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Channel Signal: Media takes a bite out of Apple

It appears that Apple did not measure the immediate social media response after the negative recommendation from Consumer Reports about its iPhone 4...should it have? Channel Signal offers up observations we can all learn from.

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Every month Channel Signal shares some of its analyses of the major topics online important to the subscribers of SNEWS®. The topics will range from promotions to marketing initiatives, to issues that have virally exploded into crises. What are the online conversations? What issues are bringing people into the conversation? And which ones may be helping or hurting the growth of the industry? You’ll find out Channel Signal’s viewpoint here. 

Let’s start with the media’s love affair with Apple. Many citizens and publications have given Apple a green light to almost everything Apple has done in the past 10 years. Great design, good functionality, sexy. All media swooned when Mr. Jobs walked out on the stage to announce the launch of the iPhone 4. It did not take long, however, for reports of the phone dropping calls due to a faulty antenna design began to roll in.

Once Consumer Reports recommended to its readers that they not buy the iPhone 4, the clamor about something really being wrong with the iPhone 4 began to heat up — click here to read. And that really started rolling the ball the wrong way for Apple for the first time in a really long time.

Now known as Antenna-gate, the mobile connection doesn’t work when you hold the phone a certain way, resulting in dropped calls. At least, that’s what some say. Others have had no problem with the reception. Here are the facts:

  • Only 0.55 percent of iPhone 4 owners have called AppleCare to report problems with reception.
  • The return rate to AT&T stores for the iPhone 4 is 1.7 percent — compare that to the 6.0 percent for the iPhone 3GS during its first month on the market. (According to Jobs, even the 3GS’s 6.0 percent return rate is considered good for a Smart Phone.)
  • According to AT&T’s data, the iPhone 4 indeed drops more calls than the 3GS, but the difference is less than one call per hundred.

In his press conference on July 16, 2010, about the issue, Steve Jobs said, “We’re not perfect. Phones are not perfect. We all know that. But we want to make our users happy.”

Nineteen words. He was brief, and he was truthful. And later in the press conference, he offered the fix. The creator of Dilbert, Scott Adams, has more about this

Adams explains that Jobs, with those words, took all the heat off the iPhone 4’s other problems (bugs, etc.) and focused the media’s attention on all mobile phone manufacturers with five of those 19 words: “Mobile phones are not perfect.”

RIM, the manufacturer of Blackberry, had an immediate response: “Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation.”

In his blog, Adams used the phrase “magnificent bastard” because Jobs might have just rewritten the PR playbook. Instead of apologizing, he diverted attention to all mobile phones and their connectivity issues.

Others see the issue differently. They believe Apple has turned arrogant and defensive about the problem. And that perception was made worse by Jobs hitting back at the media when he said that the coverage was “so overblown, it’s incredible.”

Twitter, the real-time discussion machine, exploded with anger and accusations. Take a look at this Taiwanese video getting a lot of viral play

Print media, which has been writing about the “Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field,” is now full-throated about the issue. Click here for a sampling.

Media is also hammering away at the “fix,” with reports that the “bumper” or comparable cases are cheap and, worse, scarce. This “bumper” or cover is supposed to allow the signal to not be blocked by the human hand…in any position.

Outdoor industry enthusiast Devaki Murch bought an iPhone and here is her email to Channel Signal about getting a “bumper.”

“No such luck, none in stock, don’t know when they are coming in — cannot keep up with demand — I can go online for ‘support’ but the SLC store is not ‘participating’ in this special. I can see that they can really start pissing people off now.”

Although complicated, Channel Signal believes that Apple did not measure the immediate social media response after the negative recommendation from Consumer Reports. This is of no surprise. Apple doesn’t run a social media strategy like other companies. No blog and no social media channels. They focus strictly on traditional media and public relations. Apple controls what the message is and who says it.

And that is some of the problem. Had it monitored and measured, we believe Apple would have managed the situation differently. Perhaps those 19 words would have stayed. But perhaps they would have been surrounded by an attitude that was seemingly less arrogant and less defensive.

Humility loaded with business intelligence would have kept the waters calm.

Channel Signal is a social media monitoring platform that enables all businesses to track, manage and react in real-time to any online conversation. Channel Signal is the only software that offers: Intelligence through categorized analysis and reporting by social media experts. Integration of all units of your business with instant reporting, work flow processes and one consolidated dashboard. Impact in your market with powerful cost-effective feedback and less reaction time. If you don’t measure, you can’t manage…Channel Signal. For more information, email Paul Kirwin at or go to