Apple’s Containment Tactics No Longer Work

| Editorial

When Apple was the underdog, the company developed some standard procedures for containing negative publicity about a product flaw. Now that Apple is wildly successful, wealthy, and seen as a bully in some circles, the methods must also change.

Yesterday, Consumer Reports dropped the bombshell. They couldn’t recommend the iPhone 4 due to a hardware flaw in the antenna. That sent Apple stock (AAPL) plummeting today. NBC News with Bryan Williams covered the CR report on Monday evening, and the Late Show with David Letterman poured on the coals Monday night.

Late Show-1

Credit: The Late Show, CBS

Late Show-2

Apple has responded in typical fashion. They didn’t own up to any hardware problems, no matter how slight. Instead we got a letter from Mr. Jobs saying it was all a calibration issue with the signal strength bars. Recently, Apple deleted a discussion forum in which customers were discussing the Consumer Reports report. That strategy no longer works when Apple is the top dog.

Also, dark clouds are brewing with some elements in Washington D.C. We’ve seen an interest by regulators to look into Apple’s dealings with consumers and competitors. Others feel that Apple has far too much power and isn’t playing the right role as a nice corporate entity. These forces are perhaps misguided, but Apple would be foolish to ignore them.

Apple may also believe that most customers don’t know about the alleged problem, but that’s fading fast as every news organization, and even talk shows, are jumping all over Apple.

While debate continues as to the exact technical details of the problem, and it is very complex, Apple is suffering from a PR nightmare and, so far, hasn’t taken any further action. I wrote awhile back that Apple needs to acquire a very solid technical understanding of the problem, and perhaps the initial statement from Mr. Jobs was intended to buy time for that research by SVP Bob Mansfield and his staff. I hope so.

The next step, I also hope, is that Apple will spend some of its cash, in the form of a field upgrade at the Apple retail stores (or by mail for those too far away from an Apple store) that will address the technical issue. A free bumper or case or change to the antenna might be all that’s required. That might cost US$10 per phone, maybe more. With 2 million iPhone 4s in consumer hands, that would come to more than US$20M, but that’s a small price to pay to make this PR disaster go away with the customers, the public, the press and the courts.

This would be seen as a refreshing approach by a powerful, wealthy company that understands its new role and responsibilities in the consumer marketplace.

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The PR Disaster depends on what you read. Sure, Consumer Reports “can’t recommend” it at this time, but all the while their rankings bely their own comment:

Consumer Reports

And if Digital Daily isn’t your speed, how about

Fortune ?


It’s Apple’s silence that is doing the most damage. That left the stage open for rumours. “It’s the antenna”. “It’s a missing a clear-coat that the manufacturer didn’t put on”. “It’s all in your head” “You just forgot that your iP3 dropped out too”. I don’t think anyone believed the “it’s just calibration” announcement. Don’t hold it like that was insulting, certainly to the 10%+ that are left handed.

Maybe a patch WILL fix it but where is it. Ok, it’s not out yet but when? Tomorrow? Next month? iOS-5? Leaving this issue hanging while they secretly try to figure out what to do is making the problem worse. Apple needs to be vastly more open about what’s going on.

Lee Dronick

Got that right Tiger! If Consumer Reports can’t recommend it, but rates it the best then what does that say about the other smart phones.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Apple needs to be more like Nordstrom’s. It won’t, because the arrogance drips like a river from the top. But that’s what it needs to do. Here’s my outline from Customer Service 101:

1. Customer calls with a common problem or concern.

2. Company not sure if it’s legitimate, but there are commonly known potential solutions which don’t cost a lot.

3. Company asks Customer if Customer feels that a particular solution might solve the problem.

4. Customer says perhaps.

5. Company sends Customer a bumper case and promises to follow up with Customer if they learn anything else.

Or, in the Cliff’s Notes version of Customer Service 101:

1. Deal with your customers in good faith.


Using a bumper means that your iPhone 4 no longer fits in the dock. I had to return mine.

