The power of apology

No one could have missed Apple’s recent “woes,” with the release of the iPhone 4 – if a company over a million and a half units in their first weekend can have woes. Part of the cell phone debates that I wrote about in previous posts have centered on the problems in reception for the iPhone 4. So what’s Apple to do?

Slate’s Farhad Manjoo suggested that Steve Jobs apologize for the problems with the iPhone, as well as offer a more practical solution – a case to limit reception problems. And that’s just what Steve Jobs did, despite the New York Times’ earlier skepticism. But response to the press conference has been mixed: Manjoo remains unsatisfied with Jobs’ condescension, while the BBC reports technology reporter Maggie Shiels thought Jobs’ performance was “sterling.”

But even as Jobs apologized, he also attacked the media for what he termed unfair criticism of their product. Apple’s problems were certainly exacerbated by the Consumer Reports recommending against purchasing the iPhone 4.

So was this an effective response? Despite the mixed reviews, Jobs did offer free iPhone cases to help minimize the reception problems. But at the same time, he limited the effectiveness of his apology through his defensiveness and his attempts to minimize the problem. I agree with Manjoo – with a sincere apology, Apple stood to gain a lot of credibility. But by belittling those having the problem and making it seem like an unfair attack by the media, people will be much less inclined to offer Apple credit – no one likes being told that a flaw in something they are committed to isn’t that big of a problem. Apple has depleted its “reservoir of credibility” in this event, and they might find it difficult to rebuild. But at the same time, Matt at is right – it’s time to move on. iPhone users have to make a choice: accept a less-than-ideal solution or take advantage of Jobs’ offer to return their phones, while the rest of us can admire our intelligence in avoiding the iPhone 4.


  1. But as iPhone users – and despite the fact that you guys haven’t experienced any problems – do you still trust Apple’s customer service as much after this debacle? I would think that – even if you personally haven’t had these problems – after this you might trust Apple a bit less to respond to any problems that do arise. They’ve hurt their reputation for customer service by offering more justifications than solutions to the problem.

  2. I do not really trust any big business. Apple is better than most, but that is like being the nicest serial killer. People cried wolf a lot with this issue. The fact that prior to the update to 4.0.1 only 1 more call per hundred dropped vs the 3GS says to me that this is not an issue. All business cares about is their bottom line.

    • A fair point – being the “best” in customer service means a lot less when the competition isn’t that great. But I strongly object to your dismissal of the dropped call problem…you note 1 more call per hundred is dropped. Returning to Slate, Manjoo says:

      “While Jobs did admit this fact in his press conference, he mangled the stats to make the iPhone 4’s dropped call increase look minor. “The iPhone 4 drops less than one additional call per 100 than the 3GS,” he said. As Jobs sees it, that’s not a big rise in dropped calls. Yet that’s not an obvious conclusion. Last year, an AT&T spokesman told me that AT&T’s average iPhone dropped-call rate is 1 percent—in other words, the old iPhone dropped one call out of 100. If the iPhone 4 drops nearly one additional call out of 100, that could be close to a 2 percent dropped-call rate—or double the dropped-call rate of the old iPhone. That sounds a lot more serious, doesn’t it?”

      A 100% increase in dropped calls is a big deal, and shows that this isn’t just people crying wolf. And even if it is being blown out of proportion, it is the fact that Apple couldn’t recognize ANY substantial problem that is most troubling and most hurts their credibility.

      • Is .02 much more than .01? It is double, and 100% more, but yet it is also just a penny. If two out of 100 is unacceptable and one of 100 is acceptable then you should not have a cell phone. Even with US Cell and before antennagate I bet I lost 1 in 40 calls, probably even higher than that.

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