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Opinion: Apple, over promising and under delivering?

updated 07:38 am EDT, Tue October 9, 2012

Apple seems to be leaning too heavily on the loyalty of its customers

Some recent experiences I have had with Apple on a personal level have started me questioning the direction that it is headed. From a financial perspective, the company has never been stronger - it has over $100 billion in cash and it is the most valuable company in the world based on its current market cap. However, I wonder how much of this success built on the incredible loyalty that Apple has created within its customers and whether the patience of Apple's fans may eventually run out.

I was among the first batch of customers to pre-order the iPhone 5 when it went on sale and received it the day it shipped. This was a pleasant surprise as Apple has previously delivered pre-ordered products days after they officially went on sale. However, much less pleasant was the discovery that I had paid top-dollar for a black iPhone 5 64GB model only to discover that it had shipped out of the box with some (minor) damage; it is one thing for me to 'break-in' an iPhone, I just don't accept that it should ship that way. It was a surprising issue that also affected other Apple customers, inconveniencing them when they should have been enjoying their new phone.

In addition to the three dings on the device, I was disappointed by the build-quality of the model I received. Sir Jony Ive placed a strong emphasis on the care with which Apple crafted the iPhone 5 saying that Apple had gone to "extraordinary levels of fit and finish." At one point in the promotional video for the iPhone 5, Ive highlights how each of the two glass panels on the rear of the device is selected from 725 separate pieces from which the two best fitting parts are matched using two 29-megapixel cameras. The iPhone 5 that I received had a perfectly flush bottom glass panel (as promised), but the top panel was noticeably ill fitting. There was a distinct bump when running my finger from the aluminum panel across to the glass panel that clearly did not live up to Ive's promise of a "seamless" fit, or a variance that could be "measured in microns."

I took my iPhone 5 to the Apple Store at Broadway in Sydney to show the finishing flaws to an Apple 'Genius.' He advised that Apple would only replace the device on the spot if it had more significant damage. As I had bought it from the Apple Store online, I was however entitled to return the item for any reason within a 14-day period. On contacting Apple support, I was asked to send through photos of the iPhone (embedded below). However, I was concerned that the black model was more prone to scratches and asked for a white model instead. I was told that I couldn't do that, but that my options were to have the black model exchanged, or to receive a refund.

I opted for the exchange. Initially, I was advised via an order notification that the replacement would ship in 3 - 4 weeks! I got back in touch with Apple and was advised that this was not the case and was reissued with a new notification and was promised that it would arrive by the end of the following week. I was at home over that period and agreed that this would be ok. At the end of the next week, I placed a call to Apple asking them where the replacement iPhone was - I was told that it would not arrive until the next week, on the Monday or Tuesday.

As I was going to be at the office on those days, I requested that my order be cancelled and my money refunded. However, I was told that this would only happen after Apple received notice of a failed delivery attempt, leaving me both without an iPhone 5 and about $1,000 out of pocket in the interim - hardly the epitome of customer service. Reluctantly, I decided to try reserve an iPhone 5 online. Despite getting online as soon as reservations opened over a period of three days, I was unsuccessfull in obtaining an iPhone 5.

Giving up on the online lottery, I headed into the flagship Apple Store, Sydney to pick one up. I arrived before the store opened and waited (while feeling foolish as people walked past me thanks to Samsung's cheeky advertising). It turned out that, indeed, I was being played for a fool. Apple promises on its website that each day customers can either try to reserve an iPhone 5 or that 'Limited quantities are also available for walk-in purchase on a first-come, first-served basis." When I entered the door as the second customer through, I naturally expected to get an iPhone 5. Instead I was told that I could only purchase one on a contract, and that outright purchases could only be made through the reservation process.

When I pointed out that this information was not supplied on the Apple website, I was given the predictable excuse that this was because of "overwhelming demand." Naturally, I asked why Apple makes a promise on its website, but the Apple staffer tried to explain to me that "limited" could also mean that I could reasonable expect to find "none at all." You have to question the wisdom of being so critically low on stock for what is a key product. It might help increase the perceived desireability of the product, but it also leaves Apple at the real risk of losing customers when there are plenty of attractive alternatives on the market.

