Apple, a world renowned maker of computers and information technology-related products launched its iPhone 4 on June 24, 2010. Soon after, users started complaining about diminishing signal strength ostensibly caused by faulty antennas on the iPhone.
When the complaints started streaming in, Apple responded by advising the iPhone 4 users to try holding the gadget in a specific way in order to ensure that the gadget has as much signal strength as possible. “Apple has stated that holding almost any mobile phone in certain ways will reduce its reception.
The company has also claimed that the signal attenuation is a fact of life for all wireless phones” (Adhikari, 2010). To many analysts, this response by Apple was tantamount to failing to accept responsibility for a faulty device and instead issuing the consumer with directives which were not part of the initial instructions on how to use the iPhone.
As McEntergart (2010) notes, different solutions have been offered by apple as an elucidation to the antennae issue, but none seem to address the problem as 1.7 million people who had already purchased the communication gadget by July 2010 would have liked the issue to be handled.
Some of the solutions suggested by the Apple Company include purchasing specific cases for the iPhone 4 (the cases costs an extra $30), using duct tape on the iPhone or purchasing a software patch, which has the ability to alter the gadget’s signal thus reflecting the actual signal strength that the iPhone has at different points.
According to McEntegart (2010), most of the suggested solutions are half-baked and do not befit the 300 dollars purchase price that people paid to get the gadget in the first place. As such, the author notes an iPhone 4 recall is inevitable in the future.
Adhikari (2007) observes that Consumer Reports- a consumer watchdog organization in the United States has refused to give the iPhone 4 a stamp of recommendation insisting that Apple needs to fix the antennae issues on the device “at its own expense” before the organization can consider recommending it for purchase to the general public. Notably, Consumer Reports argues that by advising users to purchase a case for the iPhone 4, Apple is skirting its obligation to give the consumer market a consistent and reliable product and instead putting the onus on its customers.
To this end, Consumer Reports suggests that though a product recall would “put a black-eye on Apple”, it is the best approach to addressing the iPhone 4 antennae issue, since failing to attend to the issue comprehensively would only dent the company’s image further.
Notably, Apple is not yet ready for a product recall just as yet. This conclusion is attained by analyzing the company’s response to the antennae problem. From such responses, one can deduce that Apple will only recall the iPhone 4 as a last resort. But why is the company shilly-shallying on a recall while so many analysts have suggested this it is the best way to handle the situation? Well, Keller (2003) argues that a product recall usually decreases a product’s brand equity.
However, a company like Apple can still be shielded from the negative effects on its brand image; previous research has shown that it is unlikely that the brand equity will lessen if consumers have positive prior expectations of the product.
According to Didio (2010), Apple is among the contemporary IT-gadgets related company that enjoys wide consumer support. For example, it is notable that despite the antennae issue with the iPhone 4, consumers are still ordering the communication device. Commenting about the overall support that Apple products receive from the consumer market irrespective of their well-known shortcomings, Didio (2010, p.1) notes that “Neither antenna problems, dropped calls, nor irreplaceable batteries, nor lack of a USB port or flash support, nor premium pricing not lack of a definitive jailbreak date for the iPhone can keep users from pre-ordering and purchasing apple devices in record breaking numbers”.
As opposed to Keller’s (2003) argument that a delay in executing a product recall may damage brand equity through bad publicity generated through consumer’s sharing the experiences, Apple seems to be an exception to this argument since people still purchase the iPhone and other devices manufactured by the company.
Through out the years, Apple has been known to hit the news media by well-organized press conference to launch its products or address any problems that may have arisen from its products. In a similar manner, Apple CEO’s Steve Jobs initial reaction to the iPhone 4’s reception shortcomings was to tell the consumers that they are holding the device in a wrong manner.
As Didio (2010) notes, those who expected that Apple would be apologetic about the shortcomings in its product were deeply disappointed. It was only later that Steve Jobs appeared in a press meeting to address concerns directly. Even then, the CEO who has been portrayed as arrogant did not let his guard down.
According to Didio (2010), Jobs started by stating that Apple, just like other companies in the innovations industry was not faultless. The CEO further admitted that in addition to the reception problems, 0.55 percent of iPhone users had complained about dropped calls.
Apple’s quick fix solution to affected users was a free case, and other in-store fixes. The CEO further said that anyone who was not content with the device’s performance was free to return it to the company for a full refund within a month of purchase.
Prior to the press conference, the company had communicated the release of the iOS 4.0.1 software, which was meant for installation in the iPhone 4. The software was ostensibly meant to improve the calculation used to determine signal strength by the device hence displaying the correct bars on the screen (Kolakowski, 2010).
Having established that Apple appears insensitive to the needs raised by the consumer’s about the iPhone 4, this suggested communication strategy seeks to provide a solution to perceived arrogance that the company has towards its target market. The communication strategy will not only target current iPhone 4 users, but the general public who might be considering purchasing Apple’s products in future.
The media hype surrounding Apple’s operations suggest that the company’s present communication strategy revolves around secrecy, whereby its communication with the media, the public and shareholders is limited to occasions when the company has no choice but to speak (Stone & Vance, 2009). However, this does not always work well for the company since it is perceived as lacking in transparency.
Despite being a leading company in the manufacture of gadgets used in contemporary modes of communication, Jetplane Journal (2008) notes that the company still uses live events, press releases and traditional media channels as it preferred means of communication.