If bumpers become standard then Apple needs to build a new dock too


I think Apple will do what it always does with poor hardware design. Deny and cover-up.


@daemon: enough of the trolling.

Read yesterday’s Time capsule article
Apple Replacing Defective Time Capsule Units
KnowledgeBase article

They’ve also been replacing failed units for quite a while, including many out of warranty.

My experience with Apple has been excellent. Yes - I’ve had some failures (not one of these) but they’ve worked well to make things right.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Yeah daemon. If you disagree, you are a troll. Conform or be cast out, pal.


Yeah daemon. If you disagree, you are a troll. Conform or be cast out, pal.

Disagreement can be constructive. Expressions like “you never” or “you always” seldom make for a constructive criticism or communication. They are viewed as inflammatory and usually bring up defenses. The expression “Conform or be cast out” is of the same kind. The fact is no one is casting anyone out.

Now, I wouldn’t call Bosco or daemon trolls; but their postings generally are negative or gloating when they spot an opening. Very seldom hear anything from them over the positives from Apple.

Let’s try this. Apple has thus far messed this reception issue up. Time will tell if they make it right. If they don’t I’ll join the outrage. If they do, I can hear the praise coming from Bosco and daemon. wink

Jim Bowers

There is a posting at called “Radio engineer: Consumer Reports iPhone 4 testing flawed” that puts this reception/antenna the controversy in a better light. RF testing is a high-tech field. Not everybody can do it well. I know I’ve done it as a job (for 3 years. The fellow in “Radio engineer: Consumer Reports iPhone 4 testing flawed” knows what he is talking about. Consumer Reports’ testing is not accurate. They may be correct but one can not tell from the way they performed the tests. In fact, I’m so convinced that I ordered my iPhone 4 today. Here’s why.

I am distressed by the tendency I see in people who jump on topics and rant and rave (in the name of NEWS - just because they like to demean anything that they think should be different than it is. (I know I have done it and am trying to grow out of this distressing habit - so maybe I’m overly sensitive when I see it in others, like now and the iPhone 4 reception/antenna brouhaha.) So many people are screaming - about this when they have no understanding or have found little technical expertise to back up their (understandable) concerns.

The final results are not yet in!!!


The final results are not yet in!!!

Agreed. I will be ordering an iP4 as well. However I will be doing it in December once all this is ancient history. Being an early adopter is fine for some, but not me.

Shawn King

“Apple needs to acquire a very solid technical understanding of the problem”

Apple already does. As the most quoted antenna expert, Spencer Webb said when I interviewed him, there?s *no* chance Apple didn?t know about the issue. It?s a factor of the design and anyone smart enough to design it that way would also be smart enough to know the design would require this kind of compromise.

Apple understands the issue perfectly well. They just decided this was an acceptable compromise.


Apple understands the issue perfectly well. They just decided this was an acceptable compromise.

Compromise for them…  the rest of us have our own compromises.  I love Apple and as a 3 year iPhone guy I love this new phone, but I see Apple headed toward Delldom or Gatewaydom in the way they are treating us.

Neil Anderson

Any publicity is good publicity?

Shawn King

Sorry but ” the way they are treating us” is no different than the way Apple has *always* done business. This “incident” is no different from a half a dozen (at least) other, similar ones. Cube “fault” lines, anyone?

Apple is in no danger of becoming Dell or Gateway over this tempest in a teapot.


@vpndev…  because Apple isn’t known for deleteing forum support posts siteing problems that range from pee yellow iMac screens to iPhone 4 reception issues?

Please. I’ve been following Mac news since 1994. Apple is a corporation and, like all corporations, they try to control the information the public can get about them and their products. Unfortunately, denial is their number one response to everything (from unreleased products like the iPad and iPhone to undisclosed product failure rates).

Apple has earned their reputation for secrecy through lies, deception, and silence.