Against the backdrop of my iPhone 5 saga, the home button on my third-generation iPad started to play up and become unresponsive at times. I booked it in at the Broadway Apple Store for a 12.40pm appointment a day ago so I could pop up there from my office during my lunch break. Apple will cancel an appointment if you are late, however, I arrived early at 12.32pm and was pointed to a spot to wait after checking in. At 1.00pm, 20 minutes after I was supposed to have been attended to I gave up after discovering that there were still people waiting in front of me to be served. From a casual count, I could see that there were at least three people waiting for each 'Genius' that was actually on hand to serve customers.

It was not quite the 45-minute Genius Bar waiting saga I had to endure about two years ago at the Sydney Apple Store when an Apple MacBook Pro trackpad failed on me. I wrote to the late great Steve Jobs about that episode. What prompted me to write directly to him about it was that Apple promises "Geniuses have extensive knowledge of our products..." While I waited on that occasion, two or three geniuses became free and could easily have seen that my trackpad was faulty. However, it turns out that they were only trained in iPhone support. In my letter to Steve I said that they weren't really 'Geniuses' as promised, but more like 'idiot savants'. I ended up getting a call from the Sydney Apple Store manager as a result, and not long after Apple instituted some changes to help address waiting times. Apparently, Apple still has some way to go on that front.

For all of Apple's well-earned success, it has managed to achieve this despite the fact that they have had some high profile service and hardware-related failures in recent times. The iPhone 4, of course was plagued by a faulty antenna design, despite Apple's claims to the contraryelectron. MobileMe had a disastrous roll out and was ultimately replaced by iCloud, which has had a patchy track record too, while it also removed service features. Recently I was one among over a million users who lost access to iCloud email in an outage that extended over 24 hours. This could explain why Apple again offered former MobileMe subscribers an additional 12 months on its upgraded storage plan for free. The iCloud team wrote to affected iCloud users acknowledging that such an outage was unacceptable.

Its social music sharing service Ping has flopped and been discontinued, and now a purple lens flare issue seems to be affecting the iPhone 5. And let's not even get started on the new Apple Maps app; enough has been written about that, but it does typify what I perceive to be a serious problem at Apple. It is developing a reputation for over promising and under delivering on its services, its customer service, as well as its products as the many examples I have presented here testify to.

I have spent a good deal of money on Apple's products over the years, even when Apple did not enjoy mass consumer appeal -- I actually miss that version of the company; it was still small enough to be responsive and was much less 'corporate.' I don't feel that Apple 'owes' me anything for my loyalty, but I do believe that at the least I, or anyone, can expect is that it should make good on all the promises it makes. That it has apologized for its failures, or tried to rectify them on some level has been a positive. However, relying on my loyalty, or that of others, will not sustain Apple forever. For a company with over $100 billion in cash, and which makes substantial margins on most of its products, I expect better.

At the moment, the recent Apple failings outlined here do not appear to be hurting the company's bottom line. Though, it has to be asked how long this can continue? As the competition continues to get closer and closer to Apple in terms of product design, content ecosystems and operating systems, potential Apple customers might start to take their business elsewhere. If Apple eventually stumbles, it may not be at the hands of its competition; it is quite possible that Apple could be responsible for its own undoing.

Underpromising and overdelivering would seem a better approach for Apple than its current tendency to overpromise and underdeliver - better to pleasantly surprise your customers than leave them open to potential disappointment. Tim Cook's apology for the Maps app debacle and the re-writing of its Maps app description downplaying its capabilities may force Apple into such a rethink.

I still don't have an iPhone 5 and it doesn't look like I will be getting one any time soon. The new Nokia, Samsung and HTC Windows Phone 8 smartphone are certainly worth a look and I await their arrival with keen interest - at least I won't have a problem getting any one of them on release.

