Is Apple's run of operational flubs a hiccup, or a serious problem?

morgueFile user dave
morgueFile user dave

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Chances are slim that Apple (AAPL) will report a major financial disappointment in its earnings release and call today. But one thing to keep an eye on is what seems like an increasing number of operational flubs, where the company has screwed up in one way or another.

Operations have been a relative strength for Apple since Tim Cook became COO, before advancement to CEO. The company went from muddled and wasteful to lean, profitable, and dangerous. It learned to use its supply chain strength to cut expenses and make business more difficult for competitors. Apple's marketing has long been effective and clever. Its retail operations are literally second to none.

All that and more is why some of Apple's recent mistakes come across as the work of a less polished and savvy company:

  • Apple's newest iPad is supposed to be 4G compatible. Except that Apple only supports the necessary signal frequencies for North America. Australian regulators took the company to court. Apple's response? Offer refunds to Australian customers who found that they didn't get 4G performance, while nonetheless claiming that the 4G label is technically correct, and that Australian carriers are mislabeling their networks as 3G. Things are bad when lawyers call forth the Reality Distortion Field.

  • Apple's iCloud saw a global outage of service that the company claims was limited to less than 1 percent of users. But given Apple's claim that 85 million people have signed up for the service, that would still leave hundreds of thousands affected. Those with the problem were unable to gain access to their email accounts. Some people claiming to be users said that they had been locked out for periods of up to 30 hours. It's not the first time that Apple has had problems with a cloud service. There was the widespread MobileMe problem last fall.

  • The new iPad has seen a spate of complaints, including problems with Wi-Fi connectivity. The latter seems problematic enough that Apple is replacing units to capture the offending ones and learn what might be wrong, according to a leaked internal memo. Wi-Fi is so well understood that making a significant mistake in the area would be surprising. (Though Apple is hardly alone in having tablet Wi-Fi problems. Asus had to offer a free Wi-Fi dongle to people who bought the Transformer Prime.)
None of these flubs are in esoteric areas on the bleeding edge of business. It raises the question of whether Tim Cook's move into the CEO position might have reduced the company's focus on taking care of business.

Image: morgueFile user dave

  • Erik Sherman On Twitter» On Facebook»

    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.