Bottom Five Apple Stories of the Year

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

Last week, I presented the Top Five Apple Stories of the Year. Today, I swing the pendulum to the opposite extreme and review the Bottom Five Apple Stories of the Year. By “bottom,” I don’t mean “least important” or “worst.” Rather, these were the five biggest stories of the year in which Apple is cast in a negative light (as opposed to last week’s “positive” topics) or that otherwise reflected negatively on Apple’s finances and popularity. These are the stories that, if Apple had the power to induce amnesia in the public, they would most likely want us to forget.

iPhone side

Without further ado (another drum roll, please), here are your Bottom Five Apple Stories of the Year:

5. Android’s success. The smartphone market is not entirely a zero-sum game. There is room for more than one successful product. Still, there is a battle for supremacy going on between Android phones and iPhones. The final outcome remains too uncertain to call. We’ve seen a good deal of reports this past year pointing to the overall success of the iPhone — stunning sales figures, huge popularity of the App Store, and superior features. However, Android’s accelerating pace of sales, “surging” popularity, and favorable assessments — must be making Apple executives more than a bit nervous.

4. Ping. Apple’s attempt at an iTunes-based social networking service was introduced on September 1. It tripped on a virtual banana peel the very same day: Ping was apparently designed to link up with Facebook, but the deal was pulled at the last minute. So last minute that, on launch day, Apple’s website still erroneously stated that Ping could connect to Facebook. Apple had to do some quick back-pedaling to explain what happened.

That was hardly the end of Ping’s troubles. Although there have been a few exceptions, the overall response to Ping has ranged from lukewarm to harshly negative (as typified by this review). The nadir of this criticism was reached on December 21, when NPR declared Ping one of the “Worst Ideas of 2010,” rhetorically asking “How did the Apple crew create a social networking site for music way back in September, but only introduce a way to swap playlists four months later?” [Bryan Chaffin, here at The Mac Observer, offered a partial rebuttal to the NPR assessment.]

3. App Store controversies. Apple’s App Store is incredibly popular. The quality and variety of its apps may well be the biggest advantage that iOS devices hold over competitors. Yet, the very same App Store remains at the center of an ongoing series of controversies. Among the lows that were hit this year were:

Flash ban. Steve Jobs triggered a long and ugly debate when he declared that, not only will Flash continue to be missing from Safari on iOS devices, but Apple would prohibit apps that were developed using Flash Packager for iPhone. Although Apple had its defenders, the consensus was that Apple had gone too far. Apple ultimately agreed and subsequently backtracked on this ban.

Freedom from porn. In defending the App Store’s policy regarding rejecting apps, Steve Jobs emailed Gawker’s Ryan Tate that the App Store offered “freedom from porn.” Regardless of whether or not you believe pornographic apps should be permitted in the App Store, you have to go through some serious contortions to define a ban as a “freedom.”

File Sharing. Coinciding with the release of iWork apps for iPad, Apple introduced a way to share documents between iOS devices and Macs. Unfortunately, as I have previously covered, the procedure is klunky and unnecessarily complicated — and hampered by Apple’s insistence that data for each app be isolated within the app’s sandbox (making sharing a document among more than one app practically impossible). Although Apple has since taken a few steps to improve how sharing works, the essential complaints remain. As a result, Dropbox has become a popular alternative to using iTunes for sharing. While Apple’s sharing restrictions also prevent this app from working as well as it should, it’s definitely an improvement.

Add to this list the steady drip-drip of stories about “unfairly” rejected apps, Apple’s efforts to block jailbreaking, the wrangling over a model for magazine app subscriptions, and general criticism of the “closed” nature of the App Store — and you have a recipe that is likely to keep the App Store as a contender for the Bottom Five in the years ahead.

2. That stolen iPhone 4 prototype. Months before the phone’s official release, Gizmodo published details of an iPhone 4 prototype. Gizmodo had acquired the prototype from someone who claimed to have found it in a bar. A controversy erupted. Had Gizmodo stolen the prototype? Would there be arrests? The story became front page news. The saga continued to make headlines long after Apple began selling the iPhone 4.

