Everyone wants to tear down the guy at the top. But in a matter of a month, Apple has made that work a lot easier. And for once, it has nothing to do with China. Well, not Foxconn anyway.
First, Apple's court win over Samsung for patent infringements met with "rounded corner" derision with the brand seen as an anti-innovation patent bully (a German court ruling today puts the patent wars ball back in Samsung's court). Then, there is the ongoing iOS 6 Google Mapsgate. And now, Apple has been accused of jobbing its fans to promote the iPhone 5 release.
But really, it's all about the maps. The stupid, stupid maps.
Being first in the Apple line — being the first to get the new Apple gadget — can make or break an Apple fanboy's (or fangirl's) 15 minutes of fame.
In Australia, the first in the week-long line happened to be the managers of an Aussie website called Mobile Phone Finder. Yet, when the first iPhone 5 owners were announced to the press and ushered before the cameras by Apple PR, the world was presented with a pair of iPhotogenic siblings.
Gizmodo Australia got the scoop:
"Fred Schebesta is the director of Mobile Phone Finder — the company that had put 5 of their own people at the very front of the line three days earlier — and he tells us his account. Were they cheated out of the world’s first iPhone?
Fred has told me that the Finder guys were 'aggressively held back' once they entered the store by who they claim to be Apple PR staff. James and Tamsyn passed them by and before they knew it, the two people who were far from first in the queue walked out with the world’s first iPhone 5."
The jubilant Vohradsky siblings are on the homepage of CNN as we write this, with Apple employees clapping behind them and a link to this story:
In Apple's defense, its PR team faced the thorny dilemma of not wanting to reward/promote those looking to leverage product launches (and it doesn't get much bigger than the iPhone 5 launch) for self-promotion.
For almost any other brand, the "scandal" of queue-jumping would be no scandal at all. It would not be newsworthy. But Apple is finding out that the seemingly unlimited amount of attention and free press it benefits from can cut both ways.
Granted, this scandal happened in Australia, and it remains to be seen how much events from Down Under can impact opinions Up Over. In the US, iPhone 5 lines remain robust. In fact, maybe one of 2012's candidate hopefuls should call out Apple's iPhone waiting lines for creating jobs.
A much larger problem than its wonder twins scandal is the ongoing smackdown Apple is taking over its new iOS6 maps function.
Having abandoned Google maps in favor of an alliance with TomTom, Apple traded superiority for control. In a review and ultimate savaging of Apple, the influential tech blogger Anil Dash openly asked "Who benefits from Aple's crappy maps?" Dash's assessment was hardly unique. CNN: "Users: Apple iOS 6 maps are a mess." The New York Times: "Apple on Its iOS 6 Maps: Things Can Only Get Better." Wow, that sounds familiar.
Witness the wag at the Transport for London rail authority — take a bow, Ben Mathis — who wrote, snapped and shared the passenger advisory at top on his Twitter feed.
And it did not take long for sites like "The Amazing iOS 6 Maps" to pop up, mocking all the ways in which Apple's new geolocation is rubbish. A few examples:
Rubbing salt in the wound is word that Google is preparing a special iOS 6 Google Maps app.
Meanwhile, in China — a market Apple itself has predicted will soon be its largest — consumers gave the iPhone 5 launch a lukewarm reception. Apple is still a huge player in the PRC, and stands to sell millions of the iPhone 5 on the mainland. But mere millions of iPhone 5's sold will not be enough in a market where Samsung is on the upswing. As Apple Australia was gaming the iPhone 5 buyers line, Chinese Weibo users were debating whether or not to upgrade to Apple's new iOS 6. Some praised the new operating system, but many, many others recommended waiting. One gripe of Chinese users, the maps.
Another gripe was Apple's decision to build in the Sina Weibo microblogging platform over other popular competitors in China. One post by user @火狼 that was forwarded over 1,000 times complained: "The latest version of iOS6.0 flagrantly built in Sina's microblogging platform, a move that has seriously hurt the feelings of the 200 million QQ users."
Yes, Apple has always had its detractors. Yet, since Steve Jobs' death, or maybe since Apple was named the most valuable company in the world, it seems as if the brand's protective cloak of invincibility has suddenly slid off. It's not that Apple never made strategic missteps or encountered public relations crises before, but on a gut-feeling level it's off its game.
For example, it doesn't feel as if Apple sued Samsung from a position of strength, but from one of fear. While Apple has always been about the bottom line, Apple's rush to release its own map platform despite what it had to know was a worse user experience and its shortsighted attempt to put a short burst PR over what it should have known would be a blogged-about "scandal," all seems exceptionally unJobsian.
At least they've still got Woz.