Long gone are the days where Apple was a scrappy underdog. The company is now in the privileged position as the world’s most valuable brand and the biggest American company ever.
As the old adage goes, “with great power, comes great responsibility” (thanks Uncle Ben). For Apple, this means doing things right for its millions of customers.
With this in mind, it’s been a rough week for Apple — the worst in recent memory.
It was all going swimmingly for the company so far in September. Following a historic event on September 9th — where Tim Cook revealed the future of the company in iPhone 6, Apple Pay and Apple Watch — Apple received record pre-orders for its new iPhone hardware followed by record first weekend sales. Apple seemed to have its swagger back, and CEO Tim Cook was loving it.
However, being the most high-profile company in the world, it wouldn’t be long before something emerged to knock Apple back down a peg or two. Enter ‘Bendgate’ — 2014′s answer to Antennagate and Mapsgate. The story goes that one iPhone user managed to bend his iPhone 6 Plus in his pocket after a regular day’s use consisting of sitting, dancing and other activities.
It sucks, but occasionally, phones bend. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. You might have noticed that we mostly avoided Bendgate as we thought it was kind of a non-story.
But, as it concerned Apple, the press ran with it. Thanks to a video from high-profile YouTuber Unbox Therapy, it went viral — however excessive the force Lew had to apply to the phone in his video to get it to bend.
With Apple controversy comes page views and with page views come dollars, so it’s not surprising that tech blogs the world over were quick to write about it to grab some valuable eyeballs.
All in all, Bendgate was another issue blown out of proportion (remember U2gate?) in order to swell the coffers of those who stand to benefit, and was further perpetuated by those in direct competition and looking for a quick jab at the top dog (looking at you, LG, Samsung, Lenovo, Nokia).
Apple responded, stating that it had received a total of 9 complaints of bent iPhones (note, that’s 9 individual units out of OVER 10 MILLION SOLD) and it plans to replace any that have been bent through regular daily use.
It also gave us a peek into its testing facility to reassure us that it does thoroughly put its devices through their paces before a launch, in case anyone doubted that.
Apple was forced to act, but Bendgate will come and go.
A more serious issue arose this week for Apple in the form of a software update. The company released the first update to iOS 8 with iOS 8.0.1. It was designed to fix a number of bugs present in 8.0 but brought with it problems of its own — and worrying ones.
Not only were affected users (myself included) left helplessly tapping at Touch ID trying to get into our devices to no avail and having to resort to using a passcode (the horror!), iOS 8.0.1 also left a number of early upgraders (namely those with an expensive new iPhone 6 or 6 Plus) without cellular functionality — essentially your iPhone became a large iPod touch for a while, and it was frustrating and possibly serious.
Apple pulled the update after over an hour and directed people to iTunes to restore to iOS 8.0.
This was not good enough from the world’s biggest tech company. Not good enough at all.
About 40,000 people were left without proper functionality — again, a small percentage but, for those affected, the consequences could have been huge. Those with a computer and the know-how could restore (in what is quite a lengthy process) and those who are iOS-only (in this post-PC world Apple loves to promote) were left without a paddle.
iOS 8.0.2 was release in record time yesterday and fixed the bugs, much to the relief of those affected.
The question is, how could this happen? How could this company with hundreds of billions of dollars in the bank and some of the most talented software engineers on the planet let this out of the door? Where was the quality assurance? These bugs were glaringly obvious to anyone using the software.
I’m sure heads will roll at Apple for this.
Apple benefits massively from mainstream attention being directed towards its devices. Without it, would we heave seen lines the like of which we saw at the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launch? No. Apple is popular, popularity harvests desire and desire results in sales.
But because Apple is so high-profile, so popular, it also faces harsher scrutiny from all concerned — consumers, the press, Wall Street, the competition, et al.
In fact, I’ve had my iPhone 6 for a week now and I’ve only used it out and about a couple of times. Both times I’ve had people notice it — the first, in a coffee shop (obviously), the mother and daughter on the table next to me whispered about it while trying to act inconspicuous as they stole glances at it.
The second, in a coffee shop again, a man asked me if my iPhone had bent yet. It was a great anecdotal example of how people adore and critique Apple in ways I’ve not seen before for other companies or devices.
Now, Apple (as well as other tech companies) makes mistakes from time to time. It is a company of people designing hardware and software. People are prone to errors.
If Bendgate was a lesson in perspective, iOS 8.0.1 was certainly a lesson in how a company can dramatically stuff something up with huge consequences.
However, the mainstream attention this stuff gets is unreal. Apple’s bent iPhones make national newspapers here in Britain, even days after the story broke (case in point, today’s Metro newspaper above). iOS 8.0.1 was featured on the prime time BBC evening news here, too.
This stuff is interesting and newsworthy to those with a technological bent (pun totally intended), and tech blogs are well within their remit to cover these events whether it is the non-story of a few bent iPhones or the very real story of a botched iOS upgrade.
But these are not mainstream issues on their own — yet I’ve had 1 stranger, 1 friend and 4 family members ask me about bent iPhones in the past few days. (Incidentally, the only people who I have seen complain about iOS 8.0.1 are tech writers).
So, what is my point in all of this? My point is that Apple has to be able to take the rough with the smooth.
The company stands to benefit from massive mainstream attention around new device launches — come early 2015, I think Apple will appreciate this even more when it tries to sell people the notion of a wearable computer in Apple Watch.
Apple sees thousands of people line up for its products the world over, it sees its bank balance swell every time a new iteration of a device hits store shelves, and it has the ability to suck all of the air out of a news cycle with one press release
But this works in the direct opposite way too. With mistakes and missteps comes manipulated coverage for page views, drops in share prices, and a seemingly never ending cyclone of bad press from tech blogs to national TV.
Apple has dealt with Bendgate well – it had to.
iOS 8.0.1 was a mistake that must not be repeated.
I think Apple is learning how to cope with its position at the top and Tim Cook is certainly putting his stamp on the place as the company’s leader.
The press attention, good and bad, is not going to stop as long as Apple is making devices people want and making money hand over fist. Apple has to adapt.