Apple claimed that the revelations significantly hurt sales of the then-current iPhone 3GS. They indicated they would seek damages.

While Gizmodo deservedly took the brunt of the negative press, Apple’s (overzealous?) interest in pursuing criminal charges began to reflect poorly on Apple as well. The low point came with a questionable police search and seizure of Jason Chen’s property. Regardless of who wound up on the losing end of the blame game, it’s safe to say that Apple would have preferred if this incident had never occurred.

1. iPhone 4 reception and Antennagate. The #1 Bottom Story of the Year was an easy call: Antennagate. The problem: 3G reception of the iPhone 4 was significantly hindered if the user held the phone in such a way as to cover the antenna exposure on the side of the device.

While some (including me) felt that the problem was fairly minimal and that press coverage was way overblown, it none-the-less escalated to another front page story. Perhaps worse, the iPhone became the butt of a national joke; editorial cartoons, blogs and TV shows all had a field day.

Apple didn’t help itself when Steve Jobs initially suggested that the solution to the problem was to “avoid holding (the iPhone) that way.” A bit later, a letter from Apple wrongly suggested that the problem resided entirely in software.

The low point was reached when Consumer Reports described the reception loss as a “hardware flaw” and declined to recommend the iPhone 4. Apple countered with a hastily-prepared press conference, a rare event where no new products were announced. Instead, Apple attempted to show that the reception problem affected all smartphones, not just the iPhone. More importantly, Apple announced that they would be giving a free iPhone case (a confirmed work-around for the symptom) to all iPhone 4 owners. Over the ensuing weeks, coverage of the matter finally began to fade.

(Dis?)Honorable mention: AT&T. A special nod goes to AT&T for the negative press it received throughout the year. While not directly an Apple story (which is why I did not include it in the Top Five), it’s too close for comfort to ignore. There was AT&T’s one year delay in support for the iPhone’s tethering feature — enabling it only with an absurdly high fee. There was AT&T’s canceling of the iPad 3G unlimited data plan — only a month after the iPad 3G shipped. And, of course, there are the ongoing reports of AT&T’s poor 3G service.

[Don’t forget to check out the Top Five Apple Stories of the Year, posted last week.]

Comments

Zadoc

You’re insane if you think it’s too early to tell if Android will beat out iPhone. Android already has more marketshare and is far outpacing Apple in sales.

Bugsy

You know, I thought the incredible sales revenue, stock valuations and explosively positive response to the iphone4 would put and end to the “antenna gate” hoax, but here it is again, rearing it’s ugly head at years end. Yes sir, that certainly was a negative for the product! GOOD NOTICE!

wab95

Ted:

Great picks. I agree with all of the above except the first bullet, Android’s success. To be clear, I think you are correct to highlight this story. While I understand that Apple ‘may’ (not sure they actually do) wish this story away, I think this is a terrific story that can only be improved upon by the emergence of a predominant Android experience and/or hardware feature set.

Simply hearing that Android sales outpace iPhone sales is not very meaningful to consumers of either OS product line, in that actual products and services are not being compared. Where we the consumers benefit is when a defined feature set or service is a sales driver, compelling the competition to step up their game and offer more or drop their prices or both. Specifically, more Android sales and activations are not likely to drive iOS/iPhone improvements if those Android sales are predominately in the low-end market.

Still, the emergence of a worthy competitor is something to be desired in any competitive market. Thus, while you may be right that Apple wish this story of Android success could be swept under the carpet, for consumers at least, it is a cause for celebration.

