Apple's Very Weird Week

I know the universe has suddenly gone askew when my wife is giving me advice about my gadgets.

“Don’t update your iPhone” is the message she sends by email -- from downstairs. Apparently, Apple’s iOS 8.01 release that created havoc on Wednesday had made it into daytime programming. She watches in the background as she works, so I get the usual parade of declarations off of daytime fare throughout the day -- emails that tell me “we have to take more Vitamin D -- especially you because you never see the light of day.” Or the latest -- “sitting is the new smoking. If so then why aren’t you dead yet?”

But this week the emails were focused strangely on Apple. The weird week Apple suffered had penetrated daytime TV.

There was the reality behind those long Apple iPhone 6 lines: Chinese line-sitters selling their two phones to black marketeers around the corner.

There was the rarity of the iPhone 6 Plus on launch day -- revealing that yields for these new screens were way beneath expectation and need.

There were loads of complaints of a very buggy iOS 8, which prompted a quick 8.01 update that reportedly bricked some phones and made matters worse for even more customers.

There were complaints that iPhone 6 users couldn’t connect to their car audio systems anymore via Bluetooth, or they were getting strange behavior once they did connect.

And then, of course, there was “Bendgate.”

“The iPhone you are waiting for is going to bend in your pocket,” my wife emails.

While Apple now claims that fewer than ten customers have complained to them about bent phones, the Web went apoplectic this week over a YouTube video showing someone bending their iPhone 6 Plus. This phenomenon isn’t entirely new, as some previous phones have been shown to do the same thing. But physics being what it is, immutable, larger planes are more susceptible to this kind of tension. Nevertheless, the incident led to Apple actually opening its test facilities to journalists in order to demonstrate its concern for quality assurance. 

This has all gotten so weird that even Consumer Reports is jumping in for its bit of PR exposure. The famously independent testing lab said yesterday it will use its special machinery as an objective mechanical test that would gauge the malleability of smartphones.

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of this little circus, Samsung and others are falling all over themselves like overheated teenage rivals to poke at the mighty Apple. In response to the Bendgate affair, HTC tweeted about the HTC One: “Designed to withstand the most demanding environments. Like your pockets.” Samsung, as is its wont, was more blunt and less artful in reminding everyone of its Galaxy Note Edge with the wraparound screen. It tweeted: “Curved. Not Bent.”

I have to say I have never understood the sense of this kind of brand teasing. It always seems to diminish the rival brand more than the target because it underscores its defensiveness.

But my wife is wondering why Apple still seems to get a pass on all of this. “If this were Microsoft, there would be outrage,” she insists. True enough, insofar as incidents like this would be read as corporate incompetence in Microsoft’s case. For Apple, no specific meaning is attached to the problems, perhaps aside from post-Jobs decline. The real damage comes when a narrative emerges to pull the threads together into a single, insistent negative tale about the brand. The idea that Apple has somehow lost its Mojo is always there, but it doesn’t seem as compelling as the idea that the company has overreached or has become the kind of corporation it said it wasn’t.

For the time being, at least, I think Apple gets a pass mainly because most consumers root for the brand, and that can’t be said of many companies. It once represented a kind of magic elixir that is an endemically American blend: innovation, technical prowess and deft salesmanship. 

5 comments about "Apple's Very Weird Week".
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  1. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, September 26, 2014 at 3:50 p.m.

    From my understanding, just before release, Apple discovered issues with the health kit and withheld it to release with a quick update (8.0.1), but in their haste, evidently they created new larger bugs (since my iOS 8.0 worked just fine). So they botched the health kit release, but the good news is 8.0.2 is the update 8.0.1 was supposed to be. And it's out now. As for bendgate, I'd like to see more than the three photos I've seen over and over and over again. I do believe I can account for only half of the 8 or 9 complaints (10 million phones) that Apple says it received in the photos I've seen online. And given the scarcity (still waiting for mine here) it kills me every time I see someone deliberately bend the phone to break it. If you don't want it, send it to me. I know how to take care of expensive tech equipment, and I've never once sat on my phone. Bad for your posture horrible wear for any phone. I mean really, have you looked at your wallet? Why do that to a phone? Though I can't wait to find out that the iPhone 6 Plus has a weak spot where the buttons are drilled in the frame, but if you wrap it in duct tape you'll be fine. Thanks, Consumer Reports, for reminding me why I stopped my subscription years ago...

  2. Michael Oddi from Tango Partners, September 26, 2014 at 4:56 p.m.

    I am wondering if Consumer Reports will consider how the size of a person's butt will affect the iPhone bend rate. Honestly, any logical human being would expect a thin, ultralight phone to bend if you put it in your back pocket and sit on it – especially if it's the size of a iPhone 6 Plus. I like rivalry among competitors, but this is silly.

  3. Michael Oddi from Tango Partners, September 26, 2014 at 5:32 p.m.

    Oh, and by the way. Loyal Apple customers are not just buying a phone, we are buying the innovation that changed the smartphone market to which Samsung and HTC owe there success, along with the excellent customer service that comes with every Apple product – something that Microsoft clearly doesn't understand. Case in point – while Apple continues to release new products every year, Microsoft hasn't delivered a new version of Office for Mac since 2011.

  4. Tom Baer from TBI, September 26, 2014 at 5:56 p.m.

    I don't know why anyone needs an iPhone 5 much less a 6. My 4 still works fine, the battery lasts two days, and I'm a happy guy.

  5. Michael Oddi from Tango Partners, September 26, 2014 at 6 p.m.

    Tom, you obviously don't have teenage kids who want you to get the upgrade so they can have your iPhone 4. :)

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