To many, Apple can do no wrong. The company has one of the most loyal followings of any in the world.
When it launches a new product, fans and press flock. Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs is about as close to being a “rockstar” as any CEO can get.
While I don’t quite understand Apple’s aura, it’s hard to deny that Apple inspires passion in many customers and almost always delivers when it comes to new product launches.
But its recent launch of the MobileMe data-syncing service has been an utter disaster.
From problems receiving emails to contacts being deleted, there’s a laundry list of things that have gone wrong with MobileMe. By almost any reasonable measurement, Apple has overpromised and underdelivered.
This is certainly an unusual situation for Apple and Steve Jobs to find themselves in. After all, they’re used to meeting expectations, if not blowing by them with ease altogether.
In many ways, past performance has probably made the situation worse.
Not impressing is one thing, but MobileMe’s bugs, which have apparently caused some users to lose data, are an entirely different matter and hint at deeper problems with the service.
Apple has seemed ill-equipped to deal with these and it shows in the type of support that users are reportedly receiving.
Apple, however, to its credit, appears to understand the situation its in.
In an email to staff that the Washington Post correctly observes was probably leaked intentionally, Jobs writes:
“The launch of MobileMe was not our finest hour. There are several things we could have done better…”
He goes on to detail the mistakes Apple made and concludes with:
“The MobileMe launch clearly demonstrates that we have more to learn about Internet services. And learn we will. The vision of MobileMe is both exciting and ambitious, and we will press on to make it a service we are all proud of by the end of this year.”
While I fall into the camp of those not entirely convinced that MobileMe can be as compelling an offering as some believe it is destined to be (I’m skeptical about the desirability of putting everything in the “cloud“), I’m not one to bet against Jobs.
Clearly, Apple is not perfect but perhaps the most interesting lesson learned from the troubled launch of MobileMe is that it doesn’t really have to be perfect – its customers give it the benefit of the doubt because they aren’t forced to very often.
That said, Apple needs to solve MobileMe’s problems and solve them fast as users are still complaining and longer-term damage may result if Apple is unable to pacify them soon.
But I couldn’t help but think that for all of MobileMe’s problems, the response from users hasn’t been nearly as bad as it could have been.
After all, if MobileMe was a Microsoft product, for instance, I’m certain some observers would have already declared MobileMe “dead on arrival.”
This highlights the advantages that are created for companies that build customer loyalty by consistently meeting and exceeding expectations.
However, advantages aren’t absolute and no company gets a “free pass” with consumers forever.
The question for Apple thus becomes; will it be able to turn MobileMe around quickly enough?
Apple’s loyal customers may be more forgiving and patient but loyalty can be lost quite easily and Apple would not be wise to rest solely on its laurels for too long.