iPhone Problems Multiply as Apple Sticks Its Fingers in Its Ears [Update]

Last Updated Jun 28, 2010 10:51 AM EDT

The Apple (AAPL) fan legions may explain everything away, but the number of problems in the iPhone 4 continues to multiply. What does Apple do? It blames manufacturing, tries to quietly handle the onslaught, and, in the person of Steve Jobs, says that there's no problem. The question now becomes how much damage the company might do to its own reputation among potential customers who aren't locked into the brand.

Let's start with the list of reported problems that have accumulated so far:

[Update: Apparently, iOS 4 users -- so this extends beyond just the iPhone 4 -- may have difficulty synching with Exchange, which would affect email, contacts, and calendar data. Apple posted a fix, but it doesn't seem to be effective.]

Although sales have been unquestionably hot on the iPhone 4 at 1.7 million in the first three days, they probably could have still been better, because publicity like this always puts off some percentage of buyers. You'd think that a company would want to deal with such a blemish. However, Apple's response to problems has been eye-crossing. Some support people have told customers that the yellow blotches are due to adhesive in manufacturing and will fade in time, while others swap out units. In answer to an email about the reception problem, Jobs -- who to his credit does sometimes reply to customers -- wrote, "There is no reception issue. Stay tuned."

Jobs's reply (at least it wasn't a fake Steve Jobs tweet) generated speculation that a software update today will fix the problem, even though a Danish professor who predicted the problem noted how contact between skin and the antenna would inhibit reception. Does the software force users to hold the iPhone 4 differently?

Once again, Apple tries to make the iPhone 4 problems simply disappear. What else can you expect from a company that has steadfastly tried to ignore complaints about serious and dangerous overheating of products and that tried to keep reporters from learning more?

Fans who insist that the problems either aren't real or are unimportant because Apple is a great company aren't helping the situation. Uncritical allegiance ultimately hurts companies. If anything, such willful blindness over the years has helped keep Apple in a fantasy world. Why address problems when a core group of customers tell you that it's unnecessary?

And if Apple still did the bulk of its business with the faithful, I could see the argument that quality was meeting customer expectations. But Apple is thoroughly in the world of mass consumer electronics, where affection and supremacy are transitory. Anyone inside or outside of Apple who thinks the company is too big and too successful to fail should look at meltdowns like Sony. No one stays on top when ignoring important basics, and getting a product to market in a way that doesn't invite widespread disappointment, anger, or even mockery is about as basic as you can get.


iPhone image, Apple. Photo editing, Erik Sherman.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.