dark.

    Or your ego dictate that you are somewhat of importance that the government would like to know more about you. Lol

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