06
Jul 10

An open letter back to Apple

Dear Apple,

Thanks for the open letter last week about the iPhone 4 antenna issue. You know I’m a lifelong supporter, and I wish nothing but the best for you. So please take this in the helpful spirit in which it is intended:

That letter was pretty dreadful.

I’m not talking so much about the content. It’s more the way you presented it — which I found very out of character for a company normally so adept at PR. Your choice of words affected how your fans and detractors think of you. And with both groups, you raised far more eyebrows than you needed to.

First, I was surprised that Steve didn’t write this letter personally, since it’s hard to imagine a topic more worthy of his attention. And then the way you tell the story just feels kind of amateurish.

Apple's own words lead directly to stories like the NY Post's

We have discovered the cause of this dramatic drop in bars, and it is both simple and surprising. Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong.

It’s a bit disconcerting to hear that you’re surprised and shocked. You get major points for honesty — but demerits for unnecessarily shaking our confidence. Surely you could have laid out the same facts in a far more positive way, without being shocked at your own misunderstanding.

This mistake has been present since the original iPhone…

Now you call it a “mistake,” and get into how iPhones have been falsely displaying bars since the beginning of time. You make yourself sound bumbling, which I know you are not. Unfortunately, putting it this way leads directly to headlines like the one pictured in this post.

We’re also making bars 1,2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see.

When I first read this line (not on your site), I was convinced your letter was a hoax. It actually made me laugh. This is purely cosmetic, and has nothing to do with the problem. Better to have just built this into the software fix and let it be received as a nice touch later.

It’s not like you haven’t been here before. You’ve always gone out of your way — sometimes at great expense — to turn negatives into positives. Remember when you faced a customer revolt over the $599 pricing on the original iPhone? Steve wrote an open letter, lowered the price to $399, gave out $100 Apple Store certificates to early buyers — and you ended up enhancing your image as a result.

Sometimes history is a very good thing to repeat. In this case, a letter from Steve could have cured all. He could have told us how iPhone 4 has broken all sales records, and the vast majority of owners are in love with it. He could have explained how the antenna design actually improves reception for most, and enabled you to make the phone 24% thinner. He then could have told us how a very small percentage of people are experiencing issues — but any percentage is unacceptable to Apple. To address the mistaken perception, Apple is now adopting AT&T’s newest standards for displaying bars in the software. And since the problem disappears entirely with a Bumper or any case, Apple will be giving Bumpers to any customer who requests one. It would be a hell of a lot cheaper than giving out $100 Apple Store certificates.

Done this way, CNN wouldn’t be reporting that Apple has “raised more questions than they answered.” The NY Post wouldn’t be talking about Apple admitting it had been “misleading customers” since 2007. A hundred bloggers wouldn’t be turning Apple’s own words against them. The episode would be behind us, and Apple would once again be praised for “doing the right thing.”

If only.

Oh, and by the way, no need to send me a Bumper. My iPhone 4 is doing just fine, thanks.

Tags: , , , , ,

  • yeah, but don’t you find it a bit sad that they’re footing the bill for bad signal reception and dropped calls by blaming the way the signal is displayed on the phone?

    as if the display is the answer to a bad partnership with AT&T …

    fail.

  • My sentiments exactly, Ken. That letter did more to undermine my confidence in Apple than the antenna issue ever did. In fact, that letter single-handedly made me reconsider getting an iPhone 4. It is so unlike Apple that I fear their success has finally clouded their vision and things can only get worse from here on out. It’s a shame.

  • neilw

    I think the content is just as much a problem as the presentation (which I agree, should have come straight from Jobs), and Apple is flirting with real trouble here.

    There is sufficient anectodal evidence that the iPhone4’s antenna *is* highly sensitive to being touched or held in the wrong way, moreso than with other phones. While an incorrect bar display might be exaggerating the perceived magnitude of loss, the fact remains that folks can demonstrate loss of connection by putting a finger on the lower left seam. That will not be fixed by a change in bar display, unless Apple secretly inserts some additional fixes, which will be revealed by testing (if not by their own release notes) and will make them look even worse.

    Soon, all iPhones will display fewer bars. That will make both Apple *and* AT&T look worse. Simultaneously, the signal drop problem will not go away for many users, and the Youtube movies demonstrating the problem will keep coming. Oh, and we’ll all continue to suspect that this “stunning error” in bar display was intentional all along.

    First “you’re holding it wrong”, and then “we’re displaying it wrong”, but still no admission that “we built it wrong”. Very very worrisome.

    BTW, I understand that in most circumstances the new antenna works very well, but clearly it has a vulnerability that should be addressed properly (at minimum, it would seem they should be applying an insulating coating to the antenna.) This has the makings of a long-lasting hit for Apple’s reputation. I hope they can get it straightened out at some point.

