Antennagate Lesson: Only the Consumer Matters

26 Comments

I held off commenting on the Apple iPhone 4 “Antennagate” situation as long as I could, but it’s everywhere I turn. My local news on TV this morning was showing clips of Steve Jobs’ speech yesterday, bringing the current situation to the masses. I have followed everything about this unfolding tech drama closely, and the message I got from Jobs yesterday matches what I have said for years. It doesn’t matter what the techerati say or think about a given technology or gadget. Ultimately the only opinion that matters is the consumer’s.

That may sound trite but Apple (s aapl) understands that better than any company. That underlying message was bubbling to the surface throughout Jobs entire presentation about the iPhone 4 antenna problem. We want everyone to love our products, but the only opinion that matters is the customer’s. They are the ones who buy the products, they are the ones who use them and show their friends. Most importantly, they are the ones who will buy our products in the future based on the experience of ownership from each of our products.

The numbers prove this philosophy. The iPhone 4 problem has been all over the news for weeks, yet as Jobs pointed out Apple is selling as many phones as they can make. Customers are snapping them up in spite of the major controversy, and are keeping the phones. The press and tech bloggers may crucify Apple for the iPhone problems, but people are not hesitating to put their money on the table.

No matter what you think about Antennagate, or about Apple as a company — customers love them, love their products, and buy them in massive quantities. Jobs understands better than anyone that this is what matters. Is the antenna problem a deal breaker? For some it surely is, but for the majority of customers obviously not. This is ultimately what matters, not good press.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): To Win In the Mobile Market, Focus On Consumers

26 Comments

Cho Yung Tea

When I first bought my phone I had trouble with dropped calls. I called Apple and was instructed to return to ATT&T and get a new sim care. I did and have had no problems since. In fact the phone works much better than my 3G. Never had and issue with the antenna even before I bought a case.

spinedoc

“This is ultimately what matters, not good press.”

I think you are missing a HUGE point here, if it were not for the press Apple would have never admitted any wrongdoing. Specifically it was the Consumer Reports recommendation, or lack of it, which forced Apple’s hand. Prior to that it was only us techno geeks who really had an inkling, sure there was some mainstream coverage in the news and in the NYT, but it wasn’t until a super traditional and well accepted icon like CR lambasted Apple that the problem didn’t become noted in the mainstream.

I don’t think Apple in particular is as altrusitic and benevolent as you make it out, as if Jesus Jobs came down in a blinding ray of light to cure the pox ridden, crippled, and antennaless masses. It was PURE and utter damage control and nothing else, it was an attempt to curtail the possibility of a full recall, which is what should have been done. Steve didn’t do us any favors, in all reality he said F you guys, if you don’t like it return the phone, otherwise shove this free bumper in your mouth and shut up.

The funny thing is that Apple fans will gladly shove that bumper in their mouth and quietly go on about their way, bragging about how Steve personally shoved the bumper in their mouth and how they were the only ones in line who actually got a foot smash from Jobs to put the bumper deeper down their throats.

Sorry JK, I love the site and visit it several times a day, but an apologist article for Apple when CLEARLY there is a hardware issue lowers my respect for the site down a bit. Samsung, HTC, RIM, Nokia and others have already responded to Apple, saying it’s not a problem for them at all and that Apple is just scapegoating them in it’s attempt to avoid a recall. The NYT just today has a very interesting article on how Apple is trying to throw the industry into its antennagate.

The iphone 4 is a nice phone. Personally I won’t buy it because it looks like a 1990’s candybar thick phone to me with its exposes screws and squared off look. But at the same time it is a great phone from its specs, and I think that’s why people are not returning it, instead choosing to live with the hardware problem which has been demonstrated so much in the media. I can’t see there being an Apple backlash they are so well loved, but I will never say never, especially in light of Apple’s well known hubris.

Mike

I just wish all this press coverage would go away. An extremely significant majority of consumers are happy because the majority who own iPhone 4s don’t live in low-signal areas where the “problem” becomes apparent. The only people actually complaining about the “problem” are bloggers and tech journalists who are trying to drive traffic to their own sites.

I say “problem” because again, the majority of people experiencing the disappearing signal bars aren’t actually even dropping calls – they’re just watching their signal bars fluctuate. Which is not a serious issue because signal bars don’t equal signal strength in the first place. They represent the signal-to-noise ratio of the phone and are based on purely arbitrary, non-standardized scales developed at the whim of each mobile phone developer. Apple’s software update that altered the scale used to calculate bars was the right thing to do.