By Sanjiv Sathiah
News Editor

by MacNN Staff





  1. FireWire

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 10-03-99

    Really? A biased and ill-informed anti-Apple article within MacNN? Bringing back the antenna-gate issue even after everyone in the know know it,s a common problem with most phones (did you see the videos duplicating the issue with all other major brands?). Talking about the supposed purple haze issue even if it's common knowledge that all cameras display some kind of lens flare if pointed at the sun? Blasting Apple Maps even after Consumer report concluded that it was "not bad after all"? And so what if Ping was not popular? Did somebody was penalized? And let's not forget it was mostly Facebook's fault for wanting Apple to pay million even though the integration is free for others? And yes, servers DO have hiccups from times to times, especially for a highly popular site like iCloud or MobileMe, with its millions of users and huge data transfer...

    The only real problem is the tiny dings in shipped iPhones, which is not really Apple's fault.. it probably happened at Foxconn, and would have happened anyway after a few days of usage..

    I would expect that kind of article from other publication, not from within MacNN.... you're a disgrace

  1. FireWire

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 10-03-99

    May I suggest you read your own employer's publication?

  1. glawhorn

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-09-12

    Sorry about your experience. I'm even sorrier that you think a few bad experiences spell doom for Apple, or any company for that matter.

    The reality is that Apple has a fantastic success rate in what they do. If they have a failing, it seems to be consistently underestimating how many people will want a new product on day one.

    So, your phone had some blemishes. OK, I understand that. I'm really glad that you posted magnified pictures of the "chips" (which I couldn't see, myself) so that there is at least proof. And I'm amazed that Apple refused to hand you a new phone the moment that you revealed that you were unhappy because of a cosmetic issue that someone with normal eyesight could not see in a normally lit retail store.

    Why don't you try this as an experiment?

    First, find out the percentage of DOA Apple products.

    Two, find out the industry average for DOA products.

    Three, pop your iPhone in a case, as most people do.

    Four, quit whining.

    Or, buy an Android - then you'll at least have a legitimate reason to whine.


    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 01-11-12

    The company of Tim Cook is seemingly soft on the passion for excellence that marked Steve Job's company. No doubt Mr. Jobs was an impossible guy to work for but those people who simply want to do the incredible obviously flourished under his guidance and generally anything Apple did was incredible. Thinking about all that has come out (or not come out) since Tim Cook took the reins, and it's obvious that his standards have softened. iOS6, Mountain Lion, and other products are good - not 'Insanely Great".

  1. kerryb

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-05-01

    Thank you for taking super close up pictures of your new iPhone 5 otherwise I would have no idea what "damage" you were referring to. You have got to be the fussiest tech consumer in the world. Apple is a company that sells products made on a huge scale, there are millions of iPhones in the world. You are not buying a custom Rolls Royce but a $200 phone.

  1. Zanziboy

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-27-08

    Wow! The iPhone 5 is pretty darn good. I'll admit there is a lens flare issue when you point the camera into the sun. But, overall it's a very decent camera. (The lens flare issue will be probably be addressed in a later production revision with a new lens coating and darker black paint on internal camera elements.)

  1. machobbes

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-13-09

    I'm sure he will found more flaws under a microscope.

  1. hayesk

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 09-17-99

    While, it'd be nice if the phone was absolutely perfect, I still can't think of any other brand of phone that even comes close to matching the build quality and precision of an iPhone.

  1. sgs123

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-24-05

    OMG! You might risk being seen in public with a phone that looks like it was in your pocket for a day for 3 weeks waiting until a replacement arrives?

    Too inconvenient to return the black one to get a white one?

    On a major revision like this, I generally wait for at least the 2nd manufacturing run general principle...

  1. Grendelmon

    Senior User

    Joined: 12-26-07

    By Sanjiv Sathiah
    News Editor

    Hahaha! Now that's funny... MacNN obviously doesn't *have* an editor!

  1. GW5555

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-06-12

    While some may say the writer is overly picky, I do not begrudge him the expectation of a perfect iPhone when taken out of the case. I know I was thrilled when I got mine and it looked beautiful. Is it realistic to expect perfection every time we open the box? Maybe not, but that doesn't stop each and every one of us from expecting it anyway. Apple has made its reputation on the quality, functionality, and sheer beauty of it's products. We have come to expect more from them than we do from most other companies. Is it fair? Probably not. But Apple has made us expect more and they need to be aware of that. That does not mean that they MUST be perfect in everything they do. I much prefer a company that pushes the envelope and occasionally fails to one that plays it safe. But that does mean that Apple needs to be aware of this fact and act accordingly. Look at the Apple TV. A "hobby" product. A product that I, personally, can't say enough good things about. Part of its success comes from the fact that we had no major expectations of it. Apple snuck it in under the radar, letting it grow from interesting idea to what might be the cornerstone of the media center" concept. While Siri is constantly lambasted in the media, EVERY comparison of it to the competing products shows it as superior. Yet it is still referred to as a failure.

