What Apple Needs to Do to Salvage Its Reputation

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Today is the big day. After weeks of stubborn denial amid mounting complaints from users, and a class action lawsuit, Apple has a press conference scheduled in just a few hours to publicly respond to concerns related to the iPhone 4. Hopefully, Apple will come armed with more solutions than excuses, but for businesses using--or considering using--the iPhone 4, what Apple says, and how it says it, is more important than what it does.

Apple's handling of the various issues thus far leaves more than a little to be desired. It's as if Apple drank its own Kool-Aid, and couldn't fathom how any issue could possibly be anything other than user error.

At one point, an Apple public relations representative reached out to me--both by e-mail and voicemail--ostensibly to discuss with me the issues I have been reporting with the iPhone 4, and iOS4. However, multiple voicemails in response have not been returned, so it seems Apple is no longer interested in what I think.

When users first began reporting the "death grip" issue, the response from Steve Jobs was that it is a "non-issue", or that you're just holding it wrong. The official statement from Apple was "Gripping any phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone."

While that statement is technically true, it ignores the fact that none of the other hundreds of millions of mobile phone users around the world are reporting the phenomenon as a problem, as well as the convenient coincidence that Apple's revolutionary concept of putting the antenna in a steel band around the outside of the iPhone 4 puts the antenna in direct contact with the user's skin.

Apple eventually followed up by "discovering" a completely different issue. Apple issued another statement claiming "Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength.

This was a desperate smoke and mirrors distraction from the real issues. Apple claims that it has been miscalculating the signal strength displayed for years, but users of the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS weren't reporting it as a problem. When users report poor signal strength and dropped calls it is because they have poor signal strength and dropped calls, not because they are watching the icon on the display to see how many bars it shows.

Apple released the iOS 4.0.1 update yesterday which corrects the signal bar calculation error. But, a Band-Aid patch of an issue that Apple invented does nothing to address any of the complaints that iPhone 4 users are clamoring about.

As Apple stated, and Consumer Reports verified, putting the iPhone 4 in a plastic or rubberized protective case that covers the steel antenna band does more or less resolve the reception issues. However, nobody has yet suggested a feasible workaround for the iPhone 4's biggest problem--the flaky proximity sensor.

During calls, the proximity sensor is supposed to detect that the iPhone 4 is close to your face and disable the display to prevent errant screen touches. Many users, myself included, report that the proximity sensor acts more like a strobe light during the call--switching repeatedly back and forth and resulting in pressed numbers, activating speakerphone or mute, or simply hanging up on the call unintentionally. Assuming you have the signal strength to place a call, the proximity sensor issue makes the call itself a bit of a crap shoot.

Let's take a step back, though. Not every user is experiencing these issues. Some are more than satisfied, and many firmly believe the iPhone 4 is the very best smartphone currently available. Many who are experiencing issues consider them to be irritating inconveniences rather than deal-breakers, or they would have simply returned the device for a full refund.

The bottom line is that the iPhone 4 is not a complete failure and the world is not going to stop spinning. However, the public relations response from Apple is a complete failure, and businesses and IT admins that rely on Apple need something better than arrogant denial or empty platitudes. It is acceptable for a hardware or software vendor to have issues, but IT admins expect the vendor to take responsibility for those issues and act expediently to address them with real solutions.

We don't know what Apple will say when it steps on the stage today to address the world, but for the sake of Apple's hard-fought respect and credibility with business professionals, it will hopefully include a genuine mea culpa, ownership of the issues, and actionable answers--or at least a commitment to finding them.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .

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