Apple Disgruntlement Reaching Fever Pitch
Apple's customers want an apology. Whether a company that has elevated arrogance to an art form can suddenly become meek is one question that will likely be answered at its press conference on Friday, presumably called to address the iPhone 4 antenna crisis. They also want a fix, of course -- and a new carrier wouldn't hurt either. "iPhone users are sick and tired of AT&T's crappy service," said consultant BJ Gallagher.
It has not been a pretty few weeks for Apple. Almost immediately following its release of the iPhone 4, reception problems began popping up, with complaints quickly spreading online through traditional and social media. Then, came Consumer Reports' review of the phone -- which it did not recommend due to its antenna problems.
The issue reached a crescendo as talk of a recall made the rounds, with estimates of its cost to Apple ranging from US$100 million to $1.5 billion. Throughout it all, Apple's acknowledgment of the problem has been grudging, with the company minimizing it at every turn.
Now, though, it appears that Apple smells the coffee. On Friday, at 10 a.m. PT, it is holding a press conference, presumably about the iPhone 4, although Apple has not disclosed the agenda. Customers, would be customers, shareholders -- and even Apple's own staff, no doubt -- are putting together their wish lists of what they hope the company will say.
For all but the most die-hard Apple fanatics, a graceful apology is likely crucial, TJ Walker, CEO of Media Training Worldwide, told MacNewsWorld.
"It needs to say 'we are sorry; we know something went wrong -- now here is what you have to do to fix it,'" he said.
Otherwise, Apple is going to look arrogant, said Walker.
That is something that has historically played in the company's favor, he acknowledged -- but that was when its products were seen as flawless.
Snubbing consumers gets old very fast, even with devoted fans, observed Walker. "Do it often enough and you can even alienate your base customers."
And a Thank You
It would also behoove Apple to thank its customers for their patience and put its own money on the line to illustrate how truly sorry it is, Azita Arvani of the Arvani Group told MacNewsWorld.
"Apple should thank its loyal customers for buying the device despite the glitch in the antenna design," she suggested. "The company should offer free rubber bumpers to all iPhone 4 owners, or offer credits for the ones who already bought one. Or, in the extreme case, if a current iPhone owner wants to return the phone due to this glitch, they should be allowed to do so."
Investors, in particular, will be looking for some transparency from Apple.
"The company is not known for being open -- look at the secrecy surrounding Steve Jobs' health," noted Walker.
"Shareholders will be looking for Apple to address this head on," he said, "including with estimates of possible damage to its financials."
Solid information about a fix is a must, said Debra Caruso, principal with DJC Communications.
"As an iPhone owner, I'd like to know how and when they're going to fix the dropped-call issue," she told MacNewsWorld. "More than half of my calls are dropped; service is worse than it was with my 3G."
Caruso has a rubber case, but it has not solved the problem for her. Even if the fix is not imminent, Apple should just say so, she said.
Apple might try uttering a couple of magic words -- in this case, "Verizon" and "Sprint" -- suggested BJ Gallagher, a business consultant and author.
"iPhone users are sick and tired of AT&T's crappy service, and they feel resentful and trapped by Apple's exclusive deal with the phone giant," she told MacNewsWorld.
"Whenever you have a monopoly situation, you better make sure that you deliver better service, because people don't have the option to take their business elsewhere," Gallagher continued. "Feeling trapped makes any problems seem even worse, and it drives customer anger through the roof."
There are a lot of potential customers who won't buy an iPhone until Apple unhooks from AT&T and gives people the option of going with Verizon or Sprint, she said.
Apple and AT&T competitors, meanwhile, are no doubt hoping for more of the same from the companies, said David Bernard, managing director of DB Marketing Technologies.
"They are loving this whole thing. Yesterday, a Microsoft executive called the iPhone 4 'Apple's Vista' -- which is an absurd comment for many reasons but is resonating because of how Apple has blundered its response," Bernard told MacNewsWorld.
Apple's PR Pros
Which brings us to Apple's PR staff. It's hard to say where in the company their tepid and frustrating response originated, but Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group has one guess.
"What is Apple's PR staff hoping will happen in the press conference?" he mulled. "That Steve Jobs will actually let them do their jobs, or goes on a long vacation -- or that they're given early retirement bonuses."