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Should Apple Take on the Critics?

In my weekend column, I suggested that Apple CEO Tim Cook could be a little more direct in responding to the critics and inaccurate reports. Yes, he does on occasion correct the record during the quarterly conference call with financial analysts. But outside of a dedicated audience of Apple diehards and the financial community, those comments, conveyed in his typically calm fashion, don’t receive a lot of coverage.

Take his statement, amid reports of cutbacks in iPhone 5 orders back in 2012, that you can’t take a few supply chain metrics and apply them to overall sales. For the most part, it didn’t penetrate, and it didn’t change the negative trajectory of Apple’s stock price, at least at the time. As Apple continued to stack up record sales and profits, things just turned around on the market.

Now I suppose that’s very much what Cook expected. He’s playing long ball and expects short-term issues to resolve themselves over time. Perhaps that’s why he continues to express optimism about flagging iPad sales. Knowing what Apple’s future plans will be, he appears confident that the situation will turn around and the iPad will eventually return to its stellar growth path. Or at least he hopes it will.

Frankly, I think Cook’s statements about the iPad are mostly corporate spin. Maybe he is genuinely optimistic about the future of the iPad, and that future initiatives to update and promote the platform will eventually bear fruit. He also said, about current sales figures, “it is what it is,” so he recognizes reality as much as he would prefer that things went differently.

Now when it comes to answering the critics beyond such measured statements, that’s another question. I suppose it’s fair to say that corporate executives aren’t expected to engage in much give and take when it comes to dealing with the critics. Stay above the fray, and perhaps that’s the best approach. If a company has an army of supporters, such as Apple, best to let them get involved in the trench wars.

But there are times where unanswered questions don’t look so good for a company. What about lingering bugs in a software update? What about, for example, Wi-Fi performance lapses and Continuity inconsistencies in OS X Yosemite? What about complaints about slow third-party app performance with the Apple Watch, and situations where Siri won’t open or the watch won’t come awake when you move your wrist? Wouldn’t it make sense to occasionally issue a press announcement of known problems and provide the proper reassurance that things will be fixed real soon now? Of course, that assumes Apple expects a quick solution.

As it is, some of the fixes may come as a surprise, even to developers. Even when iOS or OS X is being beta tested, the release notes may not reflect what’s being fixed beyond listing several focus areas. So it makes it harder for testers, and that now includes members of the general public who sign up for Apple’s beta program, to figure out what they are testing for. Does Apple hope they will simply look at the bugs they’ve discovered in the past to see if they are fixed, or just make a good guess?

When you look at the release notes of a final release, you wonder where some of that stuff sprang from. It wasn’t included in the information presented in the prereleases.

That all goes to the way Apple handles corporate communications. Although there have been changes in key personnel, it doesn’t seem that policies and approaches have changed that much, at least so far. You get the predictable PR hype when new products appear, and that is to be expected. Sometimes a PR rep will respond to a request from the media for a response to a specific problem, where they will be told a fix is in the works. But that assumes it’s not just another no comment.

Don’t forget that a “no comment” may convey the impression that the company wants to avoid a question, even if it’s something genuinely being considered or worked on.

At a time where Apple is supposedly becoming more open about how the company operates, and its outreaches, I still do not feel that serious questions are being answered. And when the media makes and repeats outrageous claims about the company — which are sometimes serious enough to impact the stock price — there ought to be fast and detailed responses so everyone knows what’s going on.

After all, it’s rare that the critics who attack Apple for almost everything can admit they are wrong. They will usually get into a loop and repeat themselves as if they were right all along, despite facts to the contrary.

Sure, I suppose you can’t believe a company anymore than a politician when something is denied. But at least there’s another point of view for the media to cover beyond the usual refusal to comment. It would be a refreshing change, but it’s not that Apple appears to be suffering for silence.