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Phunking for a Phone

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Providing further proof there really is a problem with Apple and the latest phone, John Gruber launched into a supposedly humorous piece last Thursday on why there's no need to write yet another piece about Apple and the latest phone.

Gruber starts by talking about his supposed insider at Apple who congratulates him on all his foolish attacks on Apple's competitors and then asks if he'd be willing to write another final killer piece on Dan Lyons/Fake Steve.

'But then she gets serious, and says Apple will make it worth my while if I'd close out this antenna saga with a 'Jackass of the Week' piece responding to Dan Lyons' Antennagate story.'

The Lyons piece is published at Newsweek.

Apple's Rotten Response

Gruber starts right in with a quote from how Lyons himself starts.

'I wonder if panic has started to set in at Apple yet. If not, it should. Because today's hastily called news conference - ostensibly to discuss problems with iPhone 4 and how Apple intends to fix them - only did further damage to Apple's reputation.'

Something about which pundits around the world are in fact in agreement. But Gruber's snarky retort?

'Which is a polite way to start, because, well, we all know just how panicked everyone at Apple is feeling these days about the company's prospects. (You'd be surprised at how many of the senior VPs at last week's event reeked of booze, and it was only 10 AM. Nerves are frayed.)'

But nerves are frayed. Everyone saw it, felt it. Something monstrous fucked up at Apple and Steve Jobs was shattered - he announced a last minute press conference, chose very carefully who could attend and who could not, then told everyone he'd keep them only fifteen minutes. (Which turned into seventy-five. Good planning.)

Then he continually got flustered, summoned up two heavies to sit with him on stage, and began uttering things people had never heard from him before - like calling out the media as fiends, calling their articles 'a crock' and 'bullshit' - this is not the cool and charismatic Steve Jobs the world is familiar with.

Right there one sees all the symptoms of an epic fail. And to this day, Consumer Reports are still not prepared to recommend the iPhone, Steve Wozniak reported issues with it, Whoopi Goldberg went ballistic about it on national television - the list goes on and on. Of course it's a panic mode at Apple. That's why they called a press conference that ended up falling into shambles before their select fanboy audience.

Gruber quotes Lyons again, saying Lyons is of the opinion Jobs has lost touch with reality - something a lot of people comment on.

'Apple CEO Steve Jobs came up with a two-part solution. Part 1: There is no problem. Part 2: Even though there is no problem, we're going to give everyone a free case, which should insulate the antenna and prevent the interference that we just told you isn't actually occurring.'

That's the way everyone outside the RDF sees it. Gruber was thoroughly masticated by Michael Arrington (to the point Gruber attacked him behind his back online later) for being inside the field, for not being able to simply like or dislike a product, but for having the need to personally identify with a product and its company. The definition of fanboy, a term Gruber doesn't feel applies to him.

'I went back through my notes on the press conference', writes Gruber, ready to take things out of context and at face value and disregard the bigger picture - anything to defend himself or the product and company he needs to identify with. For it's not just a consumer device for him as it is for Consumer Reports or Steve Wozniak or Whoopi Goldberg.

Gruber quotes Jobs.

'And so the iPhone antenna went through all of this. We tested it. We knew that if you gripped it in a certain way, the bars are going to go down a little bit, just like every smartphone. We didn't think it'd be a big problem, because every smartphone has this issue.'

But what they didn't test - what they didn't test at all - was how the market and the media were going to react. They got that completely wrong. The very fact Gruber tasks himself with writing more and more pieces ad nauseam et ad infinitum defending something that shouldn't need defending is proof enough.

It's not apparent 'Apple' really thought that way at all. And if they did: they were wrong.

And not every other phone has the problem: you have to assume a 'death grip' - hold the danged thing like you want to crush the casing - to get anything like the iPhone 4 effect.

And it's not about the bars going down 'a little bit' - calls get dropped. Some pundits can't even use the device for calls - it can get that hopeless.

The official word from Consumer Reports is that at least 20 dB can be lost - which, as they point out, is more than enough to result in dropped calls in some areas. So it's not a little bit and it's not trivial. Dropped calls never are.

