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The Case Program Ends, But What Did Apple Learn?

As Apple (s aapl) announced at its press conference regarding the iPhone 4’s antenna issues, the free case program it instituted as a means of addressing the problem comes to an end today, September 30th. Obviously Apple wants this day to pass relatively unnoticed, but I’d be remiss in my duties if I let that happen.

No, this day should be observed by Apple fans and detractors alike, because for a lot of people new to the company, it probably marks the symbolic end of the honeymoon period in the budding relationship. The iPhone is the first device from the Mac-maker for a lot of consumers, and the antenna issues with iPhone 4 have shown many of them that the shine can indeed rub off of this Apple.

There was a big kerfuffle, and the media duly reported the issues, perhaps even going a little farther than necessary because of the love/hate relationship we seem to have with Cupertino. Apple reportedly lost some sales, according to studies conducted by research groups, and their initial reaction leading up to the free case solution stands as a lesson in how not to handle a PR disaster. But is there really a lesson to be learned, and even if there is, did Apple learn it?

What was the real harm that came out of the debacle? Record sales? Millions of digital words produced by all of the web’s premiere tech news outlets, and even the traditional print and TV media? The only “loss” that came out of Antennagate was a theoretical one, an imagined degree of greatness slightly greater than the already great numbers the iPhone 4 delivered.

But Android (s goog) is catching up to Apple, the counter-argument goes. Surely, something like this will have a long-term effect on Apple’s reputation that will hobble the company in that ongoing race. Except that it takes a lot to burn a company as fire-proof as Apple. Certainly much more than a simple design flaw that doesn’t actually break or make useless the product it affects. Think about NVIDIA-gate before this, which was far worse in terms of the actual effects on products which had the issue.

While we probably won’t see anything as blatantly problematic as the antenna issue in future iterations of the iPhone, Apple walks away from the ordeal without having learned the crucial lesson that in consumer electronics, design must ultimately answer to function, and that customers shouldn’t be told they’re imagining things or using products wrong when they bring up a valid concern. In the corporate world, the only effective teachers are dollars and sense, and Apple’s don’t seem too concerned about what’s actually on the curriculum.

At the very least, take advantage of the case program well you still can. That’s costing Apple something, so it may be teaching the company something as well.

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11 Responses to “The Case Program Ends, But What Did Apple Learn?”

  1. Patrick

    Well I have to pile on a bit. I’m new to the whole Apple “experience” and just a little sick and tired with the local store as well as AT&T for the way they handled the bumper mess.

    I purchased my phone from AT&T because they were my current carrier. The bumpers from Apple were not available but I was told that Apple would reimburse customers for aftermarket cases. I wish I printed out the form when I first saw it on the web because when I went back, it was gone.

    I went back to the AT&T store for the display covers and asked them about the reimbursement program and was told to talk to Apple. What an absolutely crappy answer to a customer. The store wasn’t even busy.

    So I trudge over to the Apple store, register with the concierge, actually a good idea when the store is busy, and repeat my question again. I’m told that if I download the case app, I’ll get a free bumper and be able to return it for credit. Something to do with a SKU number.

    I get the case shipped to me, attempt to return it to the Apple store and now I’m told that their is no program to reimburse customers.
    I hate to bitch about crap like this since the case I bought is far superior to the bumper and I would have probably bought something like it because it protects the phone better than the fairly cheap looking bumper that I got for free. But the arrogance, pretzel logic, and absolute stupidity of Apple personnel (maybe they got trained on how to act stupid, they did it so well) has left a horrible taste in my mouth.

    I love the device, works pretty good but if I don’t have to deal with another Apple person, I’ll be better off. Just a bit tired of the “Apple Show” now.

  2. Add to your list of anti-consumer behavior Apple’s lawsuit against Hypermac which makes great external batteries for Apple’s portable computers and mobile devices, none of which have user swappable batteries anymore. This company steps in to meet a consumer need, does a great job of it offering very high quality products, allowing many to be more productive with their Apple products, allowing others to consider using an Apple product when they could not before, and all without taking anything away from Apple. And what does Apple do? They sue the company over a patent they never should have been granted in the first place (“magsafe” connectors were instituted as a friggin industry standard for kitchen tabletop fryers 4-5 years before Apple filed their patent for a magical new kind of connector). That and even if the patent was legit (which it’s not), the company probably is reselling original Apple connectors legally. So why try to put them out of business?