    Part of the problem, I believe, comes from Apple themselves. When you present something as "world's best," the expectation is that it IS better than anything else, not that it will be better than everything else. THAT is the point of this article. Apple has made us expect the best, and advertised these things as the best, and we are disappointed when they are simply good. Perception is more important than people understand, and Apple needs to get a handle on that.

    In addition, Apple needs to get a handle on their quality control again. The problem with being as big as they are is that scale is challenging. To make an iPhone 5 with such great detail and precision is a tremendous undertaking. Making millions is even more impressive. But to do so, at such a rate, at such a scale, and such a quality level, all at the same time, is just mind boggling.

    Tim Cook's strength is supposed to be in operations, so I am hopeful that he can and will be able to address the scale issues. That alone will make huge improvements. But there is also a new mantra that Apple needs to believe. "Deliver more than you promise"

  1. daqman

    Junior Member

    Joined: 09-15-00

    I am shocked by many of the comments here. The author of the article received a product that was supposed to be new and unblemished in a less than perfect condition. It is not unreasonable to expect that something new is in good condition and expect a replacement if it isn't. I've been using Apple products since 1984 and been banned a couple of times from various forums (yes you Gizmodo) for being a "fanboy". What I too have noticed is that the customer service level from Apple is falling as their popularity improves. If things go right they are wonderful but if they go badly then they are indeed very bad.

    The fact that any one person had a wonderful experience or a lousy one doesn't make what the author wrote invalid. He has his opinion and experience and he is passing it on.

  1. mac_in_tosh

    Junior Member

    Joined: 12-14-11

    "The only real problem is the tiny dings in shipped iPhones, which is not really Apple's fault.. it probably happened at Foxconn, and would have happened anyway after a few days of usage.".......

    I'll never understand why there are some people that feel the need to jump to Apple's defense over every issue. They are just a company, a big company now, that is out to make as much money as they can.

    I thought the article was well-reasoned and fair. I'ts Apple that promotes its products as being of the highest quality, even magical. So I can understand the disappointment at getting a new iPhone with chips in it. But to say it's not Apple's fault, but Foxconn's, is not logical. Apple contracts with Foxconn to produce these items so is responsible for seeing to it that quality is maintained.

  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    Just as a data point ...

    I have bought five iPhones, all ordered online the second they were available.
    3 out of 5 came with "manufacturers defects" and had to be replaced right away.

    Each time it was a nightmare of customer service just to convince Apple to replace them. Each time I had to wait, like the author, and each time they tried to replace my full-price unlocked non-contract phone with a refurbished one, (while simultaneously swearing that because they called it "genius stock" instead of refurbished stock, that it wasn't refurbished).

  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    Originally Posted by GW5555View Post

    ... Is it realistic to expect perfection every time we open the box? Maybe not, but that doesn't stop ...

    I think you are missing the point.

    When a product is advertised as "perfect" (this one is), and you buy it off-contract at full price (close to $1,000 where I am and I think even more where the author is), then the expectation that it come out of the box without dings and scratches is entirely reasonable.

    It's not a lottery. The idea that we should expect that some are perfect and others are not and it's kind of a crapshoot which one you get it just ridiculous. Yes, it should be perfect every time, right out of the box. If that can't be done, then they should stop advertising it as such, or start charging a lot less.

  1. lkrupp

    Junior Member

    Joined: 05-13-01

    In the last paragraph of his screed the author threatens to drop Apple and move to either Android or Windows 8. I wonder if he will then stop writing for MacNN and start writing for an Android or Windows 8 fan site. I wonder if he will then start whining and complaining about the absolute crapfest that is cheap, plastic-cased hardware.

