Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Steve Job's Mixed Year

It's been an amazingly mixed year for Apple and Steve Jobs. On the plus side, the iPad got rave reviews. It and the new iPhone 4 have sold millions. But there has been a lot of bad press mixed in.

Many reviewers felt that the new iPhone and the upgraded operating system were mainly about catching up with Android.

When Gizmodo acquired a prototype iPhone 4, Apple managed to overstep the law. Even after they got the phone back they still arranged for Gizmodo's offices to be raided and equipment confiscated in clear violation of laws shielding the press.

Steve Job's insistence that Flash cannot be allowed on the iPhone or iPad seems to be more about control than technical considerations. With a version of Flash about to be released for Android, it appears that Apple wants to keep people from using services like Hulu and force them to but from iTunes instead.

The iTunes app store has gotten a lot of bad press. No one knows what the standards are for accepting an app. They seem to change over time. At one point Jobs admitted that he banned an entire class of app because one developer had leaked information about the iPad.

Apple's censorship also earned them bad press. A Pultzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist was rejected because of the nature of editorial cartoons. Other adult material has been rejected or had cuts in order to pass Apple's standards.

Apple's policies about stopping leaks also came out. At any time, any section believed to have a leaker can be placed under what amounts to house arrest while workstations and phones are searched for incriminating material. Anyone found to have leaked information to the press is fired on the spot.

All of this was more background noise than anything else but the antenna issue has really hurt Apple's image. First, it means that they can release a flawed product. Apple hates to admit it when this happens. In fact, at Steve Job's press conference last week he didn't really admit anything. He claimed that this happens with all phones and Apple put up video showing problems with other phones. Had Jobs been more contrite they story would have gone away. Instead, the new story is Job's arrogance.

How bad is this? My dentist was talking about it. He is around fifty and is not likely to ever buy an iPhone. He does not text nor does he send emails through his phone. But he knew all about the antenna issue and the other phone companies' objections to Jobs' press conference.

When people talk about you the same way they talk about Lindsay Lohan, you have a public relations disaster on your hands.

Apple will survive, of course, but this will give a big boost to Android and the upcoming Windows 7 phone (which got great reviews). In two or three years people might look back and see this as the turning point where Apple lost their dominance of the phone world.

I've seen a couple of telling columns about Steve Jobs. One pointed out that he is in his fifties and already had a major health issue. He can't live forever. At some point Apple will have to replace him. The other pointed out that, these days, Bill Gates makes the news because of his charitable work. Steve Jobs makes the news because he is selling defective phones. Which coverage would you prefer?

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