RonMacGuy

Zadoc, when they wrap a $100 check around every Android phone that is being sold, sure it will “outpace” Apple. Verizon is discounting EVERY single new Android “smart"phone.  Samsung Fascinate?  $100 off.  Motorola Droid Pro?  $100 off.  Droid X?  $100 off.  Droid Incredible?  $100 off.  No single Verizon Android phone is more than $200.  What a pathetic joke that makes me LMAO!!  Not a single new Droid phone even at these discounted pricing is touching in a week what iPhone 4 sales were the first weekend.  Now let me explain something to you.  When something is a lot cheaper in price than something else, it typically sells more.  But there is no way Motorola or Samsung can make any money selling these phones at less than $200, even if Verizon is subsidizing them.  Well, it is a “free” operating system, so maybe they are making a little money.  But Apple makes a ton of profit on each phone, and they are selling millions of them.  Makes me as a shareholder very happy…

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Android is going to be Ted’s number 1 story on his bottom 5 for Apple in 2011, even if Steve Jobs is forced to retire because of his health. I actually think that a more meta “Apple superiority myth debunked” would be a better #1, but it is happening and nobody realizes it.

What really has me convinced about Android right now is that absolutely none of my phone honk friends carries an iPhone. None. The HTC Evo represents most right now for phone honks to clip to their belt, while N1 works for those of us that pocket our phones. And if messaging is your bread and butter, BlackBerry is still the tried and true and trusted.

Once you’re down the ladder below dedicated phone honks, though, I’ve found that Android people figure out how to do way more stuff than iPhone people. Want your text messages read through your Bluetooth while you drive? smsReader app that installs a little background hook to watch for text messages and then read them. Need to carry files with you? Bluetooth them to/from your computer without needing a special app or a cloud service. Want turn by turn spoken directions without having to stop at the side of the road or take your attention away from driving? Click the Bluetooth, say “Navigate to Daphne’s in Foothill Ranch California.

Android doesn’t treat you like you’re 5 and ends up working the way you do. I left the iPhone because I wasn’t going to be a billboard for a psychotic control freak. I stayed on Android because it’s actually a better smart phone.

Nick

Makes me as a shareholder very happy?

Verizon’s stock recently hit a 52 week high AND they pay dividends. 

No single Verizon Android phone is more than $200

I am assuming Verizon is clearing house on the current Droid lineup, since no one will want to buy one of the current models in the next 3-6 months when they can have a phone with 4G LTE service.

But there is no way Motorola or Samsung can make any money selling these phones at less than $200, even if Verizon is subsidizing them.

Somebody at Motorola and Samsung PROBABLY has a business plan.  I highly doubt they go to Verizon and say “Look we want you to sell our phones, but we don’t want to make ANY money on them.”

Peter

But there is no way Motorola or Samsung can make any money selling these phones at less than $200, even if Verizon is subsidizing them.  Well, it is a ?free? operating system, so maybe they are making a little money.  But Apple makes a ton of profit on each phone, and they are selling millions of them.  Makes me as a shareholder very happy?

First, are you saying that Apple isn’t making any money selling it’s iPhone 3G for $99 via AT&T with a contract?  They’re losing money doing that?  As a shareholder, should you be happy about that?

Second, as a shareholder, I’m sure you’re happy about Apple’s profit selling hardware.  The question is, why should I care how much money Apple makes as a customer?  If I can buy an Android phone for half the price that does more, only the “fashionable” people will be buying iPhones.  I suppose they’ll pay more money and, hey, that’s not nice as a shareholder.  But there’s a reason that it’s tough to find parts for your Ferrari—there aren’t enough of them out there.  You’ll still see Apps for iPhones, but the priority won’t be there.  People will get a bit fed up having to wait for the next cool version of their favorite App (the one that they Android users had six months ago).  And when the next upgrade cycle comes around, you may see even more people jumping the iPhone ship.

Lee Dronick

The Androids appeal to certain personality. That is a two way street and the iPhone appeals to a different personality. Of course it is more complicated than that, but it is not winner take all.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

The Androids appeal to certain personality. That is a two way street and the iPhone appeals to a different personality. Of course it is more complicated than that, but it is not winner take all.

