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Confusing messages from Apple – a PR disaster?

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 28th June 2010

Apple is facing intense scrunity that is threatening to overshadow the launch of the latest iPhone.

If you haven’t come across the controversy already, new owners of the iPhone 4 (and I’m one of them) are finding that when certain parts of the outer casing are covered at the same time, the phone loses its signal entirely. This is reported as being a fault with the way the phone is put together, with the ‘groundbreaking’ new design featuring an external antenna that runs around the outer casing of the phone.

Apple’s response to date has hardly been a good example of how to effectively manage a ‘crisis’.

The technology company released a statement, which, albeit quite politely, told users to just ‘stop holding it that way’:

“Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas,” said the company in an official statement. “This is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.”

Apple Chief Steve Jobs, who regularly responds to customers that email him on his freely available email address, at first went along with the official line, but then broke away from this yesterday after telling another enquirer “There is no reception issue. Stay tuned.”

This response seems to echo some of the other rumours doing the rounds that the problem isn’t related to the hardware but the software and that a fix is imminent.

If this is indeed the case, then Apple has been extremely economical with the truth and this could come back to haunt them. Rule one in crisis communications is to respond quickly, with as much factual and transparent information as posssible. Apple doesn’t seem to have complied with this.

If however it’s actually a hardware issue after all, then expect this one to run and run and potentially create a significant headaches for the company.

An interesting side story to this cropped up yesterday when the Daily Mail published a story claiming that Steve Jobs had revealed on Twitter that the iPhone was going to be recalled. The source of the story was in fact the ‘fake’ Steve Jobs Twitter account! Oops!

Danny Whatmough