Think of Apple, and elegant, minimalist product design comes to mind. But the less-glamorous unseen force behind the products is Apple’s amazing ability to execute — to coordinate things like hardware supply and distribution, software rollouts and updates, network functionality and availability, and forcing suppliers and partners to march in lock-step with the Cupertino giant.
The launch of the original iPhone was a breathtaking feat of mastery. Here was Apple entering a crowded, complex and utterly new market. And it did so with what looked from the outside like grace and ease. In the year that followed, it has seemed like Apple could do no wrong.
Suddenly, it seems like Apple can’t do anything right.
The iPhone 3G launch didn’t go well. On Day One buyers waited for hours because of activation delays, and some sad customers left the store without activation. Apple initially blamed AT&T, but the problem turned out to be iTunes servers overwhelmed by high demand. The problems was global (unlike the initial iPhone launch, which was U.S. only, the 3G phone was rolled out in 21 countries on the same day).
The iTunes 7.7 upgrade, required for iPhone 3G activation, caused a few users problems as well, including lost data, crashing and other problems.
Many stores sold out of iPhone 3Gs on the morning of the first day. That means both Apple’s physical and digital supply chains failed to meet demand.
Some “Original Recipe” iPhone owners trying to upgrade to the 2.0 software suffered phone crashes as network problems caused incomplete installations. Many users had to re-upgrade their phones later.
iPhone activation in the U.K. required Internet Explorer running on Windows, which is awkward for Apple from a PR perspective, but even more problematic for U.K. Apples stores trying to activate iPhones.
Apple’s tightly controlled App Store offered applications that some say cause, or seem to cause, crashes, lockups and slowdowns.
Still other users are complaining about poor 3G reception and slower-than-expected 3G data speeds. It’s not clear whether this is an Apple issue, an AT&T issue or just unrealistic user expectations.
Apple’s newish MobileMe service broke, too. Some users hadn’t been able to access MobileMe’s HomePage creation feature or create or modify sites or .Mac groups. Others had log-in or synchronization issues and trouble getting a .Mac software update. Some users say they were overcharged for the MobileMe temporary “authorization” charge, which was supposed to be $1 but for some users ended up being more than $150.
Until recently, Apple was silent about these MobileMe issues, but has since added 30 days free to everyone’s subscriptions. They’ve also decided to stop using the word “push” to describe the synchronization process, as changes made on desktop systems can take as long as 15 minutes to sync back down to other devices.
None of these problems will impact Apple’s long-term growth or success. But they are surprising, given Apple’s stellar track record in recent years.
The real concern isn’t Apple’s problematic July. The real concern is Apple’s ability to execute in the future.
I hate to say it, but something similar happened to Microsoft. The company seemed to peak out in 1995, when it launched Windows 95 in a nearly flawless launch. Subsequent rollouts got sloppier and messier and more confused until the piece de resistance — Windows Vista, an unmitigated disaster.
Now that Apple is on a roll and gobbling up market share for all the right reasons, I would hate to see the company lose its touch, and become like so many other tech giants that can’t seem to pull it all together and do things well.
Has Apple lost its mojo? I hope not. Has it lost customers? Not many. But if recent problems are any indication, it has definitely lost something. I just hope they get it back.
In addition to writing for Datamation, where this column first appeared, Mike Elgan is a technology writer and former editor of Windows Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected] or his blog: http://therawfeed.com.