What’s Next for Apple?

Apple’s decision to censor discussion board threads on its official online forums has added to its growling list of public relations troubles. The threads reappeared, but according to ValleyWag, “in the meantime the Financial Times, Fox News etc. have begun publishing stories about the censorship, also referencing the negative review, making this particular story a sort of double whammy for Apple. For a company that rightly prides itself on its ability to manipulate the press, Apple somehow did exactly the wrong thing, PR wise, in this situation.”

The Washington Post describes Apple’s puzzling response to the iPhone 4’s antenna problem as a “reception” problem of a different sort:

“Apple has a reception problem.

No, not the one some users of its new iPhone 4 have complained about, in which holding the phone with your hand over a gap between its two antennas on its lower left side weakens the phone’s grasp of AT&T’s signal.

That’s an engineering problem that should be fixable, just as Apple has surmounted earlier technical difficulties, including the botched launch of its MobileMe online service.

But Apple’s apparent inability to take customer complaints seriously and respectfully will take more than a Version 1.1 software update or a corrected circuit-board design to fix. “

In order to end this public relations fiasco, Apple needs to change course and offer a fix to the antenna defect. The question is how can Apple appropriately solve the problem? Consumer Reports, following up on its decision to not recommend the iPhone 4, believes that it is Apple, and not consumers, who needs to fix the phone. “We encourage Apple to step forward soon with a remedy that fixes the confirmed antenna issue, and not one that requires additional consumer expense.”

Several fixes have been proposed, including Apple providing bumper cases free of charge. “Those iPhone bumpers may cost $29.00 in the Apple Store, but in reality the rubber and plastic mold only costs a fraction of that price (possibly around $1 per bumper).”

Many, though, have called for Apple to issue a product recall. Several public relations experts believe such a recall is “inevitable” if Apple hopes to salvage its reputation.

“Apple will be forced to do a recall of this product,” said Professor Matthew Seeger, an expert in crisis communication. “It’s critically important. The brand image is the most important thing Apple has. This is potentially devastating.”

Crisis communication experts contacted by CultofMac.com, including Chris Lehane, former Clinton White House ”Master of Disaster,” agree: the iPhone 4 reception issue presents a Toyota-style PR crisis for Apple, and the company must respond with a more meaningful fix than a software patch.

Issuing a recall would be a significant and controversial step, which could have severe financial implications for Apple. But once you find yourself as the target of late night comedy jokes, it becomes clear that a change of course is necessary. Otherwise, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner’s self-deprecating prediction that the iPhone 4 “might be their Vista,” may come true.

If you own an iPhone 4, and are interested in participating in our lawsuit against Apple and AT&T, please email me at dan@wardlawdc.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,

Dan Ward

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