    Things are going downhill fast for Apple, and the ship probably won’t survive the inevitable transition to a new captain in a few years. They are raking in the cash now, and they have the infrastructure in place to be a great company for decades to come. But they’ve got to get their egos out of the way and remember they can only win long term by continuing to put the consumer first. Apple! Make great products, make lots of money, and stop with the anti-consumer nonsense already!

  3. Jason Harris

    I can say that Apple’s massive negative PR blitz in the first half of 2010 cost them a sale from me of both an iPad and a new iPhone. I had all but committed to buying the iPhone 4, but then Apple decided to:
    – Get into a pissing match with Flash at the cost of consumers
    – Send the police to raid a website that had the audacity to promote their products
    – Treat their customers like idiots regarding the very real antenna issue, and only back down when Consumer Reports calls them out

    It’s like they’re reading from a book on how to alienate people. It’s just more and more behavior that’s unfriendly to the customer. That’s not the type of business I want to support.

    Maybe they learned nothing, but if they don’t learn to stop with this anti-consumer behavior soon, they’ll feel it in their bottom line.

  4. Eh? I’d Like to ask what did the press learn? They piled on with distorted facts and terrible interpretations of reality. It was disgusting how they mentioned consumer reports, they said cr “listed it as not recommended” which gave the impression that it was on their “shit list”. In fact, iPhone 4 was cr’s top rated smart phone, but very few articles mentioned that key fact. They refused to give the “recommended” rating because of the potential issue, it was not rated poorly.
    It was disgraceful that the press created completely deceiving articles and headlines to trick people just to generate hits. No respect for their readers at all. Sadly, I don’t think they learned anything, because they created a bigger issue than it was and got the hits they sought. Disgusting pigs.

      • Darrell, I think Apple (at first) mishandled the antenna issue from a PR viewpoint, but that only hurt themselves. From the consumer’s perspective the problem was a very minor one, as the volume of sales and the number of consumer complaints to Apple (a fraction of a percent) clearly showed.

  5. This had nothing to do with “secrecy” and not testing enough.

    If you read into all the details you would have known that Apple knows there is a tradeoff. They didn’t “forget” to test something. I guess you missed the expensive testing facility that was shown.

    I think apple did exactly what they needed to to educate everyone after the media turned it into a circus.

    The actual numbers dont lie. More sales, higher satisfaction, lower return rate, lower dropped call rate, on and on vs the 3GS.

    I bought a bumper but don’t even use it since I love the design of the phone without it. I don’t have any problems making calls, and I don’t think of how I’m holding it either. It just works.

  6. I think Consumer Reports is the one with the egg on their face. That being said, I appreciate their rabble-rousing in getting Apple to give these cases out if only to make people shut up. Got the Apple bumper and while I’m still deciding on using it, it typifies beautiful Apple design. And how often do you get that for FREE? One of the main reasons I decided on iPhone 4 instead of the new iPod Touch.

    • I opted for the PixelSkin, and I find I never use it anyway. I think I’m going to get a Mophie Juice Pack, but that has more to do with additional function than covering up any flaws.

      My only concern is that this becomes a consistent thing we see as they expand their production lines. Hopefully I’m just overreacting.

  7. William Carr

    What Apple learned, I hope, is that maintaining secrecy gets in the way of product testing.

    Here we have a situation where only a small percentage of users are really affected by the external antenna.

    Apple got caught by surprise because they kept the iPhone 4 project under wraps, hiding the phones behind bumpers and limiting external testing… particularly after one of the iPhones was stolen.

    I doubt we’ll see something this odd happen again.

    But more testing next time would be a good idea, even at the risk of blowing the surprise factor.

    For example, when they start testing the iPhone Wrist Communicator, they should definitely…

    Was that a knock at the door? Better go see who………….