No matter what Apple does, the iPhone 4 antenna story just will not die. Open letters, claims about signal strength and deleting references to critical reports on its own forums have all failed to stop the flow of negative reports about the top-end phone’s issues with dropped calls.
So, now Cupertino has called a press conference for July 16th at 6pm UK time. It has no choice but do so. And it's got no option but to admit that if you hold the bottom left hand corner of the iPhone 4, calls drop out in areas with poor coverage. Apple knows it. You know it too. So what is it going to do about it?
Well, all the talk is of a recall. Partial or complete, this would be a huge undertaking. With upwards of two million units sold, this would not only cause Apple an untold logistical headache, it would also be a PR disaster from which Steve Jobs would have no comeback and would also lead to Apple’s stock suffering even more than it is already. Microsoft has already moved to call this Apple’s ‘Vista moment’.
It seems safe to suggest that while odds on a recall have been slashed to 4/6, such a move won’t happen. So what else can Apple do to stymie the bad press and, in PR parlance, ‘own the story’ when it holds it press conference tomorrow?
There are options, but it all has to start with Apple admitting the truth. For such a singular brand, that’s going to be difficult, especially as Cupertino seemingly doesn’t like to admit that it’s got something wrong.
An apology needs to not only admit that the iPhone 4 has a problem, but also offer a solution. That could be a recall, but more likely is the offer of free bumpers. This was discounted in correspondence from Apple HQ to AppleCare, with top brass saying the helpline will not “appease” customers with the plastic covers.
The fact is, though, they solve the problem. Giving away these overpriced extras would be seen not only as a sign of goodwill but would surely cost less than asking millions to give over their iPhone 4 with no word on when they’d get it back.
One thing Apple cannot afford to do is ignore the problem or try and brush it under the carpet with PR speak. Jobs, or whoever takes the stage, needs to be frank. It’s not only losing respect, it’s losing money - surely a key factor that agitated shareholders will not appreciate.
Other than a bumper giveaway or a recall, Jobs could offer to swap current iPhone 4 models for new ones that don’t suffer the reception problem. But like a recall, this is a costly process that would haunt Apple for years. The bumper option could easily be spun by saying it makes the iPhone 4 more colourful and more useful. Distasteful it might be, but at least it means you can still tinker with iOS 4 and make phone calls.
It’s only three weeks since the iPhone 4 came out and many punters who’ve pre-ordered are yet to receive their phones. When they do, they’ll likely encounter the issue. Perhaps not all of them, but a significant number. iPhone 4 sales aren’t going to stop, so Apple needs to look lively. Tomorrow’s press conference is a start, but that’s all. Apple needs to take this as a sign that the days of ‘never apologise, never explain’ are well and truly over.