If I was working over at Apple's PR department, I think I'd call in sick today. In fact, I think I'd fake something really serious like Ebola or bird flu and try to get the week off, because the brown stuff has hit the fan head on over the bricked iPhones and cleaning up this mess is going to be tricky.
As far as PR goes, Apple's enjoyed a long lucky streak. When I look at Apple I see just another multi-billion dollar company who's prime objective is to add more dollars to the pile, something which Apple's been very good at lately. Sure, Apple comes out with tech that has a high level of sex appeal, which in turn drives gadget lust and that in turn keeps the dollars flowing in, but it's the dollars that matter. Others see Apple in a very different light. Some don't see a corporation with billions of dollars, but instead see an underdog fighting against the oppressive regimes imposed on the poor, defenseless users of technology by other companies. To these people, Steve Jobs isn't a CEO, but instead a freedom fighter, and a few times a year he and his band of guerrillas come out of hiding to take a stand against "the man" before sinking back into the shadows.
But this iPhone bricking issue is likely to change how some people view Apple. Of crucial importance to Apple is how many people change their view of Apple. It doesn't matter whether you agree with Apple's decision to brick unlocked iPhone's (let's forget about those bricked iPhones that haven't been tampered with) or not, you can't escape the fact that it's a hugely unpopular move. Jon (DVD Jon) Lech Johansen sums it up well:
Did Sony ever brick PSPs over homebrew software? Did Microsoft ever overwrite someone’s BIOS with garbage because they detected an illegitimate Windows installation?
In light of other things Apple has done lately, such as adding an encrypted hash to the iPod database to lock out non-Apple software and disabling TV-out on the iPod unless the 3rd party accessory you’re using has an Apple authentication chip, it’s evident that Apple is well on its way to become one of the most consumer hostile tech companies.
When Steve Jobs claimed the iPhone was 5 years ahead of every other phone, was he talking about the iPhone’s revolutionary handcuffs?
I just wonder how shiny did Apple executive think the company's halo was and how much did they think they could get away with? No matter how you try to spin the problem, pushing an update that trashes your own product is not a good move. A far better solution would have been to push an update that just wouldn't install onto unlocked iPhones. That would have been the right thing to do. Bricking them is wrong. Apple could have done this easily. It didn't and instead chose to stamp on the little guy.
I'm also surprised and dismayed by Apple's response so far. This quote is by Apple spokeswoman Jennifer Bowcock:
If the damage was due to use of an unauthorized software application, voiding their warranty, they should purchase a new iPhone
I guess Apple's never heard of the old phrase "Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice ..."
And word of the bricking has spread to folks who've never seen an iPhone:
On Saturday I was going to a party at an apartment building. The buzzer wasn't working, and I took out my shiny new iphone to call and get in. As I was dialing, a few young teenagers were coming out. They wanted to see the iPhone, and so I demo'd it in exchange for entry to the building. (Mmm, security.) As I was heading in, one of them turned back to me to say "Be careful! The updates are bricking those things!"
I found that really interesting--they hadn't ever touched the phone, but they'd heard about and remembered the risks of patching them and wanted to share.
In the words of the Mastercard ads, that sort of publicity is priceless.
Even the technophiles at Gizmodo have changed their iPhone verdict from a "wait" to "don't buy" because of the stance that Apple has taken to third party developers:
It's understandable for Apple to wage a war on unlocking the iPhone, since the company shares revenue from fees with AT&T. But the truth is, if cellphone service was awesome, like it is on iTunes, there wouldn't be a need to unlock the iPhone. Secondly, bricking these things is totally uncool, and apparently, malicious—according to some early code investigations by the independent iPhone Dev Team, Apple could have avoided this entirely.
Screw the unlock for a second. Let's talk about the those third-party apps. While my 4GB iPhone is a brick, and the 8GB phone, which I kept on a totally legit AT&T contract, is now stripped down. Programs like the faux-GPS, IM clients, Flickr Upload, and NES emulator—what did they ever do but make the iPhone far better than the stock original? They made it far more competitive with open-platform superphones like the Nokia N95, to which I will now be switching.
It's going to be a tough week for the folks at Apple's PR department.