“This has been blown so out of proportion, it’s incredible," complained Steve Jobs at the hastily arranged Friday morning conference at Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters. Even so 55 journalists, bloggers and analysts had turned out on Friday to hear how Apple would respond to the iPhone 4 PR storm dubbed “antennagate".
Financial analysts appeared to be happy with the strategy of pointing the finger at competitors with claims that they were no better. "We believe the company adequately proved the antenna issue is an industry-wide problem" said Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray.
Standard & Poor’s analyst Clyde Montevirgen summarised the thoughts of many of the gathered analysts by saying the bumper giveaway was a "cost effective solution to what was becoming a PR problem." Apple’s share priced edged up 1.2 per cent higher by the close of trading on Friday although it has some way to go to make up losses since the company was hit by the storm of negative press.
Some of the mainstream press were similarly full of praise with attending BBC technology Maggie Shiels saying it was a "sterling" performance. "For Steve Jobs to publicly apologise to customers problem was amazing to hear," she said. "It didn’t come until 45 mins into the event but it was clear throughout that he has taken the criticism personally,” Shiels said.
The US media tended to highlight the aggressive approach with the Wall Street Journal describing a “defiant” Steve Jobs and the New York Times calling the conference an “offensive”. Few in the US media gave many column inches to the Apple apology but none failed to note Job’s accusations of media overselling the reception problems.
The WSJ’s Market Watch said that while most will be satisfied with Apple’s response and that the company should be applauded for addressing the issue, "the tone of its response reeked of arrogance," in a comment indicative with how poorly Apple’s press-attack strategy went down with the media at large.
Many news outlets chose a neutral reporting style on the front page but used blog and opinion pages to express a more critical view. Rob Pegoraro in the The Washington Post Faster Forward column admitted that "the saga simply doesn’t deserve all the pixels and pages that have been devoted to it" but summarised by offering that "the real problem remains the sluggish and secretive way Apple deals with queries and criticism from its customers and the public in general."
Apple fan sites and blogs also welcomed the news and often felt compelled to point out just how happy they are with their new iPhone 4. Apple commenter Apple Outsider said “I remain very happy with my iPhone 4. I still believe it’s the best iPhone ever, by far. I believe the Bumper offering is an appropriate gesture, and I believe Apple will still sell a ton of phones.”
However the style of the Apple PR response drew criticism even from friendly commentators with Apple Outsider calling the conference "a drawn out, mixed bag that pointed fingers while neither accepting nor denying fault. It was uncharacteristic of a company that communicates as well as Apple."
Influential US consumer group Consumer Reports had been largely responsible for bringing matters to a head by switching their glowing review to a "not recommended" as mounting concerns about the reception issues involved. Following the news conference they said they thought the move was "a good first step" but expressed concern about the30th of September deadline and said it was not a long-term solution. "As things currently stand, the iPhone 4 is still not one of our Recommended models," Consumer Reports said in a blog post.
Since owners of the new iPhone 4 are now able to obtain the reception-fixing free bumper, most coverage has called the Apple move welcome and largely a positive step in addressing concerns of new owners. With a low 1.7 per cent return rate and ongoing supply problems cited, Apple made the case for strong levels of customer satisfaction regardless of the negative press coverage.
However the great paradox of the Apple press conference was that it came across as the Steve Jobs show. The charismatic Apple boss featured front and centre walking the press through the lengthy set of arguments as he passionately set forth his case. Many companies don’t have the luxury of such a well known and effective figurehead.
Yet the arguments themselves gave the appearance of a design-by-committee PR strategy riddled with questionable and conflicting messages. It was an approach which gave ample ammunition to critics and fans alike, even while doing the right thing.
Rounding out weeks of heavy press coverage since the iPhone 4’s launch, the company will be hoping the PR conference will put an end to the matter. However that also depends on Apple avoiding further PR gaffes of their own.