  • sarumbear

    Let us welcome Apple to the knee-jerk reactionary world of large corporations, which are run by bean-counters who only see as far ahead as their inboxes.

    Apple’s response is the same as what would Wall-Mart have done in the same circumstances. Tell them everything is OK, whitewash the fact with some irrelevant information and promise that a ‘fix’ is on the way for the very few who are effected. They care for their customers after all…

    iPhone4 is the point where Apple matured and became yet another American corporation. Get ready to see more debacles like that. They have become the new Sony and are worth more than Microsoft but they managed to do that by becoming like them.

    R.I.P. Apple the revolutionary.

  • Glen Jacobs

    Couldn’t have said it better, and apparently neither could they.

  • ZoDouble

    I think the content is just as much a problem as the presentation (which I agree, should have come straight from Jobs), and Apple is flirting with real trouble here.

    There is sufficient anectodal evidence that the iPhone4′s antenna *is* highly sensitive to being touched or held in the wrong way, moreso than with other phones. While an incorrect bar display might be exaggerating the perceived magnitude of loss, the fact remains that folks can demonstrate loss of connection by putting a finger on the lower left seam. That will not be fixed by a change in bar display, unless Apple secretly inserts some additional fixes, which will be revealed by testing (if not by their own release notes) and will make them look even worse.

    Soon, all iPhones will display fewer bars. That will make both Apple *and* AT&T look worse. Simultaneously, the signal drop problem will not go away for many users, and the Youtube movies demonstrating the problem will keep coming. Oh, and we’ll all continue to suspect that this “stunning error” in bar display was intentional all along.

    First “you’re holding it wrong”, and then “we’re displaying it wrong”, but still no admission that “we built it wrong”. Very very worrisome.

    BTW, I understand that in most circumstances the new antenna works very well, but clearly it has a vulnerability that should be addressed properly (at minimum, it would seem they should be applying an insulating coating to the antenna.) This has the makings of a long-lasting hit for Apple’s reputation. I hope they can get it straightened out at some point.

  • ZoDouble

    I think the issue is that we are not uninformed consumers but, we are a bit sensationalized by an industry that promises more than it can deliver, especially from a provider/s (Apple & AT&T) that is defiant, bold and a bit of an a$$hole (Steve Jobs). He is not a stupid man, so his comments clearly show disrespect for all the consumers that drank his Kool-Aid (me included). He should promptly say, thank you for your purchases, I will work hard to correct the problems with the lemons I sold you…period.

    Knowing he will not do this (BTW, is anyone getting the feeling there is finger pointing between AT&T and Apple?), we must press on and make a tough decision. The phone itself is outstanding (in theory). We just need to get past all these kinks (after they are admitted). The iPhone is a great toy/supertool/device/help but, at some phone, please be at least a half decent phone.

    BTW, mine drops calls in all areas no matter what my signal is…mutes the call even if I have my face near the phone and the screen should be dark (maybe I’m moving it a millimeter too far left or right, up or down), and hangs up while I’m talking (I find out when it is randomly dialing another contact).

  • Yeah, there are so many things wrong with that press release, as you pointed out.

    As to iPhone 4, I find the WiFi is much stronger no matter how you hold it, but the cellular connection is another story. Got mine swapped, going to see how the new one works.

  • Steve

    Absolutely correct, Ken. The letter marked a new era in the tone and perspective taken by Apple. They appear to have joined the ranks of their competitors. It may have taken them a little longer than most but they’ve ultimately started down a path which destroys their “point of difference”. It was only a matter of time.

  • Ron

    Let’s hope that Apple finally “wakes up” in the next few days and addresses the reception if held a certain way in the left hand directly. This is coming at the time when there are other smartphones that now do all (and perhaps more) than the iPhone. But as for me, I like my iPhone. But I am now very skeptical of upgrading, and I had wanted to get an iPhone 4.

    The reason for me. Although I am right handed, I always talk on the phone with my right hand. With a cell phone or desk phone. That leaves my right hand able to write.

    Apple please…do the right thing. Offer to provide free “bumpers” to any customer who has already purchased the iPhone 4 who wants one. And then also work on an “internal hardware fix” that could at least be applied to the hopefully millions of more units of iPhone 4 that will be sold.

    Or you could offer to do a recall, by replacing all phones with a re-designed iPhone 4-fixed model that actually can be used with ease in any way that it is held in either right or left hand. If you did something like this…you would lose a lot of money this year, but you would gain even many more customers for life.

    And (just my opinion), for the upcoming iPhone 5, put the antennae back inside the phone. It doesn’t even look good on the outside.