The majority of people who believe there is a serious problem with the phone have:

1) Never used one and are speaking anecdotally / repeating what they’ve read on tech blogs.

2) Have a gripe against Apple in general and are jumping at the opportunity to criticize.

and

3) Don’t understand the physics behind antennas nor the “science” behind signal bars and what they actually represent.

I’m not an Apple fanatic, nor am I a stockholder. I am a physicist with more than an inkling of antenna theory, and someone who has worked on mobile device development in the past. Watching the tech pundits and general populace misunderstand the issue (and perpetuate their misunderstanding through aggravated blog posts, comments and tweets) is driving me bonkers.

Some basic physics courses for both tech journalists and the marketing departments of each mobile device manufacturer would go a long way towards sorting out just what the real “problem” is.

James Kendrick

It seems some are interpreting this post as a biased opinion post, yet it simply points out one FACT: the consumer is the ultimate determinant if any product lives up to its hype or not. That is the way it is with every product produced by anyone.

This did not state (nor imply) that Apple was right or wrong, it simply pointed out that the consumer ultimately determines that. I stand by that completely, as that is the way of the retail world.

You may think of me as “biased toward Apple”, but the simple fact is my own phone is an Android phone. My phone before that was a webOS phone. That too is a fact. It never ceases to amaze me that any article written about any tech company or product is viewed as biased by some. Especially if it is Apple.

As pointed out by commenters, this Antennagate situation is far from over, and as pointed out by me the customer will be the major factor in how this ultimately comes out. Not me.

gman

With all due respect, take a step back and think about what some folks have said in the comments. We can smell an Apple bias and it comes out in this story. If you can’t see it, that’s fine. We’re mentioning it for your sake. Credibility is huge so I would at least stop and think about what you have and are going to write about this and other Apple stories. That’s my opinion anyways. I appreciate the fact you step up and at least respond to critics on your comment sections.

The fact of the iPhone 4 story is simple. Before the conference means nothing. Nobody knew anything. Stats, sales etc are completely irrelevant at this point. Returning a smartphone when you have a contract can’t be simple. Consumers haven’t had time to talk with their pockets yet. I personally was going to get one. Why the hell would I buy one now? The issue is hardware and that means I will wait for a new fixed model to be released. Then again will that day ever come? Not by your logic because you support the Apple theory that the consumers are buying them and enjoying them. (please re-read my part about pre and post news conference) That’s the reality of the situation. It’s a farce. How would you feel if your company sold cases for iPhones? That would hurt many many businesses wouldn’t it when Apple is giving them away free. Yeah, nice solution. And yes, no problem here folks. Move along…

Luscious

“You may think of me as “biased toward Apple”, but the simple fact is my own phone is an Android phone. My phone before that was a webOS phone. That too is a fact. It never ceases to amaze me that any article written about any tech company or product is viewed as biased by some. Especially if it is Apple.”

With all due respect James, you may want to back track to the day prior to the iPad launch. Every piece you posted here was an iPad article, you rushed out to buy one the very first day, and the amount of iPad coverage here has been extensive. You posted the story of Apple’s lawsuit against HTC, yet failed to mention the counter-suit HTC filed later. You use a Mac as your primary computer, you have an airport extreme as your router, and did own an iPhone. And as you say, you held off commenting on Antennagate – an obvious problem for Apple – until now.

My apologies if these facts are incorrect, but it does say a lot for your affiliation towards the Cupertino giant.

I also tend to agree with GMAN – in your job credibility outweighs personal preference. I think a good journalist will keep his opinions reserved whatever they are. If you perceive us as hinting at bias, then perhaps you should think about what your personal views are first, and not injecting them while attacking the keyboard. The fact that you have always read and respond to user comments is great.

Luscious

I’ve been following this site for many years. I won’t reiterate what the other commenters have said here, since my thoughts on Apple are shared by many across the tech blog spectrum, but I do see some very glaring traits.

Much of the GigaOM network IMO is extremely biased towards Apple, including this site and James. While I have no problem with editors publishing opinion pieces, it does throw journalistic credibility up in the air. Personal bias is one reason why one news reporter dating a certain politician in California was barred from covering political stories. You cannot be critical towards any topic when having a personal involvement.

As a blogger myself, I respect writers who can provide critical, unbiased, expert opinion. I could write numerous opinion articles myself, but at the end of the day all they are is useless, since they contain only a narrow personal perspective, and lack an independent, outside viewpoint. Experience becomes a moot point. Readers get substantially more value from seeing both sides of the story presented rather than a sugarcoated fanboy expression that is typically overblown and unrealistic.

