Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tone

The resolution of offering free cases is what many people predicted. Apple wasn’t going to do a recall or a mid-year redesign, though iPhone 5 will probably have a coating or other modification to reduce the attenuation in the “weak spot.” The odd part was the tone. I was expecting something like the classy open letters that Apple has been posting from time to time. It could have been direct, businesslike, and brief. Instead, the event seemed to drag on forever, and it had an emotional and political flavor. This is more apparent watching the video than in most written accounts.

Matt Drance:

The event opened awkwardly with the iPhone Antenna Song, which includes lyrics like “the media loves a failure,” “the facts won’t ever matter,” and ”this whole damn thing is stupid.” Members of “the media” who flew across the country on barely any notice to sit in that room and hear Apple out; who were about to be trusted with relaying a message critical to Apple’s reputation; were greeted with sarcastic hostility. Customers who have seen their dropped calls double and triple—statistical minority or not, they exist—were mocked.

David Weiss:

You really have to watch this quote to appreciate how the last line, “Okay. Great, let’s give everybody a case.” is dripping with disdain. Jobs seemed pretty forceful, even angry, during this whole presentation, but this part was exceptionally so. It’s like Jobs sees this “free case” response as a concession and certainly isn’t happy to announce it.

Farhad Manjoo:

Instead, he sounded wounded and paranoid, as if we were all being ungrateful for not recognizing Apple’s contributions to the world. “We love our users so much we’ve built 300 Apple retail stores for them,” he claimed at one point. […] At another point, he asked a questioner, bizarrely, “What would you prefer, that we’re a Korean company? Do you not like the fact that we’re an American company leading the world right here?”

Dave Winer:

On Friday, Apple asked us to believe that the iPhone is just a phone. It’s just like the phones that Nokia and RIM make, or Samsung or Motorola. Nothing special about it. That may be the single most important thing they said, and I’m not even sure they know they said it.

It seems this is the end of the antenna story for now. I will be happy to move on. However, I can’t help wondering whether we’ve just witnessed a significant shift in the relationship between the company and its customers.

9 Comments

I agree that Jobs was pissed. I would be too if I were him. The media and bloggers way overhyped the issue, an issue that most iPhone customers never ran across. I certainly didn't.

Why didn't the media write endlessly about the Nexus One grip of death? It was discovered in February. Has anyone heard about it?

I believe that there are some people out there in media-land that either are anti-Apple or just want eyeballs no matter what.

@CB: There is clearly an aspect of Apple-bashing involved here. Apple is an iconic company, so they get more attention than other companies, both good and bad. But that's not the whole story. The reason why we didn't get an endless stream of news about the Nexus One problem is that when Google introduced the phone, they didn't go on and on about how awesome the antenna design is. They also don't have a history of crappy reception. What's more, the problem on the Nexus One is different: You have to cover the antenna with your hand to make it happen (you only have to touch a specific spot on the iPhone), and by all accounts, the effect is much worse on the iPhone. And finally, Google sold like two dozen Nexus Ones, so on that count alone, the story was not important.

Is there some Apple-bashing involved? Yes. Is this the whole or even the main reason why the iPhone's problem gets so much attention? No.

> However, I can’t help wondering whether we’ve just witnessed a significant shift in the relationship between the company and its customers.

I’d have said more like between the company and the press.

"However, I can’t help wondering whether we’ve just witnessed a significant shift in the relationship between the company and its customers."

I think that shift actually happened about 2 years ago, and it's just now bubbling up into the mass public consciousness.

Mustn't appease the customers, after all...

@CB The fact that some in the media are on a “witch hunt” looking for a story to hype is, in a way, irrelevant. It doesn’t change the fact that there are real users experiencing real reception problems, regressions in behavior compared with previous iPhones. Apple’s responses contributed to the hype. Mossberg reported problems on day one, and over the next 22 days Apple stonewalled and tried to deflect blame. They offered a software update to make the bars taller. This is not how you make a story go away, not one that has an element of truth.

@Ölbaum I think part of the shift is that Apple discounted the honest customer complaints and came out swinging against the press. The open letters spoke directly. Here, Apple put the media between itself and its customers.

Imagine going to a restaurant, having a bad meal, and the waiter’s not helping. Eventually the manager comes over, and he starts off by telling you that the food writers have it in for him, and if you don’t like the food don’t eat here. You’ve been going there for years and just wanted them to re-cook your entrée. But the manager’s giving you a lecture about how they love their customers so much that they now have 300 restaurants. He’s got statistics about how few people complain. There’s nothing wrong with the food, and, anyway, no restaurant is free of kitchen screw-ups. Some people have been suggesting that they don’t use enough pepper. OK, let’s give everybody free pepper. That might cover over the bad taste. Your friend John asks whether the chef dumps lots of pepper on his food. No, of course not. That would ruin the refined flavors.

Daniel Jalkut reacts to this post. His take is well worth reading in full, so I won’t try to summarize it.

Daniel writes:

Now that Apple is on top again, Jobs seems to be losing that knack for inspiring fans. He’s turning into a sore winner.

If one looks at the history, I think there is an interesting parallel to be made.

Steve-o's decision making over the past two years mirrors his decision making in the year and a half between the introduction of the Macintosh and his ouster from the company.

Between 1986 and 2008, we had a chastened but stil quietly arrogant Steve-o. That's the good version. In the '84 and '85 period, and now, we get a non-chastened version, along with a streak of contempt for his customers.

He also writes:

I believe Jobs is an idealist product visionary who wants the best for Apple and for its customers. But he’s lost his ability to manage his own image, and thus the image of the company.

The antenna issue alone is an image problem.

But what's been going on the last couple of years goes much deeper than image, and really does have to do with Jobs's attitude toward customers.

Chastened but stil quietly arrogant Steve-o needed his customers and catered to them.

Non-chastened and contemptuous Steve-o thinks of his customers as annoyances.

Worked throughout company policy, that becomes something much more than just image.

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I don't disagree with much in Daniels's piece, but I think his focus is tangential to the central issues here.

Or put another way, I agree with Michael that the takeaway is:

However, I can’t help wondering whether we’ve just witnessed a significant shift in the relationship between the company and its customers.

That's deeper than image issues.

"Jean-Louis Gassée makes some great points."

Yup.

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It's worth remembering that dissing the press and dissing third-party developers are actually rather direct ways of dissing your customers.

This isn't "antenna-gate". This is "don't appease customers-gate".

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