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Can Apple Get By With 'Nobody's Perfect' Defense?

By Peter Suciu MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Oct 2, 2012 5:00 AM PT

The new iPhone 5 has a bigger screen, a faster chip and a thinner display. It also has a share of problems, including complaints about WiFi performance. However, this weekend Apple reportedly fixed an iPhone 5 bug that had caused the handset to use Verizon mobile data when the phone should have been connected to a WiFi network.

Can Apple Get By With 'Nobody's Perfect' Defense?

All users of the iPhone 5 had to do to fix the problem was download and install an update -- but is this something that users should expect when buying a new smartphone?

"No company is perfect," said Ian Fogg, senior principal analyst and head of the IHS mobile sector at IHS iSuppli. "Because Apple is a market leader, its products receive more attention than other smartphones, and the normal teething issues are picked up more widely in the press. It's quite common for new smartphone models to have similar teething problems."

The Apple Standard

What seems especially noteworthy with the launch of iPhone 5 is the media attention. While many companies have experienced similar problems, such as Samsung's Galaxy S III, which had battery issues, Apple seems suddenly in the spotlight for the WiFi issues.

Are users -- and voices in the blogosphere -- holding Apple to a higher standard? And is the reaction worthy of the problem? For those experiencing it, there was worry that the bug could cost a significant amount of money.

"There is perhaps a higher standard for Apple products, but this is a glitch that can cause significant pain as data caps and shared pools of data in family plans could quickly be exhausted by this glitch," said Chris Silva, industry analyst with the Altimeter Group. "Users watching YouTube videos or Netflix in the home -- only to later find they've burned their entire data allotment and potentially even run afoul of caps resulting in overage charges, diminished service or even service termination" would certainly have cause for concern.

"Similar to the iPhone 4 'antennagate' issue," he continued, "this could be a major issue that materially impacts a user's ability to make use of the iPhone as intended, which should rightfully cause some user outrage."

Moreover, since the update was released over the weekend, it isn't clear if all issues have in fact been resolved.

"We don't yet know whether this patch for the WiFi problem will work yet," said telecommunications analyst Jeff Kagan.

Apple has had its share of problems recently, he told MacNewsWorld.

"Then again, they always had their share of problems, but Steve Jobs never blinked," Kagan added. "These problems seems bigger and, in a first, Apple is responding. This is a sign that Apple is maturing. That is good. But will it be good for the Apple-mystique going forward?"

Smartphones' Dumb Problems

Apple isn't alone in having problems with its smartphones. One fact to consider is that the modern smartphone is indeed a very complex device that includes a radio antenna and has computer technology that was only seen on desktops a decade ago.

The smartphone can do so many things, but unlike a laptop or desktop it is also designed to be carried around, used in a variety of weather conditions, and possbily handled quite roughly at times.

"And it can be used literally anywhere," added Fogg.

Could Apple's latest woes suggest something bigger than another dumb problem on a smartphone?

"With any new OS version and/or major hardware change, their will likely be problems," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"But Jobs himself was the final sign-off on new products when he was healthy, and it is becoming very clear that Apple's quality control process has suffered badly since his passing," he added.

"Word from inside the company is that executives remain afraid to make critical decisions, which pushes products back and dramatically shortens or eliminates quality testing prior to approval for manufacturing, which likely is the source of these problems," Enderle told MacNewsWorld.

Apple's Response to Consumers and Carriers

What matters now is the response -- not only to the customers who have experienced the problems, but also to the carriers.

"It is fairly normal thing to have problems with a new smartphone," said Fogg, "but it isn't just consumers [Apple] has to worry about. They have to make sure that the carriers don't get upset, as the carriers will get complaints and possibly returns."

And it seems like Apple is keenly aware of all this as well.

"Apple users seem particularly sensitive to any imperfections," added Enderle. "Because this product touches so many people and this is Apple's only phone -- as opposed to lines of products released at different times from mostly smaller vendors -- breaks hit more people. This makes them far more visible, and quality control far more important to Apple. Similar problems with other vendors might only hit a relatively small number of buyers buying one of many phones from a particular vendor, and likely not get anywhere near the number of complaints as a result."

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