E-Mail from Apple: So?

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For the better part of a week, the tech world has been plotzing over two e-mail messages sent to bloggers by Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing.

Let's read that back again: Two e-mail messages. Sent by Apple's marketing guy. What is the big deal? From the breathless response, you'd think Steve Jobs had fake-died again.

First was a letter to Daring Fireball's John Gruber, in response to a story about a dictionary app called Ninjawords, that was rejected from the iPhone's App Store. Schiller wrote that when he learned of Gruber's initial report on the app, he "immediately investigated it with our App Store review team to learn the facts of what happened." Schiller then refuted every negative claim against Apple and put the blame squarely on the App developers.

I see what he did there. Schiller found one instance where Apple was in the right in its App Store approval process -- and there have been so many wrongs -- and explained why the company's action was appropriate. This gives the sense that Apple is being responsive, without actually admitting that anything went awry on the company's end.

Schiller parlayed the burst of optimism and good will that followed into another e-mail. Over the weekend, iPhone App developer Steven Frank "had a minor freakout" when the name "Philip Schiller" turned up in his inbox, likely in response to his self-imposed iPhone boycott.

Frank didn't disclose much of Schiller's e-mail, but said the general vibe from the marketing executive was "we're listening to your feedback." Frank was falling all over himself, rethinking his boycott (but ultimately sticking to it) and breathing "a sigh of relief that this was such a courteous, polite, and reassuring email."

Again, Schiller is a marketer. It's his job to reassure the public in the event of a PR nightmare.

I understand this looks like a turning point in Apple policy, as if the company is abandoning its secretive ways and moving toward open communication with its consumers. It's not. It's just two e-mail messages.

What Schiller is performing is the old marketing tactic of personal communication. It's like when you're talking to customer service, and the rep gets her manager, and the manager's manager, on the line just to tell you they're sorry for the inconvenience. Only Schiller's not apologizing.

I'd have been more impressed by something a little more substantial, along the lines of, "here's what we're doing to fix the ongoing problems with the App Store, and here's how we'll keep you informed in the future." Having Jobs send the e-mails couldn't have hurt, either.

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