And the bumper is not a solution. Consumer Reports said it wasn't a solution but no one has to believe them. If the bumper's the solution then the overall design of the phone is flawed. It's supposed to be pretty - to be dazzling, iconic - to behold. And no smartphone is going to be pretty, dazzling, or iconic with an ugly rubber around the edge.

The fact that the bumper can totally resolve all issues proves there's a flaw in the design. End of story. 'We like to make really good products', Jobs told Mossberg. But in this case 'really good product' means something that looks sort of cool until you try to use it - whereupon you have to make it look ugly with an add-on formerly priced at $29 (with a $20 markup).

Gruber quotes Lyons again.

'This is classic Apple behaviour. No matter what the whole world can see with its own eyes, just keep saying that it isn't true...'

And get fanboys to keep churning out blog posts with the same message.

'By refusing to acknowledge the problem, Jobs just reinforced the image of Apple as a company that is in deep denial and unable to admit a mistake...'

No news there.

'a company that has for so long been able to bend reality to suit its needs that it now has lost touch with reality itself'

Doesn't seem to be much of an issue there either. But that's from outside the RDF. Where some people choose for their own reasons to reside.

Gruber's retort.

'But where's the acknowledgement that the iPhone 4 antenna is this year's Ishtar? Where's the product recall? Where's the 'KICK ME' sign on Steve Jobs' black shirt? Why does Bob Mansfield still have a job?'

Ah. Such rhetoric. Not logic - emotional drool. And of course Bob Mansfield has a job - no one seriously thinks he came up with or approved such a cockamamie idea that experts dismissed as 'old news' and no company wanted to touch? This wasn't Bob's call. More like the notorious micromanager's call. Which is why the company find themselves in such a crisis today. Some micromanagers simply don't listen.

That 'antenna on the rim' idea is simply a Bad Idea™.

'That's the uncomfortable truth', whines Gruber about the supposed 'truth' in Apple's cowardly and unethical attacks on the competition when their backs are up against the wall - never mind that all those competitors were so incensed at Apple's and Steve Job's cowardly bullshit attack that they issued official statements already at the weekend - it's just a really cowardly and unethical way to behave and Steve Jobs and the people at Apple know it. Gruber might know it too - but he'd most likely need to go cold turkey from the Blood of Kali to see it.

Gruber quotes Lyons again - and doesn't see the gem in the rough when it's right there in front of him.

'The real issue here is how the product is perceived. If you need to put a rubber case on a phone to make it work correctly, there must be something wrong with it, don't you think?'

Indeed. Perception is reality. And here's what people are perceiving. At least outside the RDF.

  • People complained about connectivity.
  • The antenna gap was the suspected culprit.
  • Jobs told people in cryptic one-line mail messages to stop holding the phone wrong.
  • Apple published an article online (no press conference) intimating the issues had to do not with signal strength but the representation of it. Calls were dropped because they appeared to have low signal strength.
  • People thought that sounded fishy and cheap.
  • Consumer Reports go back and test the phone again, corroborate the stories, and give the device a 'thumbs down'.
  • This has enough impact on Apple and Jobs that they call a press conference that's shambolically organised and run. People see them stumbling over their own feet and they don't appreciate how the event goes down.
  • And then Gruber, an hour after Apple explained that no one at Infinite Loop needs a bumper because of the great connectivity there, asks the three on stage if they have bumpers. This is a pointless question as he and everyone already know they don't - they've already said they don't need them.
  • Jobs, Cook, and Mansfield all pull out their phones sans bumpers and show them to the audience. This is like someone applauding a demagogue in a staged rally or feeding questions to Steve Ballmer.
  • And then Gruber puts the cherry atop the double layered tart, blurting out 'I don't have one either', which is supposed to mean - liberally translated - that only the Enemies of Apple would dare do such a thing, that there is no Antennagate, that no one really has an issue with reception (or AT&T) and that anyone complaining is an Apple hater. With people like Gruber polluting the Internet, who needs to make up an excuse to hate them?

The skinny is this: if there was no issue then Apple wouldn't have gone into panic mode and called that abortive press conference, if there was no issue then they wouldn't have made cheap shots at the competition, if there was no issue then no one would have said a thing, if there was no issue then there wouldn't be the buzz there is today, if there was no issue then Gruber wouldn't have worked overtime all weekend to counteract it.