This in turn limits its correspondence with a significant percentage of its consumer market, whose preferable means of communication would be through blogs and web articles among other contemporary mode of communication. The secrecy by Apple is led by the company CEO Steve Jobs who had written two blog posts only by 2008 (Jetplane Journal, 2008).
This essay suggests that Apple should adopt a more-interactive communication strategy in order to involve its consumers more. One of the ways that this can be done is through more posting of blogs by the CEO (supposing he is the one who actually writes the posts) and addressing the consumer market more often.
In the case of the iPhone 4 reception problems for example, Apple could have admitted that the problem exists before trying to dismiss it as an issue of “how the iPhone is held”. As issues stand now, Apple’s response has been defines as “lack-luster”, “military-like” or downright “irresponsible”. The objective of this communications strategy is to provide a more positive perception of the company in regard to its response to consumer concerns about products.
While a product recall seemed like the best way to go, the fact that Consumer Reports admitted that the reception problem was resolved through the use of a bumper case. While Apple knew this, its initial recommendation to consumers was that they should purchase the case. Only later did the CEO announce that the case was offered free to all people who had purchased the iPhone.
Since the Bumper case resolves the problem, a recall does not look like a necessary action anymore. However, there is clearly a lack of clear communication between Apple and its consumers, something which should be addressed soon.
Seeing that the iPhone 4 is still a high demand product in the market having been launched only in June 2010, Apple should halt the marketing and distribution of the same until such a time when the reception problem is corrected. If such information is communicated aptly to the target market, then consumer perception on the brand would not suffer much.
However, if Apple chooses to go ahead with its intended roll-out of the iPhone 4 in 17 other countries without addressing the reception issues as raised by consumers, it would be doing a great injustice not only to the ignorant or unsuspecting consumers who have always been loyal to it, but also to its brand image. Alternatively, the company can have the bumper case as part of the iPhone package and should advice users to always use the case to ensure good signal reception.
The secrecy shrouding Apple’s communication seems to breed surprise and anticipation in the IT gadgets market, but as proven by iPhone 4’s case, secrecy cannot always guarantee positive results. If the company had for example taken time to test the gadget on a sample market, then perhaps the reception problems would have been noticed in good enough time to allow modifications on the initial model before it was released to the mass market.
As things stand at the moment, the level of secrecy in the company is so high that even staff members are caught unawares by product launches. While this essay acknowledges the importance of trade secrets by companies, it also notes that product superiority cannot be attained if its quality is faulty.
As Thomas (2010) notes, product testing is a prerequisite of continued innovation, performance and customer satisfaction and therefore should be embraced by all companies willing to maintain brand superiority. In Apple’s case, the testing can be done in a sample sworn to secrecy since silence seems to be deeply ingrained in the company’s corporate culture.
The proposed communication strategy should be monitored through consumer response to the same. As much as loyal Apple consumers appreciate the unique products by the company, there is no doubt that the blogs and other forms of media coverage would be awash with comments should the company decide to change its approach to public communications.
In this proposal, it has emerged that Apple though renowned for its product quality and innovativeness has always shrouded itself in a cloud of secrecy. While this may be good to protect its trade secrets, failing to respond fast and ‘in a concerned” manner to the complaints about iPhone 4’s reception problems is just one of the short-comings of the tight-lipped culture in Apple.
To this effect, it has emerged that Apple need to drop its perceived “arrogance” and instead learnt to address issues raised by the consumer market more attentively and in good time.
Accepting responsibility for shortcomings is the first major thing that apple need to do over iPhone 4’s reception problem. The next step would be to find out the best way to handle the reception shortcomings and finally, communicating the same to the consumer market without shying away from its responsibility. Only then can the company suffering a dent in its reputation.
Adhikari, R. (2010). iPhone 4 recall: Apple damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t. E-Commerce Times. Retrieved July 23, 2010 from: http://www.ecommercetimes.com/story/iPhone-4-Recall-Apples-Damned-If-It-Does-Damned-If-It-Doesnt-70411.html?wlc=1279784668
Didio, L. (2010). ‘Antennagate’ postmortem: Apple is nearly unstoppable. E-Commerce Times. Retrieved July 23, 2010 from: http://www.ecommercetimes.com/story/70453.html?wlc=1279871475
Jetplane Journal. (2008). Apple’s avenues of Communication. Tech Opinions, review and how-to’s. Retrieved July 23, 2010 from: http://jetplanejournal.com/apples-avenues-of-communication/
Keller, K. (20030. Strategic Brand Management: Building, measuring and managing brand equity. New York: Prentice Hall.
Kolakowski, N. (2010). Apple issues iOS 4.0.1, Adjusting iPhone signal. eWeek. Retrieved July 23, 2010 from: http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Mobile-and-Wireless/Apple-Issues-iOS-401-Adjusting-iPhone-Signal-576144/
McEntegart, J. (2010). PR experts say iPhone 4 recall is ‘inevitable’. Tom’s Guide. Retrieved July 23, 2010 from http://www.tomsguide.com/us/iPhone-4-iPhone-4-Antenna-iPhone-Recall-reception-antenna,news-7452.html
Stone, B. & Vance, A. (2009). Apple’s obsession with Secrecy grows stronger. The New York Times: Technology. Retrieved July 23, 2010 from: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/technology/23apple.html?_r=1
Thomas, J.W. (2010). Product testing. Decision Analyst. Retrieved July 23, 2010 from: http://www.decisionanalyst.com/publ_art/prodtes1.dai