Jul 17, 2010

Why Apple Doesn’t Deserve Your Trust

At Apple’s antenna press conference yesterday, Steve Jobs asked:

Apple’s been around for 34 years. Haven’t we earned the credibility and trust from some of the press to give us a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, of our motivations, the fact that we’re confident and will solve these problems?

In many ways, I think the issue here is not the crime but the coverup. In the grand scheme, the antenna issue is not such a big deal. It hasn’t affected many users, it can apparently be resolved with a simple piece of plastic. But from the beginning, Apple’s response has been denial, misdirection, and outright deception.

On June 26, Steve Jobs emailed someone to say:

There is no reception issue. Stay tuned.

On July 2, this became official Apple policy:

We have discovered the cause of this dramatic drop in bars, and it is both simple and surprising.

Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. […]

In other words, there is no reception issue, just a display issue.

And yesterday, at the press conference, they admitted that there was a reception issue, but tried to claim that other phones all had it too. What’s revealing is that even Apple’s own antenna page belies this argument. For every other phone, there is a big yellow circle labeling where the antenna is. For the iPhone 4, there is an arrow pointing at one tiny weak spot. Obviously the iPhone 4 is different.

Perhaps there’s a reason for the difference. But as John Gruber put it, Steve never used the word “trade-off”. Instead, he refused to take any real responsibility.

If Apple wanted to gain people’s trust, it should have started by being honest about what was going on. And the first step on that would be dropping this whole “number of bars” nonsense and showing the raw signal strength numbers.

If Apple had ever shown this simple chart, it would have been totally clear what was going on. If, on the other models they compared the iPhone 4 against, they had shown the actual dBm (the generally-accepted measure of signal strength) lost by “holding it wrong,” we could have fairly compared their issues to the iPhone 4’s. But instead of having a debate about signal lost — the real issue for users — Apple has consistently tried to distract people with the issue of bars shown.

This can’t be an accident. Those advanced phone testing facilities must keep full track of actual dBm — it would be ridiculous to try to test a phone based on how many “bars” it had — yet, even after a talk supposedly about “hard data,” Apple still hasn’t once shown us a real dBm number on any phone!

Like Nixon, Jobs refuses to admit they did anything wrong. He issues a series of bogus cover stories, demanding they be believed based on the credibility he thinks he deserves. When they’re not believed, he lashes out at the press for making a big deal out of it. And each attempt at coverup makes the situation much worse, since it leads to another flurry of stories about intentional wrongdoing, which cause much more damage than the original problem ever could have.

This antenna issue could have been dead weeks ago had they simply admitted what was going on. But with this latest press conference, it’s now a legitimate story, deserving of response and rebuttal from all the aggrieved parties. And so the debate grinds on.

It seems unlikely “Antennagate” will cause Apple any lasting damage, but their prideful response sure isn’t helping.

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