    Yet another "Steve is dead so Apple is doomed" article. These same pundits were always lambasting Apple under Steve for his hubris ad arrogance and how he alienated more people than he convinced. Now that he's dead the company can't survive without him? So which is it?

  1. fritzair

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 10-22-00

    The little dings are a sign that you should drop the Apple phone, and go to Windows or Android. You will do well in the role of finding the tiniest of marks and how because you are a journalist you expected special treatment for a very popular product. You major issue was trying to be the first one out of the gate. Next time wait a month and you can buy, return, buy return as many cycles as you please in a timely manner.


  1. Geoduck

    Junior Member

    Joined: 01-14-10

    I think the author is correct. Apple has gotten sloppy. They still make great products but the meticulous attention to detail in both hardware services and most importantly cutomer service is slipping. Too bad as it's what brought me to Apple in the MacII/MacSE days. I think the author is exactly correct and it's sad.

  1. macphone

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-09-12

    Comments are typical of what one would expect from ignorant fanboys who can't stomach the thought that Apple isn't a golden, perfect company. They have zero tolerance for anyone who doesn't simply glow with adulation for Apple. Grow up assholes!

    I've grown up with Apple. I love their products - well since Steve let Jony design them anyway - and love using them. My house lives in the wonderful garden. But that doesn't mean things are perfect. manufacturing defects do happen and in this case one CAN and SHOULD expect flawlessness for and expense close to $1000. You would in any other jewelry so why not your jewel of a phone. I do accept that all manufacturers, Samstung and Nokeya, also have similar minor issues and recipients of their hardware probably exchange them too. But you don't hear the fanboy BS there. Seems unique to Apple fanboys.

    The author is expressing a concept that seems to be true. Apple is changing, as it should. Steve said "don't ask what Steve would have done". I'm sure Tim's Apple will be just fine. The company will change. That's a good thing which Steve would have wanted. He left his soul behind as a guide, but real men and women now guide its future and Apple will settle in a different place. I'm confident its fans (like me) will find the new Apple to be as good as Steve's Apple. Hopefully the immature fanboys will also become more tolerant of others. One can only hope.

  1. Lynn_Fredricks

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-25-06

    I see not much changes on MacNN. Someone says something negative about an Apple product and many replies are to make personal attacks against the original poster.

    I probably would miss most of those flaws on his iPhone. However I know that in some markets at least, if enough customers brought back products like this, the reseller would ship the entire shipment back to the vendor and cancel any payments due until it is resolved. Regardless of the reason why the product or the customer experience was bad, it should be made right, and quick - if not, then Apple will rightfully earn a tarnished reputation and deal with the costs of high returns.

    It doesn't seem reasonable to accept worse customer service dealing directly with Apple than you would expect with any other reseller.

  1. bjojade

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-07-07

    Looking at the photos, the 'dings' that were found are smaller than the dust specs that are collecting on the phone!! Now, I've seen some pictures posted with phones that have obvious cosmetic damage, but the marks in this posting are so minute, that even with a closeup image and the blemish circled, it's hard to tell that there's even an issue. Certainly not enough of an issue that it would be worth sending back for.

    With other phone manufacturers, there are blemishes far worse than that on many phones. The difference being that their phones don't start with the tight design standards of the iPhone, so a mark the size of a dust speck isn't quite as noticeable.

    Its funny that you complain about the ordering and return policy of the iPhone, and blast how horrible Apple is. Have you even TRIED seeing what the competition is doing? If another manufacturer's phones are on backorder because of overwhelming demand, do you think they would do any better with returns? Highly doubtful. Until Apple came along, the average repair wait time we had for phones sent into the manufacturer for repair was 45 days. Yes, 45 days that customers were without their Motorola RAZR while it got sent in for service. And that phone was a $500 phone as well, just a few short years ago.

    Apple's done a HUGE amount of good for the industry. Are they perfect? No, of course not. But some of the expectations are simply unrealistic.

  1. PraiseJobs

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-09-12

    [SIZE=4]Blasphemy.[/SIZE] May you burst into flames of 1,000 lap top batteries. Praise Jobs.

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