Apple and Jobs were incapable of controlling the situation, controlling the spin. Apple's market suffered damage. Their stock dropped considerably already on Friday afternoon after that 'great' press conference. They obviously didn't want this to happen - they wanted none of this to happen. But they were powerless to prevent it.

That's the bottom line - an epic fail.


'Jobs... seems scornful of customers who have complained.'

Well yeah. DUH. He was bitter, poorly prepared, obviously flustered. Just as everyone's read about how he really is in all those books about him he's boycotted.

But what does this matter? That's Gruber's final argument. Bookmark his article and come back a year later. Precisely as his colleague said in the TechCrunch interview - who cares if it's flawed? Because it's not flawed if people still buy it!

Not everyone would invite Dan Lyons to dinner. That's a given. But that's beside the point. Picking on Lyons - an easy target - for being 'one of many' reacting the same way to Apple's fiasco is - yet another cowardly fanboy shot.

And that's a heck of an argument. Bookmark it. Go ahead. And remember that no excuse or supposedly humorous article can dismiss or hide the fact that Apple really blew it. Bookmark the piece to remind yourself how panicky everyone inside the RDF got. And why.

So all in all it's probably a good thing Gruber didn't write yet another immature fanboy hit piece for Jobstown. (It has to be shameful being Apple's phone phunk.) Otherwise the world outside the RDF would be laughing hysterically at him. Which of course they won't be doing now. As he never wrote that article. And like it or not, Lyons is an acknowledged writer. The kind Steve Jobs wants to support. Accept it or not, Gruber is a blogger - and no more. Apple would go to him?

Talk about illusions of grandeur. Good thing it's treatable.

Hardly the First Time

This isn't the first time Apple and Jobs have had their backs up against the wall. Major media sources like to cite the G4 Cube as the ultimate example. And it's a good example - the finish got cracked, otherwise the box was fine. But that was enough to burst the bubble. And the pundits would like to believe those cracks alone - and not the outrageously high price - doomed it.

But how far back do consumers' memories go? Do they go back to the spring of 2006? When Apple rushed their transition to Ford Intel out the door a half year faster than scheduled? How many consumers remember how that went down? Were Jobs and Apple already obsessed with their secret iPhone project? To the extent their computer hardware started oozing thermal grease, oozing green Ghostbusters slime, making funny noises, shutting down randomly?

Anyone remember the apologies from Apple and Jobs back then? There weren't any.

Postscript: Lyons Quotes Gruber Doesn't Want to Include

The media are mostly in agreement about this anyway.

'Apple called a small group of hand-picked 'journalists' to the event to address mounting concerns about the antenna design in its new iPhone 4 which shipped in June.'

'The problem is that because the phone's antenna is embedded in its frame, your hand touches the antenna when you make a call. That can interfere with reception, to the point that in some cases calls get dropped. Earlier this week Consumer Reports declared it could not recommend the phone until Apple comes up with a fix for this problem.'

'Jobs' snotty tone made it clear that he was pretty fed up with all the whining about a problem that he says doesn't exist.'

'Apple is so arrogant that it still won't admit the obvious truth - that the design of the phone itself is the problem. "No other phone has ever put an electrically active antenna on the exterior of the device", says Richard Gaywood, a wireless networking engineer. Gaywood says that as an outsider he can't tell what the problem is 'but if I had to bet, I'd bet on it being a hardware problem they will never completely resolve for existing customers".'

'With the launch of iPhone 4, for example, Apple pretended it had invented video chat - something that has been around elsewhere for years.'

'Whether anyone will believe Jobs on this antenna issue remains to be seen. Apple would like to believe that it can just sweep the problem under the rug. But I'm not so sure.'

'Toward the end of the news conference, he blamed the media for blowing the problem out of proportion.'

'So Gruber, a blogger, is now one of Apple's handpicked JOURNALISTS? Apple must be really desperate.'
 - 'Jan F'

See Also
The Technological: The iPhone 4 Antenna Coverup

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