Apple on Tuesday issued what appeared to be a minor update to its iPhone 3G smart phone, noting in its terse support documentation only that the release "fixes bugs." But the size of the iPhone 2.0.2 update, as it's called--a massive 250 MB--belied Apple's attempts at passing this off as a minor update. More important, the company's wireless partners have confirmed that Apple is racing to fix an endemic and embarrassing series of connectivity problems that have plagued the iPhone 3G since it launched last month.
Apple's event marketing approach certainly has its advantages, and with the iPhone specifically the company has garnered press and positive hype that well exceed the device's sales. However, Apple's strategy also requires it to test its products in absolute secret and with a small group of close testers only. This often leads to buggy initial releases which, to date, the company's loyal fans have routinely forgiven, trusting that Apple would eventually fix the products through a series of software updates.
Despite months of delays and dropped features, reliability and stability problems bedeviled early buyers of the latest version of Apple's OS for Mac computers, Mac OS X Leopard, when it was released late last year. But the Mac targets a fairly limited audience. Similar issues have been even more problematic for Apple's mid-2008 non-Mac releases, the iPhone 3G and the MobileMe Internet service. That's because these products are aimed at a much larger audience of PC-using consumers, many of whom aren't quite as forgiving of Apple's standard operating procedure.
iPhone 3G early adopters in particular have been quite vocal about the many problems they've had with the device, citing regularly dropped calls, connectivity issues with the 3G wireless networks that Apple touts as a key advantage of the product, massive reliability problems, and more. Apple has already issued two huge software updates in an effort to stem these problems, some of which have been traced back to a German chip supplier. Unfortunately, the updates haven't fixed some customers issues and have, in fact, introduced some problems of their own. Apple is already planning a third software update for September as a result, according to an email from CEO Steve Jobs.
MobileMe customers have arguably had an even more difficult time with that service, which can charitably be described as being beta quality at best. The service has suffered numerous outages and Apple quietly cut key promised features without alerting customers. To date, MobileMe has been nothing short of an embarrassment for the company, and Mr. Jobs has publicly admitted that Apple should have pushed back its release. Apple has twice given all MobileMe customers extensions on their subscriptions due to the endemic problems.
Ironically, Apple's summer of discontent comes at the same time as a quarterly computer customer satisfaction survey, called the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), in which the company's record score of 85 was 10 points higher than that of any PC maker. Forgiving as they are, most Mac customers certainly love Apple. To be fair, it should be pointed out that none of Apple's Mac products are particularly new, however, like the iPhone 3G or MobileMe. Oftentimes, it's the most mature products that garner the best reliability and stability, leading to better overall customer satisfaction. Today, iPhone 3G and MobileMe customers can only dream of such an experience.