You’re right about that. Winner between the two was taking about 98% 14 months ago. Winner between the two is now taking about 65%. And at the end of 2011, winner between the two will be taking 85% - 90% and 1993 happens all over again. The current losing and eventual small niche position of the iPhone is baked into its DNA. It didn’t have to be, but it was. You guys didn’t have to constantly defend Steve’s silly control freak approach to be loyal to the Mac tribe, but you did. Enjoy!

jfbiii

The Androids appeal to certain personality

.

Indeed. Sadly, they’re not well represented here.

RonMacGuy

OK, where do I start?  Nick, Verizon stock is up, like, $10 in a year, whereas my Apple stock has quadrupled compared to what I paid for it.  But, as Peter said, who really cares about stock, right?  It’s all about the consumer.  I personally don’t understand the constant reference to Apple being “fashionable.”  But, that is a constant from the anti-Apple.  But to address Peter’s comment (“If I can buy an Android phone for half the price that does more, only the ?fashionable? people will be buying iPhones”) I would point out that more is not necessarily better.  To millions of people (and not just the “fashionable” people) the iPhone is a better experience and gives them what they want, and has been giving them what they want for a lot longer than Android has been around.  To a lot of people, the iPhone is worth the extra money, and will continue to be worth the extra money.  Apple made the smartphone market what it is today.  Android is just now catching up.  But that is a good thing, since it will push Apple to keep getting better.

Regarding Nick’s other comments, seeing as how some of the $100 rebate phones were very recently released, I find it hard to believe it is all about clearing the way for LTE.  Do Motorola and Samsung have business plans?  Maybe.  But seeing as how Motorola stock has barely moved in 5 years (well, from $25 to $4 to $9 today, but you see my point), Wall Street doesn’t have much faith in them.  Not sure about Samsung.  Unfortunately, I own Motorola stock too (recommended purchase from a former Motorola employee/friend of mine) - purchased at $15.  Ugh.  Do they want to lose money?  Of course not.  But the competition is fierce in Android-world cell phones.  And I guarantee you that Verizon is drooling watching iPhone sales on AT&T without having to discount the heck out of the phone.

Regarding Peter’s comment about the iPhone 3G for $99, let’s not forget that Apple/AT&T has a much more Apple-friendly subsidizing happening (i.e. Apple gets more of a share of AT&T monthly subscriber fees than any other cell provider does, which is why Apple went with AT&T when Verizon refused to support them).  I suspect Apple makes more profit on iPhone 3G than Motorola and Samsung do on their Android phones.  There was an article a few months ago that showed Apple making much more profit in the cell phone industry than most of the other carriers combined, even on a much lower percentage of the market share.  I don’t remember the exact numbers.  So no, Peter, I am not at all upset with Apple selling the iPhone 3G at $99.

As for making bold predictions about the future of the smartphone market based on what one’s friends are carrying, well, no surprise there, given the source.  Actually, a little surprising - I have come to expect more intelligent comments than that.  I can’t wait to see that 1993 all over again.  Didn’t happen in the iPod market, and won’t happen in the smartphone market either.  Or the tablet market.  Did we not see this comment in another thread?  “Apple?s iPad was the tablet of choice this holiday season, according to Wedge Partners analyst Brian Blair. Based on his retail checks, consumers weren?t interested in tablets from Apple?s competitors primarily because the competition?s quality is so poor.”  Poor quality and Android - hmm, interesting…  grin

HTC Evo?!?!?  Wow, scary.  Businessinsider states that “Sprint Overstates HTC EVO Sales By 3X!” and “Analyst Walter Piecyk from BTIG tells Reuters he is cutting his sales estimate to 150,000 for the opening weekend. His previous estimate was 250,000 to 300,000.”  Oh, and this one is great:  “The reviews of the HTC EVO aren’t exactly glowing. Michael Arrington at TechCrunch just called the HTC EVO a ‘seriously flawed’ device and said no one should buy it.”  OK, to be fair, this was from a few months ago, but wow, that is just plain funny.  But hey, for someone’s super intelligent friends that have these, I am sure it is easy and fun to use!!

