Saturday, August 16, 2008

Apple: Human, After All

Ever since the launch of the 3G iPhone, Apple has been showered with decidedly mixed news. One the one hand, iPhone sales took off much faster than sales of the original iPhone, but who can forget the lines, delays and frustration of buyers when Apple's iTunes-based authorization system failed? In the U.S., the 3G iPhone is still subject to inventory shortages and a long purchase and approval process.

Now, 3G iPhone users from around the world are complaining of poor 3G reception and speeds little better than the EDGE 2G service of the original iPhone. In the U.S., AT&T and Apple maintained a stony silence about the problems, but in other countries, service providers laid the problem at the feet of Apple. An industry analyst conjectured that the Infineon chipset that Apple used for the 3G iPhone was to blame, a Swedish engineering magazine confirmed the problem (though not necessarily the source), and a Business Week article appears to substantiate that conclusion.  While Richard Windsor, the Nomura Securities analyst who wrote the original report, believes that the problem is in hardware, the BusinessWeek article indicates that the parties involved think that the problem can be fixed in firmware. None of this matters to customers, who just want a phone that works as advertised.

The iTunes Application Store has been a grand success, generating a million dollars in sales a day for Apple and still growing. On the other hand, developers are complaining about Apple's slow (and seemingly capricious) approval process for adding their software to the Store--an approval process that nonetheless let through a program called "I Am Rich," which cost $999 and did nothing except flash a red icon on the iPhone's screen. According to reports, eight people actually bought the package before Apple took it down.

mobileMe, Apple's replacement for .mac, was launched well before it was ready, which caused millions of .mac users who were forced to switch over to mobileMe to lose access to their email and be unable to synchronize their devices for long stretches of time. The problems caused The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, who's usually an Apple champion, to warn users to stay away from mobileMe until the service matures.

Let's not forget AppleTV, which even in its second version has failed to gain market traction. Roku's Netflix Player sold out quickly, and the company has had a hard time catching up with demand, but AppleTVs gather dust on store shelves around the U.S.

These glitches indicate that there are some serious problems in Apple's product review and release process, as well as its online infrastructure. How Apple responds to these problems, and how long they persist, will indicate whether or not the company has gotten too big for its own good. In any event, Apple is human, after all.
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