Apple gets an attitude check

The company admits its mistakes and offers free iPhone 4 cases. A little humility never hurt anyone.

By Kim Peterson Jul 16, 2010 3:06PM
Credit:  Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up iPhone 4 as he talks about the Apple iPhone 4 at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Friday, July 16, 2010  (© Paul Sakuma/AP)I don't blame Apple (AAPL) for being arrogant. Heck, any company with a share-price run like that deserves a chip on its shoulder. Anyone who can make such astonishingly elegant and functional devices is allowed a pat on the back.

But when Apple's arrogance begins to inconvenience customers, maybe it's time to take things down a notch. When chief executive Steve Jobs addresses iPhone 4 antenna problems by saying "just avoid holding it in that way," well, something has to change.

And so it was refreshing Friday to hear Jobs (pictured) say things like "we're not perfect," "we're human" and "we make mistakes." Apple is giving free cases to iPhone 4 users to improve the phone's reception.

Even analysts had been starting to question Apple's attitude. In a recent report, Toni Sacconaghi of Bernstein Research wrote about "the emerging pattern of hubris that the company has displayed, which has increasingly pitted competitors (and regulators) against the company, and risks alienating customers over time."

Alienating customers. The company was clearly worried about that happening, and it displayed several slides at its press conference Friday, saying, "We love our users." Here's a video clip of Jobs' presentation; my post continues below:

So Apple had to eat a big piece of humble pie, and that's not a bad thing. But even in its press conference today, you could see the company struggling with its newfound humility.

That's because the iPhone 4 is an amazing phone. Critics have gushed over it. Fans lined up for it. And some of the technological accomplishments under its belt -- like the new FaceTime video calling -- are extraordinary.

It's just an amazing phone that has some small antenna problems.

Apple execs tried hard Friday to remind everyone about how awesome the iPhone 4 is. Jobs called it "perhaps the best product we've ever made" and said it has the highest customer satisfaction rating of any smart phone out there. Three million units of the iPhone 4 have been sold so far.
Apple has a bumper case for the iPhone 4 but said there's no way the company can make enough of them to give everyone a free one. So the company will find cases from other makers to meet demand. Anyone who has already purchased a case will get a refund.

One analyst has estimated that giving cases to 3 million people would cost about $45 million. That's chump change to Apple, and it's a small price to, at least for now, close the book on the antenna drama.

The lesson here for Apple is much more valuable. You may be the coolest company in the world, but don't act like it. You're on the way to becoming the most valuable company in the world, but don't forget the fans who helped you get there.

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