My usual disclaimers apply.

Ex-Jobs Fan

James,

I don’t know how much Apple pays you in donations” but that has to be THE most biased piece of reporting ever. I understand that it’s your personal opinion and not fact but try to keep a little perspective for your readers’ sake. the Antennagate incident is what it is – an ONGOING debacle.

As you said in your last paragraph (to paraphrase) Jobs understands better than anyone that customers love their products & will continue buying their products… (no matter what because they buy the advertising spiel). I’ll admit I was 1 of those people that bought into Job’s marketing budget & went for the Apple 3G but after 6 months of not being able to multitask, copy or paste, use mms, etc., etc. I had to give it up because I had actually wanted to buy a phone.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the looks & the ease of use but personally, I’d have marketed it as a music player with phone capabilities such as a laptop will sometimes come with a sim card slot. I was hoping that the simple usability functions were now included before buying the 4G but luckily I waited a couple of weeks to read the reviews before buying & I’m glad I did.

Antennagate proves that Jobs still doesn’t listen to customers because clearly they are holding the phone incorrectly(!) & the only thing that Jobs is interested in is the bottom line.

I feel the saddest for my colleagues because these I.T. bods had high hopes that what they were buying was a gorgeous slim phone… but what they actually got was a “bumper” case attached to a brick.

The best reviews are the unedited ones from firsthand users sitting right in front of you, especially ones who wanted to make phone calls!

Scooter

I am so glad this antenna episode is finally behind us. The blogosphere and internet in general has overplayed this small issue that only affects a teeny tiny number of iPhone4 owners.
Calm down and get back to reality everybody. More than 3 million customers have spoken loud and clear with their wise purchasing decision and let us all respect this.

Nobody is returning their iPhone4 because it just works and the alternative phones are grossly inferior by and standard of measure.

gman

Yikes. How about nobody who’s bought the bloody phones even knew there was an issue? Wasn’t it denial denial denial? Yeah it was. It was a myth right? It was a fallacy. It was just software right before the press conference. Please revisit your editorial in a month or two. Consumers are generally ignorant. They can’t be ignorant now because they KNOW ABOUT IT. Let’s see who’s lining up now. They were selling because of pre-orders. It’s bizarre how you suggest the consumer knows best in this instance. Get a grip. Apple didn’t admit to anything before the news conference. EVERY IPHONE 4 SOLD UP UNTIL FRIDAY WAS DONE IN IGNORANCE. Get it? It’s flawed, deal with it. Wow is there an Apple bias on your site.

Moe Ron Jumbowski

This will all be forgotten when Apple redesigns the iPhone for the upcoming holiday season this fall around October. Also the new iPhones with LTE/GSM and LTE/CDMA radios will have completely different antennae design because LTE is design for MIMO which uses multiple antenna per device.

Remember Apple is foremost an Engineering Company with the world’s leading engineers and scientist on their payroll. They have really only gotten into the mass consumer market in this last decade since the overwhelming success of the iPod which caused them to remove “Computer” from their corporate name and thus they only recently became a “Consumer” corporation. They are still learning how to play in the Consumer Space hence some of their recent mistakes. But at least they try to make it right. Many a corp these days will lie, cheat and steal to make themselves look better to investors so that corp management can cash-in after they run their company into the ground. Apple is not like the rest of corporate America, thank goodness. When their stock took a hit from antenna-gate and short-term investors complained Apple said screw you we only care about long-term Apple investors who care about the customer, this was very refreshing attitude indeed.

Supreme Tech Ninja

While I agree with the general premise of the article (only the customer matters), I disagree that Apple handled this the right way up until the end. What I think Apple (and most companies) don’t seem to get is that it doesn’t matter how large the problem is, only how large it’s perceived to be. Right now Apple is riding a huge wave of positive consumer sentiment, and like a wave, its not going to change course overnight. But apparently enough people experienced this problem for it to become a stink, and Apple’s initial response was essentially to tell these people to piss off. “It’s a non-issue”.”Don’t hold it that way”.”Buy a case”. “We’ll release a patch to show you its your signal that sucks, not the phone”.

Consumers now have the option to return the phone or get a free case, which I think is very fair. From what I have read I really do think the issue is over-hyped. But it feels like Apple ended up reacting more to the media frenzy than its customers. And in the back of a lot of people’s minds, they are going to be wondering “if I have a problem with my Apple gear, will they take care of me? Especially if MY problem doesn’t get the same press?”
And that’s how the momentum in consumer goodwill can start to shift.

