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Imagine: you're getting crummy reception on your brand new smart phone when you hold it a particular way. You fire off an email to the CEO of the manufacturer. To your surprise, you get a response back: "Just avoid holding it in that way."

Soon, you learn that you're not the only one having problems. But you also discover that the company, rather than admit to a problem, has allegedly instructed its customer service representatives to use "positioning statements" to ensure consumers that everything is fine.

If the maker of your smart phone is an ordinary company, watch out. The consumer backlash will be fierce. But you're not dealing with an ordinary company. You're dealing with Apple.

In the first three days following the launch of the iPhone 4, Apple sold 1.7m iPhones. According to Steve Jobs, that makes it "the most successful product launch in Apple's history." Yet the iPhone 4 isn't without its share of flaws. The reception issue may be receiving the most press, but there are other problems as well.

Obviously, it would be unrealistic for every product Apple releases to be without flaw, especially given just how high expectations are. But the company's stance vis-à-vis the iPhone 4 reception problem hints that behind the scenes, Apple may not be as concerned about its customers as Apple's most loyal customers would like to believe.

Behind the Reality Distortion Field, it appears that Apple is a lot like other companies: when faced with an inconvenient, and potentially expensive problem to fix, it would sometimes rather pretend that the problem doesn't exist. Furthermore, Steve Jobs' "just avoid holding it in that way" email hints that the man who is heralded as an innovator steadfastly dedicated to innovation and quality, is not above displaying a certain degree of denial and arrogance too.

Yet despite Jobs' email, and all the recent hints that the Apple may not be the company so many would like to believe it is, the iPhones keep selling at a record pace. Apple's brand is so strong, and its products carry such cachet, that a little bit of denial and arrogance can't overcome the Reality Distortion Field. That's good news for Apple, right?

Answering that is a little bit complicated. Apple is certainly lucky that a faux pas here and there won't realistically dent its standing with consumers, and that its position in the marketplace gives it the ability to brush off a lot of things that other companies would be hammered over. But long-term, it's questionable as to whether this is a good thing for Apple. After all, if the company and its leader become convinced that they can sell lead for the price of gold, the company may lose some of its competitive edge. After all, if it can successfully brush off a reception problem by telling consumers they're holding the phone the wrong way, one would imagine that, over time, Apple will gradually become more complacent and willing to accept a certain level of mediocrity.

This may not happen overnight, and conceivably it may never happen at all. But Apple should be especially careful: a company that can get away with too much is always liable to get away from what made it great.

Photo credit: David Hernández via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 30 June, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2380 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

Magnus Nilsson

Magnus Nilsson, Managing Director at RED PerformanceSmall Business

The cynic in me says that it wasn't a coincidence that Apple launched their bumpers at the time (which solves the reception issue). Oh well, got an iPhone 4 and very pleased so far, so possibly I do too little talking to actually notice the issue yet.

about 6 years ago

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Joe Buhler

Jobs has never been accused of being humble, so the response he's given does not surprise me the least. There is a certain risk, as stated, of Apple starting to compromise on quality but I have my doubts that they will in future introduce mediocre products. There have been quality issues with certain computers they introduced before without a downward slide overall being evident. The big unkown here, of course, is how many of the phones are actually affected by the reception issue out of by now probably more than 2 millions sold.

about 6 years ago

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