Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The New Toyota

Apple has finally "jumped the shark." For those of you who aren't familiar with the idiom, it was originally coined in response to an episode of Happy Days when Fonzie jumps over a shark to prove his courage. Critics and viewers alike consider this point in the show's history to be the beginning of its decline. In general, the idiom is used to describe a moment of downturn for a previously successful enterprise.

In my opinion, Apple is close to reaching that point if it hasn't already. Granted, Steve Jobs and Company have never been in the majority in terms of market share, but they've always had a rabidly fanatical following. Still, when you call your user community a bunch of idiots and fail to acknowledge that the real problem lies with your untouchable product then you start to sow the seeds of your own ruin.

And this is exactly what has happened. CNN recently reported that Apple's response to users' complaints about cell phone reception quality (or the lack thereof) is to not hold the phone a certain way. Due to the fact that the antenna is wrapped around the outer edge of the case, Apple claims that people holding the phone with their hands wrapped around a specific corner are going to cause significant deterioration in signal strength. But (!), they continue, there is also a software bug that displays bars indicating that the strength is higher than it really is. So we'll fix that and you, Mr. User, should avoid holding the phone with anything other than a part of plastic tongs that grip the phone like Thetis did to Achilles when she dipped him in the River Styx.

User: Dr. Jobs, my phone doesn't work when I do this.
Dr. Jobs: don't do that then.

Let's be clear: I'm not predicting the eventual filing of bankruptcy by Apple. They will never go away. Historically they've done not much more than have ebbs and flows of popularity. These are sometimes severe, but that's all that's ever really happened to them. You can confirm this by looking at their 5 year stock chart.

But when a company that was hitherto considered untouchable due to the forethought they put into their product's design refuses to admit that their product has a crucial design flaw in it then you have to wonder when the sting of being slapped in the face will wear off of its user community. And, more importantly, will they start to consider joining the ranks of those who decided that phones based on Google's Android operating system aren't so bad after all.

This is an especially critical question since Google started rolling out Android 2.2 (code named Froyo) to phones. Froyo is widely considered to be an extremely strong alternative to the iPhone and contains many features that iOS 4 does not.

Additionally, I have to wonder how Apple could have missed the "cover the corner and watch the reception go down the tubes" problem. Or, since they are claiming that a software bug is causing a higher number of bars to be displayed than what reflects reality, did they know about it but thought they could get away with it?

R&D: Our product has a significant flaw in it.
Sales: Who cares? We're on top of the world!
R&D: I'm not sure that is a good idea.
Sales: We're untouchable! No one will notice.
R&D: But people will feel betrayed.
Sales: Ha! What are they going to do? Leave us for another company?

Apple? No. Toyota.

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