An open letter to Apple...
Dear Steve Jobs:
In about 24 hours, you can either tarnish Apple's brand or lock your already rabid fan base in for life. And you can probably do it 15 minutes during your press powwow on Friday.
It must be odd for you to be the brunt of so much non-flattering hubbub over your iPhone 4, which looked like a dream device just a few weeks ago. The iPhone 4 was your best launch ever---and that's saying something given the debut of the iPad---but an antenna reception issue, Consumer Reports and now numerous jokes have turned things around.
The pundits can talk form over function and worry about the long-term hit to Apple's brand, but there's really an easy fix. Do a total iPhone 4 recall. Issuing a bunch of bumper cases that cost you about $1 to $5 (maybe less) is a lazy man's fix. Apple doesn't do lazy and shouldn't start now.
Sure there's a semi-heavy financial hit to a full recall---a $1 billion or so charge according to Wall Street types---but remember Apple is a company with no dividend, a penchant for small-ish acquisitions and more than $23 billion in cash, equivalents and short-term marketable securities. Simply put, you can afford the hit to ensure the lifetime value of an Apple customer.
Bottom line: If you go with the bumper case fix Apple will still be selling a defective product. The antenna issue is real and Apple shouldn't rely on a case and tell customers to hold the iPhone 4 correctly. The case has a role though. You should hand that puppy out to hold customers over as the supply chain gets retooled. You know you're going to have to pause sales for about a month. Hey, stuff happens. There's a balance between art and engineering. You went a little too artsy with the iPhone 4. It happens.
Meanwhile, you have a great opening to do a full recall. Every analyst says that a recall is "highly unlikely" so customers aren't expecting a massive goodwill gesture. You know the expectations game. People going into Friday's press conference expect bumper cases and an apology. Give them a full recall and Apple can show they love their customers as much as they love the company's products. Wall Street analysts will spin things your way no matter what you do.
You know the options. You can go cheap and hand out bumper cases and still hear the jokes. You can do some in-store modifications to the iPhone 4 and then fix the problem for future buyers---ruining relations with your early adopters. Or you can suck it up and do the full recall.
Just because you have iPhone 4 sales at your back doesn't mean you shouldn't do the right thing. Recall those iPhone 4s and don't half-ass it.
Related: Apple was warned about iPhone 4 antenna issues