BTW - the iPhone 4 is pretty awesome even with it’s pure fail of an antenna that can be fixed with a 50 cent bumper for which apple charges 30 bucks.


I have to say first my iPhone 4 works great. I have a case on it because I broke too many cheap Samsungs and learned that lesson before switching to iPhones.

That being said, based on other experiences with other Consumer Reports reviews with far different products, I don’t trust them. I think their system is flawed, like many of the other testing. It seems like the antennae issue just goes back and forth depending on who runs the tests and reports on the tech.

Yes this is typical Apple behavior, though it seems it’s also typical for them to man up and fix the problem at some point. They do seem to garner the best customer service ratings year after year for some reason.

After all the press mess in the last couple of weeks (paid fake e-mails, disagreeing rants) I think the biggest loser in this mess are the News reporting blogs. I’ve stopped listening and reading most of the tech news I used to because I’ve lost faith in most of the sites.



LoL! You’re so over blogs that you just had to post to a blog about it!

Lulz @ U

Shawn King

” based on other experiences with other Consumer Reports reviews with far different products, I don?t trust them.”

I agree completely. Cr ha historically been unable to review Apple products With any measure of reliability or even intelligence and Mac web sites, including this one, have pointed that out. Yet, when it suits someone’s purposes, CR suddenly becomes an “expert on reviewing Apple products”.

Lee Dronick

because Apple isn?t known for deleteing forum support posts siteing problems that range from pee yellow iMac screens to iPhone 4 reception issues?

Discussions are one thing, but trolls (in both camps) playing with flame throwers are often the reason comments are closed or deleted. That is one of the reasons I like hanging around here, most of the discussions are conducted in an adult manner.


@daemon: A lot of bluster and no detail.

Please. I?ve been following Mac news since 1994.

I have since 1984, when I bought my first Mac

Apple has earned their reputation for secrecy through lies, deception, and silence.

No. Just silence. If you have evidence of lies and deception then tell us. I have seen none.

Sure - Apple has had product problems over the years. My 25-year experience has been pretty good, but not flawless. Overall, I think I’ve had fewer issues than friends/colleagues with WinTel equipment of various kinds. I’m the “unofficial tech support guy” for about fifteen Macs owned by various extended-family members. The worst hardware failure we’ve had in five years was a keyboard in a MacBook Pro (the “T” key wouldn’t “T” any more). Two weeks ago I had a 23” Cinema Display die on me. Took it to the Apple Store and AppleCare delivered it back to my door in three business days. I had a problem (several, actually) with the original G5 PowerMacs. Apple didn’t deny anything - they just worked the issue and fixed it.

Is Apple perfect? No. But “lies and deception”—I do not agree with you.


Oh go ahead and panic that this is the beginning of the end for Apple.  Apple will fix it, and yes clumsily PR-wise, then continue to release boffo products and antenna-gate will immediately forgotten and the stock price will continue its upward march.

We’ve seen this all before with the defective laptop batteries, the crack-prone iBooks, and several other ‘fatal’ defects.

What is it about Apple that people get their panties all bunched up too easily?


Shawn - haha… sorry but?

I can’t wait until Friday to see a rare Apple press conference to address this overstated, uninformed “tempest in a teapot” many of us are clamoring about.  Hahaha…  You do realize how naive and funny that sounds, right?

Apple will either call us a bunch of idiots or make a break from their destiny toward Gatewaydom.  I, for one, hope it’s the former.

And no, I won’t teach you history of Gateway and Dell 10 and 15 years ago - look it up yourself.


Haha…. Shawn.  How unenlightened.  “Sorry but…”  LOL.  Can’t wait for the extremely rare press conference to hear about our “tempest in a teapot.”  Either we’re a bunch of morons or Apple will change its destiny from that of Gatewaydom.  Lol.

And no, you want to understand the historical similarities, look it up and learn for yourself.


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