Dean Lewis

Indeed. Sadly, they?re [the Android personality] not well represented here.

And why should they be? Last I checked, the masthead up there reads “Mac Observer”. I fully expect news with an Apple spin here. If I want different, I check Android-lovin’ sites, and I check other sites to round out those. Of course, finding other sites without bias these days is pretty near impossible.

You’re free, of course, to keep bashing your head against any wall you wish. I’m sure after enough hits, it’ll all be much much better. Some people here have picked a spot and been bashing away for years. Join the fun!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Ron, have you used an HTC EVO or any other Android phone? Could you write a coherent paragraph comparing “rooting” an Android phone to jailbreaking an iPhone? Do you know what the battery drain issue for the EVO turned out to be? If so, do you know how any user could figure it out with fewer than 4 taps?

For the record, the screen size and outdoor readability of the EVO are very attractive for people who are outside a lot. While my N1 does great everywhere else, I’d kill to have a spare EVO for when I’m out doing stuff with the dogs.

serogers1970

You?re insane if you think it?s too early to tell if Android will beat out iPhone. Android already has more marketshare and is far outpacing Apple in sales.

I see this as an uneven playing field. I think the real battle should be Android vs iOS.

While I have no numbers to back this up, I am sure iPhone has more market share than any specific Android phone. We’re talking a product vs an OS.

No pun intended, we’re comparing apples to oranges.

RonMacGuy

Ron, have you used an HTC EVO or any other Android phone? Could you write a coherent paragraph comparing ?rooting? an Android phone to jailbreaking an iPhone? Do you know what the battery drain issue for the EVO turned out to be? If so, do you know how any user could figure it out with fewer than 4 taps?

To answer your questions in order:  No.  No.  No.  No.  But what’s your point?  I have no problem with what you and your friends are carrying.  If it works for you, cool.  If you want to outfit your dogs with EVOs too, no problem.  My point was, your comment (“What really has me convinced about Android right now is that absolutely none of my phone honk friends carries an iPhone.”) is kind of a silly comment to make.  In my opinion.  The junk about the EVO was just quoting some articles I saw.  Just the fact that every single EVO user had to figure something out, even if it is only 4 taps, is still kind of sad, but representative of rushing something to market.  Similar to the tablet story that the Android tablets are of poor quality, probably because the version of Android made for tablets is not out yet.  But, there they go rushing them out to market to try to compete with iPad and all it does is give them a black eye, similar to rushing the EVO out with a “serious flaw” in it.  Of course, Apple got its black eye with the reception issue with iPhone 4, so no one is immune.  But, Android phones are getting better all the time, and will offer good competition to Apple, who is also getting better all the time.  All good for the consumers!!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

While I have no numbers to back this up, I am sure iPhone has more market share than any specific Android phone. We?re talking a product vs an OS.

Samsung Galaxy S hit 10 million units this week. But so far as pro-iPhone arguments go, this is really the weakest of the weak. The coolest thing in my book about Android, is that there is choice and competition within the ecosystem, with new top phones every couple of months. With iPhone, you get something new from one company every 14 months or so.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

In my opinion.? The junk about the EVO was just quoting some articles I saw.? Just the fact that every single EVO user had to figure something out, even if it is only 4 taps, is still kind of sad, but representative of rushing something to market.

When you read things in articles rather than deal with them hands on, sometimes you miss the salient facts. Rapid battery drainage on the EVO was the result of a Facebook app OTA update through Android Marketplace. It was a bit confusing for EVO users to remove that app because the EVO ships with it non-removable. The update could be removed though.

Word on the street this month is that your glorious iPhone probably has a similar issue if you have eBay Mobile installed and you let it run in the background.

RonMacGuy

It was a bit confusing for EVO users to remove that app because the EVO ships with it non-removable

What?  Your glorious EVO with “open” Android OS has something that is non-removable?  Dear Lord, how can this be?  I thought Android didn’t lock people into a walled garden like Apple does.  What is the world of Android coming to?  grin

Wow, that is just plain funny.

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