Mickey Segal

Jobs’ attitude that “It doesn’t matter what the techerati say or think about a given technology or gadget. Ultimately the only opinion that matters is the consumer’s” reminds me of Richard Nixon’s use of the term “silent majority”. Both ignore concerns that can be leading indicators of trouble ahead.

It does matter what Consumer Reports concludes. Deleting references to their report from Apple-hosted online forums (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/874b1228-8eab-11df-8a67-00144feab49a.html) will not stop people from learning about such concerns. People trust Consumer Reports to tell the whole truth. If Consumer Reports finds that signal loss in the iPhone 4 is ten times as frequent as such loss with the BlackBerry will that result get deleted from Apple forums too?

Martin

What really got me about what Steve Jobs said was that Apple really cared about their users. If that is true why do they continually make deign and business decisions that are not in the consumer interest. All we can hope is that this issue finally results in less advertistorial “reviews” of Apple products and more balanced reporting. It would be great to see Apple judged by the same standards as other companies. if this end of the hype machine and the start of eel journalism then this be a positive outcome.

Allan Jones

Apple products might be flying off the shelves now, but that doesn’t mean they always will. It’s a mistake to think that demand indicates merit. Demand has a lot to do with fashion, especially among young buyers.

James writes: ‘..customers love them, love their products,..’ but love is fickle. It’s not unthinkable that Apple could end up like Dell. There was a time, not so many years ago, when Dell was held up as a model of a successful business. I bought one of their computers at a time when they were shifting large volumes. Now I know better. It could happen to Apple.

Actually, I suspect Jobs knows this, despite his quoting sales figures as indicators of merit.

Apple Admirer

THere are a lot of Apple haters in the blogosphere but their true numbers a quite small in the grand scheme of things. They are like the vocal minority in politics, they voice drowns out the competition but in the end most people dismiss their views.

I think no other technology company would have had the mea culpa that Apple did yesterday and certainly none of them would have given away a 30 buck gift to every customer to show their appreciation. The Microsoft,intels, Ciscos and Oracle’s of this world would have acted much different.

Apple understands technology and how customers embrace it better than any company out there and that is why they have risen to be the largest technology company in the history (based on market cap). They can only get bigger with the way they so admirably handle themselves during a crisis.

Remember Steve interrupted his vacation to appease his loyal customers, I mean no other CEO on the planet would have cut short a long planned vacation like that.

Scotty

James,

For the most part I’d agree with you except for one thing: it’s a cell phone, and cell phones are special. The day may come when users need their cell phone to help save their lives.

As some one whom has had his Apple iPhone let him down when calling 911 in a medical life and death emergency I take this issue very seriously. So seriously that giving up at&t due to all the dropped calls, calls that can’t be made and poor quality (alien voices, digital artifacting) drove me away from the iPhone (I now use an EVO 4G and feel much safer due to Sprint’s service.)

Not only did Steve not address the 911 aspects of the antenna issue, he also didn’t get into the exacerbating factors for their unique antenna design.

You’re in a single vehicle car accident, possibly your Toyota accelerated out of control :-), and post accident you have the potential for a couple issues for using your iPhone 4 to call 911. Bloody hands? Clammy hands? It’s been shown that substances such as sweat and blood bridging the antenna gap in the lower left trigger the impossible to make a call issue. It’s also the case that whereas you can remember not to use the grip of death, blood and sweat get down in that gap and are difficult to get out.

Medical issues such as congestive heart failure, heart attacks, diabetic shock etc can trigger production of large (or even copious) amounts of sweat. Plus you may already be experiencing mental confusion so trying to clear the gap so you can make a call to 911 is possibly beyond you to even think about.

This antenna design has an obvious life threatening failure mode and I personally feel Apple should have recalled it once they realized the previously not well understood failure mode. But as with the Ford Pinto, perhaps Apple has run the numbers as it’s cheaper to pay off on a few dead customers than recall all the phones to fix them.

Tim

So, there are customers who love Apple because these customers buy Apple products. So, way way way more people then love Windows PC because 90% of desktop computers sold are Windows. Way way more people then love Blackberries in the US because more Blackberries keep being sold in more massive quantities than iPhones, even before Antennagate when the myth of Apple’s infallibility was more intact.

Kirk

“consumers aren’t satisfied by the response”…

Really… I guess that’s why it’s selling faster than any smartphone in history & has a return rate of < 2% (an unheard of low percentage for smartphones).

