3 Ways Apple Can Turn ‘Bendgate’ and iOS 8 Into Successful Failures

To say that Apple has had a diverse range of media coverage this week would be an understatement. After launching its highly anticipated larger-screen iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models last Friday, the company triumphantly announced that it had surpassed expectations with first weekend sales of ten million units. Not only did Apple beat last year’s record iPhone sales numbers, it achieved those numbers despite the lack of a launch in China this year. Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that the strong sales exceeded Apple’s expectations and he claimed that the company could have sold even more devices if it had a “greater supply.” While Cook didn’t specify which iPhone model was in short supply, there were widespread reports of iPhone 6 Plus shortages at many retail locations that appeared to confirm an overwhelming consumer demand for a phablet-sized iPhone.

However, a week that started on a positive note for Apple with the news of record sales and strong demand for the more expensive iPhone 6 Plus model began to turn sour later in the week with a double whammy of bad news about the company’s new hardware and software. First, a video posted by online gadget review show Unbox Therapy on Tuesday appeared to confirm some iPhone 6 Plus owners’ complaints about the device becoming bent simply from being carried in their front or back pockets. As seen in the video above, a researcher was able to bend the aluminum chassis with his bare hands. The video went viral and “Bendgate” soon began trending on various social media platforms.

When some critics of the video claimed that this was likely an unavoidable problem with most larger-screen smartphones, Unbox Therapy posted several follow-up videos that demonstrated that the similarly sized Samsung Galaxy Note 3, the HTC One M8, and the Motorola Moto X (2014) did not warp as easily under pressure. The videos showed that the Galaxy Note 3 and the new Moto X appeared to be especially resistant to bending.  Meanwhile, other devices that had their screens pop out under stress — like the HTC One M8 — could be “fixed” by pushing the screen back into place. On the other hand, an Unbox Therapy researcher’s attempt to straighten a bent iPhone 6 Plus shattered the screen. Other researchers posted videos that appeared to show that Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S5 smartphone also resisted bending better than the iPhone 6 Plus.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, around the same time that the “Bendgate” story was becoming big, Apple took another hit in the media when it emerged that the company’s iOS 8.0.1 software update was disabling devices’ cellular connectivity and the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. The hastily issued software update was intended to fix several bugs found in the original iOS 8 release, including a HealthKit issue, a problem that prevented apps from being shared via the Family Sharing feature, and a glitch that caused unusual cellular data usage for text messages. As a result of the additional problems with the iOS 8.0.1 update, Apple took the unusual step of asking users to downgrade back to iOS 8.0. As noted on Apple’s support page, reinstalling iOS 8 will resolve the cellular connectivity and Touch ID issues, but will also reintroduce the same bugs found in the original software.

So will Apple’s sales suffer from this negative publicity? Not necessarily. Although Apple’s reputation has taken a few hits this week, the Cupertino-based company’s handling of the problems could turn a negative into a positive. Just like NASA was able to turn the aborted Apollo 13 lunar mission into a “successful failure” through its ingenious efforts to rescue its astronauts, Apple may be able to use the “Bendgate” and iOS 8 issues as a way to highlight the company’s commitment to customer service. Here are three ways that Apple can turn the “Bendgate” and iOS 8.0.1 update problems into positives.

1. Offer to replace any bent iPhone 6 Plus models

The company already appears to be taking steps in this direction, according to Apple support representatives cited by The Next Web. When asked if “a bent enclosure occurring during normal use” would fall under warranty, an unnamed Apple support representative told The Next Web, “That is 100 percent up to the Genius that you speak with at the store. There is a test called a Visual Mechanical Inspection that the device will have to pass. If it is within the guidelines, they will be able to cover it. If not, the replacement would be a paid one.” Although this is still short of a guaranteed replacement offer, it is a good step toward keeping Apple’s loyal customers happy.

While offering to replace any unintentionally bent devices is a good start, Apple may also want to take some preemptive actions to forestall any future problems with the iPhone 6 Plus. One way Apple could do this would be to strongly recommend users not try to carry the large-screen device in their normal-sized pockets. Just like using an iPhone underwater is not considered “normal use” under the current warranty, Apple could make storing an iPhone 6 Plus in a user’s pocket outside the range of normal usage for that device. Apple could also proactively help its customers protect their devices by offering a free carrying case or inflexible covering with each iPhone 6 Plus purchase. Not only would this cut down on any bent iPhone 6 Plus returns, it would also demonstrate Apple’s willingness to go the extra mile for its customers. Of course, since Apple’s software updates are already free, the company simply needs to issue a corrected iOS 8 update as soon as possible.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

2. Admit the problems and apologize for them

While admitting and apologizing for any problems may seem like a simple and obvious first step, Apple has not always taken that route. Soon after the release of the iPhone 4 in 2010, many users complained that the device would lose its cellular signal when it was held a certain way, in a problem that became known as “Antennagate.” As reported by Ars Technica, CEO Steve Jobs’s first reaction was to recommend that users “just avoid holding it in this way.” Not surprisingly, telling customers that they didn’t know how to hold a phone did not go over well. After weeks of ongoing bad publicity, Apple eventually offered to give owners a free bumper to mitigate the reception problem. The company also mailed $15 settlement checks to users who preferred cash over a free plastic bumper.

Fortunately, it appears that Apple’s traditionally intransigent response to criticism has changed in the years since Tim Cook has taken charge of the company. Apple’s new willingness to admit and apologize for mistakes first became apparent when Cook issued an apology for the poor quality of the first Apple Maps iteration that was launched as part of iOS 6 in September 2012. Although Apple has yet to make a public statement about “Bendgate,” it may want to consider apologizing for not better informing its customers that the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus was more fragile and prone to bending than previous iPhone models due to its large size. As Jobs’s reaction to “Antennagate” proved, simply denying that there is a problem will not satisfy customers and will only make the company look worse in the long run. While Apple has already instructed users to reinstall iOS 8.0 to undo the issues caused by the iOS 8.0.1 update, it wouldn’t hurt to offer an Apple Maps-type apology for the initial iOS 8 software problems as well as the botched update. An apology would cost Apple no money and would let customers know that the company is committed to offering a higher level of customer service than most other tech companies.

Apple unveils iPhone 6

Source: Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images

3. Inform users about any measures taken to prevent similar problems in the future

Besides assuring its customers that it will take steps to correct any problems caused by the so-called “Bendgate” issue and iOS 8.0.1 update, Apple may also want to publicize any measures that it implements that show it is serious about making sure that these problems don’t occur again. For “Bendgate,” this may involve Apple revisiting how it tests its devices in real world situations. For the iOS 8 snafus, Apple may need to take measures to improve how it vets its software prior to it being released. In some cases, these corrective measures might even involve senior management changes. While Apple didn’t point the finger at anyone in particular for its Maps fiasco, it should be noted that senior vice president of iOS software Scott Forstall left the company in the aftermath. Considering that the botched iOS 8.0.1 update followed the release of the similarly problematic iOS 8.0 release, Apple may need to implement some drastic changes in its software division. Besides preventing future problems in the same areas, corrective steps like staff changes also show customers that Apple is taking the problems seriously.

The negative publicity that Apple received over “Bendgate” and the recent iOS 8 problems will likely soon be forgotten just like previous issues such as “Antennagate” and Apple Maps. However, the way that Apple handles these problems will likely be long remembered by customers who may have accidentally bent their expensive new iPhone 6 Plus or become frustrated over the performance of the new iOS 8. It remains to be seen if Apple will use these problems as an opportunity to reestablish its reputation for quality or if it will allow these issues to snowball into even bigger problems down the road.

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