Steve Jobs shows little remorse about iPhone 4 Death Grip -- should he?
Yesterday, I recommended five things Apple should do during today's press conference about iPhone 4. Within hours of the post, Apple already had done two -- release a software update and informally deny that there would be an iPhone 4 recall.
During today's media event, Apple CEO Steve Jobs fully did two others: Offer free iPhone 4 cases and reveal number of iPhone 4 returns. For the other -- bringing out engineers -- Jobs instead personally discussed the engineering problems and showed that other phones display similar behavior, where human contact with certain areas of the phone can cause the signal bars to decline.
As I explained yesterday, today's media event wasn't about preserving iPhone 4 sales but managing perceptions, particularly for investors and the news media. The latter group now has substantive Apple response rather than speculation to write about. This will dramatically change the tone of Death Grip stories through the weekend, which is exactly what Apple needs to cool things down ahead of its fiscal third quarter earnings announcement on July 20.
Jobs didn't give his best performance today. He was harried and hurried and didn't play the "We're sorry" role very well. There was no real apology, but plenty of justification. "We're not perfect," Jobs said. "Phones aren't perfect." He then went on to assert that the BlackBerry Bold 9700 and Droid Eris demonstrate similar behavior to iPhone 4 when held in the Death Grip. Such comparisons are unusual for Apple, which strives for excellence not excuses for why its products are the same as competitors. I found Jobs' excuse for why people are seeing Death Grip the lamest of all -- the relatively small number of cases available at launch. The reasoning: If there had been more cases, fewer people would be holding the phone directly.
I suspect that when reviewing the video, assuming Apple posts one, many people will see what I saw watching him speak on CNBC's feed: How little Jobs wanted to give away free cases. His mouth said Apple wanted to do the right thing for customers. His facial expression and mannerisms suggested something different.
Watching Jobs, I thought about lessons Fox TV show "Lie to Me" teaches about lying -- how a person's expression can reveal what he or she really means. The TV show's main character, Cal Lightman, is loosely based on Paul Ekman, who is a pioneer reading human facial expressions. Ekman's work is quite remarkable. In the 1970s, the University California professor identified six basic emotions -- anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise -- that the face can reveal. There's a universality about the emotions and their facial manifestations that transcends environmental influences. The expressions are human, regardless of country or culture.
Jobs' expression told me that he didn't want to give away free iPhone 4 cases. But perhaps a question during the Q&A reveals why. In response to renown Machead John Gruber, Jobs said that he doesn't use a case -- that he holds the phone in the Death Grip but doesn't see any problems. Lucky, Jobs. He must live in a good AT&T reception area.
Apples Five Responses
I want to put Apple's responses in context of the 5 things I said the company should do to kill Death Grip. I could easily have scripted Apple's media playbook, Jobs' five responses so mirrored my recommendations. They are:
1. Software update
I recommended that Apple release iOS 4.1 or whatever update is necessary to properly align the signal indicator and quash and other radio-related bugs (Bluetooth would be good starter). If Apple is smart, the update with pack goodies, like FaceTime over 3G capabilities, that will excite the masses and shift focus away from Death Grip.
Apple released iOS 4.01 within hours of that recommendation. During today's media event, Jobs said that another update, fixing problems with the proximity sensor, is coming. However, during the event Q&A, Scott Forstall called a New York Times report about an antenna software problem as being "false."
2. Engineering problem
I recommended that Apple bring out certified antenna engineers -- one to three of them -- to discuss how the iPhone 4 radios work and to do comparisons with other smartphones. Apple should assert that iPhone 4's weak signal performance isn't unique but that because of the phone's popularity, bloggers, Consumer Reports and journalists have amplified a small and common problem with antenna placement and reception. The engineers should also show how the antenna design boosts telephony performance more often than hinders it.
Steve Jobs directly addressed the engineering issues, making Death Grip comparisons to other smartphones, discussing signal strength and comparing iPhone 4 performance to the older 3GS (he admitted there are slightly more dropped calls on the new model).
3. Free cases
I recommended that Apple offer iPhone 4 owners freebees, Bumpers, $30 credit for case (or other accessories) or some other incentive, like free MobileMe for one year. Apple should not give away cases, because of the potential negative effects on iPhone partners. The freebees would be simply goodwill, available to those customers requesting them, with Apple admitting no fault.
Apple will offer free cases for phones sold through September 30th. Apple will replace Bumpers with cases. The end date strongly suggests Apple will have a final resolution in place by the end of September.
4. Number of returns
I recommended that Apple reveal the number of iPhone 4 returns. Apple could assert that even with all the bad Death Grip publicity people love their iPhone 4s.
Jobs not only revealed the number of returns, but he put them in context. He also revealed the number of complaints. AT&T return rates for iPhone 4 are one-third of the 3GS. Early return rate for iPhone 3GS was 6 percent compared to 1.7 percent for iPhone 4. Additionally 0.55 percent of iPhone 4 owners have contacted AppleCare about reception problems.
5. No recall
I recommended that Apple emphatically state that there will be no iPhone 4 recall. As long as Apple lets the topic be, someone will write about the possibility of a recall. Apple should squash all speculation on the subject. The announcement would be right time to reveal availability of white iPhone 4s, increases in production capacity and availability in more countries. Rather than recall, Apple is expanding sales.
Yesterday someone leaked there would be no recall, which the company all but affirmed today. Jobs also announced that Apple had sold 3 million iPhone 4s, that the white model would be available by the end of the month and that the smartphone would be available in 17 more countries, starting July 30th.
In closing, one more thing: In the headline, referring to Jobs showing no real remorse, I asked: "Should he?" That's the question I pose for you to answer in comments.