“I (like Consumer Reports) am holding on that recommendation for the iPhone 4 until Apple presents a better solution”…

Wow…. I’m surprised Steve Jobs hasn’t visited your home to plead his case yet. I mean sure… they’ve sold over 3 million phones in 3 weeks & pretty much every retailer in the country who sells the phone has a 2-4 week wait-list going but man… just imagine how many more they could have sold with YOUR recommendation.

syd

You quote 3 million phones over 3 weeks. Do you remember Apple’s announcement about 1.7m Iphone 4 sales in the first two days?

What does the distrubition above tell you?

I am not surprised they rushed to release success figures after two days before the people find out about the issues.

Don Sorcinelli

Kirk,

Quoting sales figures doesn’t solve the problem. If it did, Toyota would be in a far better position today then they are.

As I stated in the first line of my original comment, no one can dispute Apple’s success. What is up for discussion is how they handle an adverse situation when it arises. Personally, I believe that Apple has never come under scrutiny the way they are over this issue. It’s the price of success. I also believe that the way they are handling this rather oblivious to their newer customer base; one that really likes their products but is not blindly loyal and unconditionally accepting to whatever is told to them. I simply think Apple needs to adjust to their changing demographics.

On the return rate – I think the return rate statistic is totally misleading at this point. Almost every iPhone 4 customer I know (and I know hundreds, including enterprise purchasers) have not returned anything to this point simply because they were in a sort of “holding pattern”, waiting for some word from Apple on a course of action. It will be interesting to see how yesterday’s information will affect these numbers.

Finally – While I am not Consumer Reports, I spent the greater part of the last 3 years working with large corporations directly consulting on large deployments of mobile technology. The results included deployments of iPhone 3GS devices running well into the thousands based upon determination of corporate and end user needs. Even if my recommendations mattered to one person, a response that only serves as an emotional attempt to trivialize someone’s opinion does nothing to answer the questions surrounding the problem. It only proves the point.

plky

How many of those 3 millioan phones are upgrades? I am guessing at least half. Also how many of the 3 million are pre orders for other countries? I never try to take a companies numbers as fact or a statistic showing how good a product is doing. 3 million is great but when half or even more are just upgrading their old iphone the number seems misleading. The number that matters to me is how many of the 3 million are new and happy. Old iphone users already have used the same system for some time. Oh and don’t forget that at&t moved the upgrade date for the phone for a lot of customers so that also added a lot of fluff to the intial sales numbers.

Pull My Finger

Stop with your monkey math number game. 3 MILLION is THREE MILLION SALES. You are obviously on some kind of crusade to justify a weakness in Apple sales. You probably wish that the new Android phone could sell this many phones so quickly. The reason Apple has so many repeat customers is because their products have been shown repeatedly through every objective comparison to be far superior than the competition. Until somebody makes something better don’t look for these numbers to change.
Please quit spinning numbers in your head to make youself feel mo betta or something.

Don Sorcinelli

James,

I think no one can deny Apple’s consumer focus and subsequent success. What I find interesting about the whole situation is how Apple (by their actions) views the mentality of their customers. It also speaks to how that customer base has evolved over the years.

A decade ago, Apple’s customer base was drastically smaller. It was also made up of a much higher percentage of amazingly loyal (to the point of religious fervor). I recall the number of times Apple obsoleted hardware in those days with a message of “deal with it and buy the new stuff” with little to no objection. If you turn the clock ahead 10 years, the number of customers have grown enormously, and the loyalty level, while strong, is still far more pragmatic.

Yesterday’s “Town Hall” event might have worked a decade ago. Saying “everyone’s got this problem” yet refusing to acknowledge that they are included in “everyone”, pointing the finger at the media and bloggers – to an extreme user base these tactics work. To the customer who loves your product but recognizes an issue, though, this comes off as patronizing at best and insulting at worst. I really believe that if 95% of yesterday’s commentary were removed, instead focusing on “we make great products but we made a mistake and here’s what we’re doing”, Apple would have done itself a much larger favor in the long run. Instead, many people in the “mainstream” are now made openly aware of a corporate mentality that they may not like.

I still think no one understands identifying market needs and desires and building solutions at the hardware and software level like Apple. I think that they now need to understand how to deal with and communicate with a customer base that is a bit less “religious” about their products and expect answers when questions arise. While I recommended the iPhone 3GS to a number of people who I thought were a good fit, I (like Consumer Reports) am holding on that recommendation for the iPhone 4 until Apple presents a better solution to the problem and not just a workaround.

Sam

It’s far from being over, consumers aren’t satisfied by the response, they want a real fix not a patch!

Comments are closed.